Things That Are Awkward With a Service Dog

As much as I love my big, adorable, squishy helper, she can make life really awkward sometimes. It’s probably a little like having a small child, except people mostly expect to see children in public.

Using public restrooms.

It’s really uncomfortable to talk to Bright in the bathroom when other people can’t see what’s going on, but unfortunately, it’s also necessary. No matter how quietly I speak to her, it echoes, so I usually whisper, but that’s even weirder because, when whispered, sit sometimes sounds like sh*t, and down can sound like d*mn. I’d hate to know what the lady in the next stall is thinking as she hears me whispering what sound like expletives to no one while I sit on the toilet.

Then there’s the tail or nose under the stall wall issue. One time, a lady actually screamed when Bright’s tail slid into her stall.

Bright in the bathroom

Eating at Asian restaurants.

Let’s not dance around the truth, here. When taking a dog into an Asian restaurant, there’s about a 50% chance I’ll be met at the door by a lady in her 50s or 60s who is adamant that we stay outside. (I should mention that the other 50% of the time, the experience is usually great!) Yeah, I’ve heard all the jokes about dog meat in Chinese food, but honestly, I find that this is usually a small, family owned business and the lady greeting me at the door only knows the health codes that prohibit animals from restaurants, and she’s not aware of the ADA which allows them. Really, what makes things uncomfortable is the language barrier. Try explaining ADA laws to someone whose primary English vocabulary revolves around the restaurant industry. There’s very little overlap there. It’s painful for both sides.

"Ma, I think I need thumbs for these."

“Ma, I think I need thumbs for these.”

Wedding ceremonies.

Bright has army crawled her gorgeous mug into at least one fancy ceremony photo, and nearly tripped the bride on her way down the aisle at another wedding. Come to think of it, these were both cousin-in-laws of mine. Actually, they were the last two family weddings we went to. We’ve probably been blacklisted.

This photo belongs to Erin Sleezer.

This photo belongs to Erin Sleezer. Where’s Waldo?

This photo also belongs to Erin.

This photo also belongs to Erin. At least Bright was invited to be in this one.

Riding next to strangers on airplanes.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the process, when I fly, Bright lays on the floor in front of me in the bulkhead. News flash: The width of an individual’s space on the plane is far less than the length of Bright. So usually, when Bryan and I fly together, she takes up a little of my space and a little of his, and we’re good. She makes a pretty fantastic ottoman, actually. The last time I flew, though, I was alone and got seated next to a lady who’d just had knee surgery and needed to be able to extend her leg. And she was wearing black yoga pants and said the dog hair didn’t bother her, but she kept picking it, so it obviously did. And her kid wanted to say hi to Bright, and I wanted to let him, but she kept saying no.

In other circumstances, I’ve been seated next to people who LOVE dogs. For 3 or 4 hours at a time. Captive. Miles in the air. With no way out. And they carry photos.


Waiting at the gate for our first flight together. Oh, the adventures we were in for.

Waiting at the gate for our first flight together. Oh, the adventures we were in for.

Being anywhere near people who are afraid of dogs.

Oh for crying out loud, I thought you were dying, or that there was a man with an axe behind me.

When I emerge from a bathroom stall with a dog you weren’t expecting to see, the appropriate response is not to scream, point, and run away. If you’ve got that serious a phobia, for your sake and mine, please, seek professional help.

When we pass each other on the sidewalk, if you’re uncomfortable with the dog, cross the street or something. Stopping in the middle of everything to gawk and make a scene is not going to get us past each other any faster. In fact, you’re blocking the sidewalk, which is preventing you from getting away from me. Please move.

This is the face Bright makes when she's unamused by such antics.

This is the face Bright makes when she’s unamused by such antics.

Walking, since I’m not blind.

Nevermind that I walk like a newborn giraffe. If I’m not seated in a wheelchair, sometimes, people can’t fathom that I’m not either blind or training Bright. It’s one thing to be unaware of the possibilities and to ask questions, but another thing entirely to be totally unable to articulate any kind of normal question. Staring at me with your eyebrows raised, your nose wrinkled, and your eyes crossed is not a form of a question – it’s awkward, and it makes you look like a Klingon. It also makes me think you’re weird, it makes you feel weird, and it makes anyone observing think you’re dumb.

I have very few photos of me standing with Bright, so there. That's me, standing like an idiot.

I have very few photos of me standing with Bright, so, there. That’s me, standing like an idiot.


