You Knew Better, Right?

As Service Dog users, we’re quick to point the finger at the general public for making our lives difficult.

Here’s the thing: At least most of them can plead ignorance.

I have news for you if you have a Service Dog. You cannot plead ignorance to etiquette or laws. When you call your dog a Service Dog, you lose that privilege. If you’re not prepared to be held accountable for your dog’s behavior, don’t call him or her a Service Dog, and don’t take advantage of the laws that provide public access rights.

It’s like driving a car. If you don’t get behind the wheel, no one can give you a hard time for not knowing all of the traffic laws. As a citizen, it would behoove you to know how lights, stop signs, and other road rules work, but no one will really fault you for not knowing them inside out. But the second you put your signature on that little digital pad that makes everyone who looks at your license think you have atrocious handwriting, you’re responsible for knowing the laws and etiquette. When you get pulled over for changing lanes without signaling, “I didn’t know I was supposed to,” isn’t going to give the officer a good giggle, if anything.

So, I have a quiz for you. These questions are pretty tough, so I hope you can manage (*wink*):

The answer is that your Service Dog should be leashed whenever it won’t inhibit his ability to do his job. The ADA states that leash laws don’t apply if the Service Dog must be off leash to perform his tasks. I can’t think of many examples of that, though, so it shouldn’t happen often, and if it happens at all, the dog better be well-practiced. Like, he comes when he’s called, no matter what. Even in the presence of birds, rodents, babies, Roombas, and laser pointers.

Wait. Do you have a Service Dog or a Service Cat?

Your Service Dog should never, ever be out of your sight in public. Ever. If he’s in a public place, it’s because you’ve stated that you need his assistance. How in the world is he going to help you if he’s cruising around, picking up chicks?

No. Never OK without permission. Rarely OK in public, period. If it happens, I can’t be responsible for my actions. I hope you’re wearing a helmet.

Can I tell you a story about a German Shepherd that almost got a new home?

Sweet. I love telling stories.

The other night, my hubs and I went out to pick up some delicious adult beverages. We stay home most Friday nights, but we do it right.

While I got out of the car and settled in my chair, Bry invited Bright out of the backseat. This is a routine for us. We open the door, take her leash, say, “Here,” or, “Off,” and then we go on our merry way into the store. But last night, with my back turned to him, I heard Bryan say, “Well, that’s interesting.”


I turned around to find a sweet, albeit terribly overweight, German Shepherd wearing a bright red Service Dog vest making friends with Bright. No leash, no handler in sight.

My first thought: “There are cars everywhere. This is terrifying.”

I grabbed his harness to see if I could get a look at his tags, but his handler, who took her sweet time putzing around her car, called him from a couple of parking spots over and acted like it was no big deal. “We do this all the time.” That kind of attitude.


So, why am I mad? Let’s review.

No leash. This dog hadn’t escaped, leash dragging. He wasn’t wearing one.

His handler couldn’t see him. So dangerous. I can’t even.

He greeted Bright, which distracted her and could have put me in a dangerous position in a busy parking lot.

So. Many. Problems. I’d even be a tiny bit less upset if his handler showed any concern or was apologetic, but she appeared to have no worries about the safety or propriety of the situation. If you’re not a little freaked out by your leashless dog wandering out of your sight in a dangerous situation, you shouldn’t have one.

Whoa. Bold statement there. Some people shouldn’t have dogs. Yes, even disabled people who could use the help.

I know it can be really difficult to decide if a leash is appropriate. (Please, hear the sarcasm.) Conveniently, Jessica Dolce, who writes the blog notes from a dog walker, posted an article this weekend on leasing your dog, and even included a flowchart. Check it out.

At the end of the day, the point is this: look out for the safety of your dog, and be respectful of others. Then I won’t have to bruise my knuckles on your helmet.

5 thoughts on “You Knew Better, Right?

  1. Part of the ADI public access test is handing off the dog to another person and walking out of sight. The dog should remain calm. So there must be legitimate times when a service dog would be out of the handler’s sight. That could be the case in a medical emergency (handler in the ambulance, dog in a police car) or in some areas with particularly bad access.

    • That’s fair, Walter, but it’s never acceptable for the dog to be unattended, which is the point I was trying to make. That part of the ADI test is also to reinforce that the dog has a healthy, secure attachment style and isn’t going to lose his mind if the handler is unable to supervise him in extenuating circumstances. There are rare exceptions to the rules, though, I’ll give you that.

  2. My service dog is always on leash and heels by my left side and does all her tasks with her leash on. Does she get a little tangled up in it sometimes yes but i work around that so i think other people should to so technically would it affect her ability to work yes it would but i still keep her on a leash and just untangle her when need…

  3. Pingback: Walking and Reading: 12|13|13 | notes from a dog walker

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