Reactions Part 2: Manners; the Do’s and Don’ts

Lately I have been trying how to best approach this topic, and I think I just need to jump into it. Manners. To the average person we would like to think that most people have manners but for some reason when a dog enters a room all manners get thrown out of the window. Quite frankly, it is offensive and trying at times. I started this topic with Part 1 that goes in to detail some of the reactions I get, but now I would like to break some of those down and explain why it hurts to hear.

Working hard at the Mall of America

Working hard at the Mall of America

Things people say to me upon seeing Bella (and resulting conversations):
Most of these conversations start with “Is that a service dog?” Naturally I respond yes she is and attempt to go on with what ever I am doing. Now I have nothing wrong with this question in fact I expect it. But it is the resulting conversations that are either great, which I will get too, or really bad and offensive, which I will touch now.

Them: “Is that a service dog?” Me: “Yes she is” =

  1. “Oh so you are training her! That’s so nice that you train service dogs how long has HE been training?”
    Me: “No, I’m not training her, she’s mine. She’s done with her training.

    • Now this may not seem offensive, but the assumption that she is in training always makes me self-conscious and worried that Bella is doing something wrong and looks like she needs training. I understand that people think that because I don’t look like I have anything wrong with me that I must be a trainer but with all of the different service dogs out there, this question should not be asked. Most people have service dogs for invisible illnesses and it makes us question our service teams appearance and behavior.
  2. “Is he Really a service dog”
    • This is very similar to why number 1 is offensive. It brings our behavior into question. Also, it always makes me feel like my reason for her is invalidated. Plus it always leads to statement 4. But first,
  3. Him, He, It, That
    • No matter how many times I call her a girl and use her name Bella people always call her a boy. Really people can’t help this but it does irk me. Oh Well

    This next statement is the one I hate the most.

  4. “What’s wrong with you” or “Why do You need That” or  “You don’t look like you need Him.
    • This is the worst. I don’t know why people in today’s society feel like they deserve to know everyone’s business. But I want everyone to know that honestly, under no circumstances should you ever ask someone/ a stranger with a service dog this question. The thing is, this is rude. I would not approach someone with a limp and ask him or her why they walk like that, I wouldn’t ask someone why their skin is that color, and I certainly wouldn’t approach a person in a wheel chair and ask why they use it. A service dog is no different. I understand that having a dog go places with you is unique but unless the handler volunteers this information please don’t ask.
    • Also never ever assume what is wrong with a person, I can’t count the number of times I have been asked if I am blind or told I’m not blind so I don’t need a service animal.
  5. Can I pet it? (Or petting without asking)
    • Service dogs are working dogs, they have specific tasks to perform and for every person that wants to pet them, they distract not only me but Bella as well. The way a handler team works, is by taking cues off each other and working together.  When someone asks to pet Bella, I get flustered because if say yes, everyone in the room wants to pet her too. If I say no, I hear:
      • That’s not fair
      • Well that’s rude
      • If you don’t want people to pet your dog then don’t bring it places
      • Well, uhh, I am just one person so it’s not that big of deal.
        This one is another that people don’t understand and makes me giggle because usually they are the 4th person to ask to pet her that day.
    • While I get frustrated Bella gets confused, for her when she is working she only has contact with me, when people start breaking her focus she doesn’t want to work, she wants to play.
  6. And last, talking solely to “the PUPPY”
    • Just because she is a cute dog in a public place does not make me invisible so please don’t act like it. It also makes things awkward because I feel the need to respond but I don’t want to look like I’m a crazy talking for my dog… it’s a no-win situation
    • Also it makes you look very odd and rude.

Now that I have covered all of the Please do not do, let me cover a few of the proper things to do.

  1. First is for businesses: and I am taking these from the ADA site:
    Businesses can ask two questions and they are encouraged to help prevent fake service animals and for a business to know their rights

    • Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
    • What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

    Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

  2. If you are just curious feel free to ask: “Is that a service dog?” If you want/ are nosy and need more information try phrasing questions this way
    • Is he a boy or a girl?
      • When you ask and don’t assume it makes me more likely to continue a conversation with you
    • How old is she?
      • This is a generic question and is not offensive.
    • How long have you had her?
      • This is an excellent question and opens up a line of communication that makes you seem generally interested in both her and me.
    • What type of Service animal is she?
      • I love this question because it shows that the asker is interested but is not assuming anything about me.

Over all, I understand that it is easy to be intrigued and want more information but please be very cautious about how you phrase your question. It is hard to admit this but for every stare and whisper and question I get, I struggle. I bite my lip and watch what I say but sometimes I just want to look at someone and get mad or frustrated. I know this is not an appropriate reaction which is why I wrote this post, I want others to understand what it is like and why I would prefer not to be asked questions the first time I meet someone unless absolutely necessary. Something that is very interesting that I appreciate is that some of my closest friends have never asked why I have her; they just wait until I am ready to explain and for that I am thankful.

I really hope those of you reading this can understand where I am coming from and that the next time you meet a service team you are careful about what you ask. Remember “If you don’t have something nice to say (or intelligent…) then don’t say anything at all.”

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3 thoughts on “Reactions Part 2: Manners; the Do’s and Don’ts

  1. Great clarification Val, I’m learning more and more from you,
    every time you write. Take Care, Love ya, Cheryl

  2. I like your post. I don’t know how I will/should respond once I get my service dog for an invisible disability, so I kind of scares me. I am thankful you shared how you feel when people respond to you.

    • Thank you! I promise that the benefits of having service dog will always out weigh the cons of questions people have. Good luck with your team pairing!

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