If you're anything like me, you like to pet and snuggle every dog you encounter. Dogs offer unconditional love, sloppy kisses, and just petting one can turn your whole day around. However, there are some dogs you should never pet, and that's service dogs. Whether it's a seeing eye dog, a mobility dog, a psychiatric dog, or a medical alert dog, service dogs have very important jobs, and it's imperative that they remain focused on those jobs. They're trained to keep their humans safe, and distracting a working dog by petting it can put their human in possibly life-threatening danger.
"Often interaction and petting can distract a dog from their service and work. One of the primary reasons dogs are effective at supporting a person with a disabling condition is their attention to minor often very nuanced changes in their person. Dogs for example might notice a 1/16 mm of change in the human face that is a sign or a signal for them to respond," Phil Tedeschi, human-animal connection expert at Rover.com tells Bustle. "In other words, even when a dog might appear to be sitting around, they are often very focused and taking in a great deal of information that informs their service duties."
While every dog deserves all the pets, service dogs really cannot have their focus placed anywhere but on their humans — and giving them pets effectively distracts them. According to a story on The Dodo, this is what happened to Hailey Ashmore. According to Ashmore, when she was 17 someone began petting her service dog Flynn, even though she repeatedly asked them to stop. Ashmore has epilepsy, and Flynn's job is to alert her 10 minutes before she has a seizure so she can get to a safe place. Because Flynn was distracted, Ashmore told The Dodo, he alerted her too late.
"I thought I had 10 minutes to get safe, take medication and call somebody for help," she told The Dodo. "Unfortunately, I didn't and ended up getting a nasty rug burn." While Ashmore only sustained minor injuries, that's not always the case. Distracting a working animals could put a person's life at risk, as often times service dogs are assisting people with debilitating conditions that could be life or death.
"Regardless of the dog’s specific task or the handler’s disability one thing is certain: service dogs need to be focused on their partner in order to do their job, thus keeping their person safe and preventing injury," Anything Pawsable, a website about service and working dogs, noted. "Distracting a working service dog in any way risks the health and safety of the disabled person they are assisting."
In addition to not petting service dogs, Anything Pawsable noted that you shouldn't even acknowledge the dog at all. I know, I know — this is difficult, especially if you're a self-proclaimed dog lover. But, while it might feel counterintuitive and downright mean — all dogs are good doggos who deserve attention and love and pets! — service dogs are trained to stay focused on the needs of their human partners, and they can only do that if you're not in their face trying to give them belly rubs.
While it might make you feel bad, trust me: you're not going to hurt their feelings by pretending they're not there, and it's the safest way to make sure they stay alert and focused on their human companion. In this case, it really is a matter of medical urgency.
And don't worry — these dogs get plenty of love from their humans when they're off duty, so there's surely no shortage of pets in their lives.