Just in case there are any among you who don’t understand why it’s distracting to TALK to a service dog, or just in case you know someone with a high, squeaky voice who likes to do this, or just in case you have a good place to share this post, here goes!
The guide dog leads. If you watch his face, you can actually see him concentrating on the decisions he needs to make. Do I lead my person where there’s a curb or where there’s a curb cut? Do I walk near the building line or more toward the center of the street? Oops, watch that high branch. Do I go forward when the car has slipped by the red light? Etc etc
The hearing dog listens for sounds and alerts his person when the doorbell or the phone rings. He listens for honking horns and other signs of danger. He lives in his ears, alert, waiting to work.
The mobility dog fetches items, opens doors, shuts off lights. His mind is on the job. He waits for commands, attentive to his person.
The dog who helps with an invisible disability watches, listens, senses. He dowses constantly. Is there pain? Is a seizure coming? Is the blood sugar low? How’s his heart doing? Is my help needed?
When someone distracts a working service dog with handling or conversation, it interferes with the work the dog has been taught to do, checking the environment for safety, alerting to sounds, fetching a needed item, mitigating pain, alerting an oncoming seizure, etc etc. A service dog does not need your love. (Ha! A surprise to many!!) Do not ask a service dog’s name because when his handler says his name and when you repeat it, guess where his attention goes. Do not get angry at anyone for not letting you pet a service dog. Or converse with a service dog. If you wouldn’t talk to the person if not for the presence of the dog, OK, here goes, just shut up.
Do not talk about a person with a service dog. Unless the dog is a hearing dog, they can hear you talking about them. Do not talk about them in a foreign language. Because you never know. And even if they can’t understand your words, because they are in Swahili, they can still see where you are looking, or pointing if you are a total idiot.
What can you do? OMG, what can you do?
You can have a conversation about things other than what the person’s disability is and what the dog’s name is. It’s lovely when two strangers meet and converse.
You can offer a seat on the bus. I need to keep my dog on my lap on the bus so she won’t get stepped on and this is difficult to do when I am standing.
You can say, Beautiful dog, in passing, but not ask any questions. Because all dogs are beautiful!
You can smile. But not with a squeaky voice.
You can ignore the dog, please, ignore the dog, and do what you would do if the dog weren’t there. Or you can make believe the dog is a cane or a wheelchair, if that’s easier for you. Because service dogs are considered to be medical equipment. Even though you kiss them a lot more often than you would kiss your cane.
Sometimes, especially if you are adorable and too young to understand what it means that a dog is working, just sometimes, the nice lady will let you pet her pretty dog in, say, the elevator of the Metropolitan Museum. But in that case, even though you aren’t even two yet, please don’t scream at the top of your lungs when your daddy picks you up because though the doggie is staying on the elevator, it’s time for you to get off – because now the nice lady just can’t make an exception for the next cute little kid who is too young to understand that a dog who looks like any other dog, except for the cape and the intense look of concentration on her face, is, indeed, doing her job and should not be distracted.
OK, OK, but I bet you need to rant sometimes, too, and if you can get me to sit still, I’ll listen to yours.