38 thoughts on “Things That Are Awkward With a Service Dog

  1. I love these. I admit – I’ve never taken Cassius to a Chinese restaurant. I just… don’t want to deal. But I did almost get him and myself stuck in a (small) bathroom stall… not a bright idea on my part. I have the rather entertaining task of explaining to people that while I do actually have a visual impairment, my dog is neither for that or in training!… (and the really awkward questions are from actual CCI puppyraisers (thankfully not of my dog), I’m afraid. Um, yes… your dog might actually end up with someone who does not have a “traditional” disability? A definite WTF moment for me!)

    • Oh, Natalie. I don’t envy your special task of explaining yourself.

      Use the big stall, though. You have my blessing. Wouldn’t want to have to call the fire department to disassemble the restroom.

    • Well thanks. Just nearly peed my pants reading this. It’s bad enough that I was laughing so hard and snorted, and now everyone in my immediate vicinity thinks I’m either having a seizure or farted (which is just making me laugh harder and snort more), but now I’m laughing so hard that, If I do stand, I will undoubtedly pee my pants. Oh, if only being disabled was as funny as life with a service dog. 🙂

      Time to walk away, looking like a giraffe on roller skates . . . with a radiator leak . . . and attempt to do so with dignity.

  2. Beautiful SD. I understand how you feel.
    I have a SD too and my cousin thinks it’s ok to let her kids snatch her tail and poke her eyes. Causes an argument everytime we see eachother

  3. Thank you for this post! We are currently waiting for the call that my son’s service dog is ready to go and you answered some of the questions running through my mind. lol Do you have any pointers for a first timer?

    • I’m so excited for you and your family to get your dog! So glad the post was more than just entertainment for you. If you ever have other questions, I’m happy to help!

      • The main thing I’m scared about is that he will be a mixed guide dog. We had originally been approved for an autism service dog, but because of a new diagnosis, the dr requested it be changed to a wheelchair service dog as well. Luckily, they were training a dog to do a mixed version of this because my son was in his wheelchair part time before, but now is in it more often so should be fun! I haven’t had a chance to see all the posts on your site, do you have anything on flying with your SD? I’ve only read horror stories and it’s scary.

  4. Our local chinese restaurant is FABULOUS with service dogs. Which is good, because I love their food. The only problem I occasionally have is explaining that, no, Shadow doesn’t need a bowl of water and/or chow mein.

    We’re going to be taking our first flight together in January, so I’m expecting some very exciting times there.

    • I’m so glad your local restaurant has been so good! I wrote an article awhile back called I Believe I Can Fly, and it addresses some of the things you might encounter on airplanes with Shadow. Good luck!

  5. Funny post! Your last photo is great. I love how it was taken mid laugh! I don’t think that you’re standing like an idiot and everyone in the photo looks happy.

  6. Using a small service dog definitely makes some if these things easier. Mine fits under my seat or in my arms anywhere we go. It also results in a constant chorus of, “I’ve never seen a service dog that small!” (I have a friend who uses a dog a third the size of mine) and, “You’re not blind!” (You’re right, unfortunately, I CAN see you). And boy do I hear you on the Asian restaurants.

    • Haha, I can’t even imagine. It’s funny, though — while you hear, “I’ve never seen one so small,” I sometimes get, “She’s too big to be in here.” No matter the size — 20 lbs or 65, people will always find a reason to be surprised.

  7. The bathroom one is funny. I’ve even thought about writing a blog post about it because I have the same thoughts. What must people think of me talking to myself in the bathroom and what do they think of the stail sticking out from my stall?? Funny and awkward. Great post as always:).

  8. I’ve been raising puppies for a guide for program for a few years now, and i can honestly say the bathroom reactions never get old. Or rounding a corner and seeing someone jump out of their skin.

  9. Our training group had the Service Dog Cards made up in Spanish to ease our entry into the local Mexican restaurants. Now if I could just get the cards translated into “dumass” for the security guards at the disability office!

  10. While having a service dog can be a hassle, it’s also a great way to mess with the minds of the narrow minded! My friends and I go to a local pub every week. Other patrons occasionally exclaim (rather loudly), “Look! It’s a dog!”. Fortunately, the waiters/waitresses have a wonderful response “Yup! He’s a regular!”. I just wish they would tack on “Here’s your sign!”

    Or there’s the lady that exclaimed loudly “no, No, NO! I don’t want to sit next to that DOG!” .. She was a bit taken aback when I just as clearly replied “It’s okay, The feeling is mutual. He does not want to be next to you!” .. The snickers from around the pub should keep her from making that type of scene again.

    But by and large we have incredibly positive experiences. Sure, I get plenty of questions. Rosco helps me with mobility assistance. Because of the harness people sometimes assume he is a guide dog, but then are puzzled when they realize that I see. We see that as a teachable moment, where they can learn about how a service dog can open up the world for people that are less able bodied.

