Courtesy Please: Dog At Work

Fern goes to Perth (5)

Fern goes to Perth (5) (Photo credit: Chris J. Bartle)

There are some things that seem like common sense. These subjects are such “no brainers” that you would think you would not need to see a blog post about them. Among these subjects are how one behaves in the presence of a work animal. I always knew not to disturb them while working and thought it was self-evident that was the case. It never occurred to me that an adult would not realize this, until I lived with a visual impaired person.
Now I realize just how little people know about work dogs and proper behavior around them. Leaving aside the frightened reactions of some people who suddenly find themselves face to face with a dog in spaces where pets are usually restricted, I find myself amazed by the number of people who find it is OK to pet any strange animal, much less one that is attached to a harness.
These animals need special training and all of their concentration to do their work. Petting them at all when they are working is probably a bad idea, doing so without their owner’s permission is a horrible one. They need to remember that they are working and any behavior that takes them outside that is a potential danger to the person they are helping. They are smart animals, but they are still just animals and conditioning is everything.
It is also important to remember when they are not working that their owners still set their boundaries. Again, this should be true of any pet, you don’t want to ruin the work someone has put into training their dog, but it is especially true of help dogs.  Messing with their little heads messes up their ability to be helpful. Good people put a lot of time teaching these dogs, and it is frustrating to their owners, the trainers, and the dog, when they have to go back for more training.
Sure these guys are adorable. As I write this my roomie’s dog is snoring away next to me because she can’t take her to work. They also tend to be very friendly, they have to be for what they do. Just remember that there is a certain etiquette when dealing with anyone else’s pet and that goes ten fold for those pets who actually have a job. I know most folks don’t mean any harm, but harm is done and anxiety ensues. It is entirely possible to muck up a help dogs training with this behavior so much that they are no longer useful and can no longer be help dogs, which is heart-breaking for everyone involved. So please, the next time you see a dog on a harness in public, by all means, tell their owner how great the dog is, but refrain from any direct interaction with the helper in question. Just showing you understand that etiquette is often a great relief to the dog’s beneficiary, and they will love you for it.

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