People who get through life with the aid of a service dog have enough challenges without also having to deal with the problems of navigating the often harrowing experiences provided by "friendly" and "helpful" people.
Or worse, by the people who think they have a right to wrest control of the service dog away from the handler.
If you simply delay the service team from going about their every day business, you are part of the problem. No matter how pleasant and friendly sounding the human half of the service team seems to you, if you don't know them and you stop them to interact with their service dog or to ask about their service dog when they are busy, you are part of the problem.
It can be as simple as reaching out to pet the dog as the team walks past you (or you walk past them). It's more obvious when you plant yourself in front of the service team and reach out to pet the dog, preventing them from going about their business. Talking to the dog (even something as innocuous seeming as "good dog!" as you walk past) can disrupt a working team. Making faces at the dog and trying to get the dog's attention can disrupt the functioning of the team. Giving commands to the dog ("here, boy!" "sit!" and so on) can disrupt the team.
You are deluding yourself if you think you are "just being friendly", if you were "just praising" the dog, or "just complimenting" the dog, or you "just wanted to pet the dog".
It's not your dog.
You are compromising the safety and integrity of the service team.
There's better than an 80% chance that team has been attacked or intimidated or interfered with before - what you think of as "being friendly" to them is you being intimidating, scary, interfering, or bullying.
Most service team people who have experienced a lot of delays by "friendly" people have learned to avoid eye contact, to look away from other people, and to do their best to avoid engaging with strangers when they are busy. It doesn't seem to stop others, but we try. When we aren't in a hurry, we'll take time out to talk to you about our dog.
The problem here is that the dog is not a pet, not a therapy dog, and is not trained to react to you. A service dog is a working dog, and is focused on 2 things: his job and his handler. You are on his radar only as an obstacle to maneuver around.
Sorry to harsh your happy that way, but it's true. A service dog isn't interested in you, doesn't want to play with you, doesn't want to be petted by you, and doesn't want anything you can offer. A service dog only wants to please his handler - the person at the other end of the leash - by taking care of that person's needs. Most service dogs are too well-trained to clue you in on this, but you're an intelligent person, you should already know this.
Be honest. Would you have stopped the human half of the team to talk to him or her if they did not have the dog with them?
If your answer is "No", then don't stop the service dog team. Go about your business and let them go about theirs.
I know it's hard to ignore the dog. After all, the dog is the whole, entire, and only reason you stopped the team (trust me, after 8 years of being partnered with a service dog,these people are not stopping me to talk to me). You wanted to pet the dog, to play with the dog, to talk to the dog. The human half of the team is merely an obstacle you have to get around so you can indulge in a little unexpected dog therapy.
If you absolutely must stop the team, and talk to them, and are desperate to pet the dog, there are kind and gentle ways to do so.
How to interact with a service dog team:
1. Make eye contact or get the attention of the human half of the teamIf the handler tells you not to pet their service dog, respect that. There are reasons you must not touch or distract the dog, and they all involve the safety and functioning of the team. The dog is focused on the handler and the needs of the handler. If you distract the dog, your action could prevent the dog from performing his tasks.
2. >>>>>Speak to the human half of the team<<<<<<
3. Teach children to speak to the handler first (true of pet or service dog).
4. If you want to praise the dog, do so to the human half of the team
5. If you want to pet the dog, ask the human half of the team
6. If the human half says "No" to petting, you have 3 choices:
a. thank the human and walk away or
b. continue talking to the human and ignore the dog
c. if you can't ignore the dog - walk away
7. When you part, say your goodbyes to the human half and ignore the dog.
8. Ignore the dog
When the handler is open to being approached, they will respond. They will let you catch their eye if they are sighted, slow down, smile at you or in your direction. Just because they stop to talk to you and answer your questions doesn't mean you get to pet the dog.
How to tell if it's a service team:
1. The dog is very close to the handler, usually less than 3 feet.Now that you know how to approach a service dog team and know how to recognize one, here is a list of things you should not do around service dogs. You probably shouldn't do any of these around pet dogs, either.
2. The dog may be wearing a harness for greater control (especially larger service dogs)
3. The dog will be focused on either its handler or its task
4. The dog will not be stopping to sniff or mark territory
5. The dog will not be barking at other dogs, people, or objects
6. The dog will not be straining at its leash to chase after something
7. The dog will not be begging for food
8. The dog will not jump up on people or beg for food
9. The dog is in an area where dogs are not normally permitted
10. The dog MAY (but is not required to) be wearing a service vest, tags, or marked leash
11. The dog MAY (but is not required to) be wearing specific colors
a) Guide (seeing eye) dogs will wear a special pull harness, but not any specific color
b) Hearing assistance dogs may wear blaze orange or burgundy as a collar, harness, leash, neckerchief, vest
c) Medical alert dogs may wear blue
d) Autism and PTSD dogs may wear purple
e) All other service dogs may wear red or the colors of the agency that trained them
f) Therapy, customs, search and rescue, and K-9 police dogs may wear green or black vests, harnesses, leashes, or collars. Therapy dogs may also wear the colors of the agency that trained them. These dogs do not have ADA access except when they are officially on duty.
edited to add: 12. The dog will not be on a retractable leash.
Do not:All of these things - and worse - have been done to people teamed with a service dog.
1. squee and run up to pet the dog
2. talk to the dog before talking to the human half of the team, let alone without even acknowledging the human half of the team
3. plant yourself in front of the team and block them
4. try to call the dog to come to you
5. offer the dog treats or toys
6. try to give the dog commands
7. praise the dog
8. talk to the dog
9. beg or wheedle the human half of the team to let you take the service dog's leash, or to pet it after you've been told "no".
10. grab the service dog's harness or leash
11. throw things at the service dog
12. stalk the service dog team through the store, park, or down the street
13. honk your horn at the service dog team if you're in a car
If it's in your nature (and I know there are a lot of shy people - I'm one, myself), try to be a bit proactive if you see anyone doing any of those 13 things or something similar. Remind them the dog is working and needs to do its job.
Remind them that the dog is not their dog.
Prequel is here: The Power of a Leash