  11. My dog is a small Yorkie mix who does medical alert. People ask me if he’s a blind dog (meaning guide dog) which cracks me up because he’s 8 inches tall and weighs 8 lbs. I usually say “nope, he sees perfectly fine” and I keep on walking.

  12. Like Brett, my wife and I have raised about a half dozen service dogs and around 15 guide dogs, and the most fun and also distress is when a 4 month old yellow lab pup somehow slipped his collar when I was sitting in a bathroom stall. Much to my surprise, Gordy visited 3 other stalls, happily wagging his tail and saying hi to everyone. When I came out, a teenager was sitting on the floor, getting kisses. He said he knew he wasn’t supposed to pet a service dog in training, but the puppy insisted. Made my day!

  13. I was in a bathroom stall at the mall and there was a toddler that happened to note my dog’s tail under the stall while his mom was changing his sister’s diaper. He loudly exclaimed “mommy there’s a dog in here!” She replied “no silly, this is the mall there’s no dog in here.” They went back and forth while I finished, and when I came out mom was startled to see that there actually WAS a dog in the bathroom.

    My dog is a medical alert dog, I’m CONSTANTLY asked about my health issues and why I have him. People seem to think they are entitled to my medical history because I have a dog, quite frustrating.

    He’s also a “pit bull type dog” (block head, short fur, muscular body) so I’m also asked all the time whether he is “safe” to be around. Of course he’s safe! I wouldn’t bring him in public where anything can happen if he wasn’t!

    Excellent article though!

  14. I agree with all of the above! Particularly the bathroom stall and the people afraid of dogs… I especially like it when they ask if my dog is safe… I alwayswant to say, “Yeah, I keep him pretty safe…”

  15. Love the article….it is so true and most of the same things have happened to me. My daughter is blind and uses a cane and I have a balance dog and it never ceases to amaze me when people ask her how long she has had her guide dog when I am the one that is using the dog and clearly he is with me. Also love the coments…..I needed a great laugh 😉

  16. As a puppy raiser for guide dogs, this pretty much describes my life! But usually this also involves a naughty 6 month old puppy, who hasn’t completed training yet. I even had people who were scared of my dog at 8 weeks old, when she weighed 10lbs!!! Thanks for writing this, it made me smile. And Bright looks lovely. Congrats on having such a special dog.

  17. I also have issues like this with my SD. He is a 85 pound tall and thin golden retriever. I have had so many people make a scene about him with screaming but I also get tons of dog lovers whom I usually end up talking to for some time about how he helps me. Being paralyzed, I never get people questioning me; however, I can imagine how that feels and it indeed would get tiresome having to deal with that. I never have issues in the bathroom because I always use the family restroom since my husband is with me to help me. Thanks for writing this as I can relate to so much that you wrote. Take care and God Bless

  18. I relate to some of these. 🙂 Not the wedding ones, as those were your fault for letting your dog move around, and not the bathroom ones, as I never allow my dog to sit in a public bathroom for germ reasons (so, no tail under the door, which I wouldn’t allow anyway, and no saying “sit” or “lay” [we use “down” for getting off the sofa/bed], though your thought is funny!). I don’t eat Asian foods, so haven’t tried an Asian restaurant.

    A lot of people think I’m blind due to my service dog mobility harness and my dark glasses, so I also get the comments about guide dogs and warnings for steps/curbs/etc., but the one I hate is not being given a menu at a restaurant when everyone else at my table gets one, especially when the waiter walks away with it (showing it wasn’t just a mistaken count of menus)!

    I travel domestic and international a good bit and have only had one or two people who seemed not to be keen on sitting next to a dog on a plane, but nothing bad, thankfully. The worst was being sat next to a woman with a fake service dog (there was a guide dog on the other side of the aisle, so that’s why we were seated next to each other, though really her dog was small enough to not need the bulkhead)! Too bad I didn’t realize it was a fake until after we were in the air and observed the dog’s behavior and spent most of the flight talking with the handler. When the dog peed in the airport after the flight, I happened to be walking close enough behind them that people gave ME dirty looks, thinking we somehow were together! (No, the lady did nothing about it like apologize and tell someone to get the janitor [it was on carpet, so not something she could wipe up] – she didn’t even stop walking, forcing the poor dog to pee and walk at the same time!)

    Buffets are awkward, too, at least with a mobility (and likely guide) dog, since it leaves only one hand available for carrying a tray and it isn’t always easy finding an employee so you can ask them to help carry your tray.

    The worst question is, of course, “What’s wrong with you?”

  19. Pingback: Not all sunshine and rainbows, y’all | Raising a Super Dog

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