How Do I Keep People from Petting my Service Dog in Training?

Since my dog, Bronco, is an eye-catching German Shepherd, I often have people approach and ask me if they can pet him (or don’t even ask, just try to drive-by pet). I guess I can’t blame them. He looks like a large, cuddly, silver fox.

The problem is, I can’t have people pet him. He’s a great dog, but it’s a problem to have him distracted. It’s always a worry that a child might scream in his face or step on his feet, and though he’s tolerant, I can never be 100% positive how he might react.

On top of that, I have to have him paying attention to me – no one else.

You might think that people would see vest patches that say “DO NOT PET” and leave your dog alone.

Unfortunately, many people seem to become blinded by the cuteness or novelty of your dog standing in line in front of them in the store.

Before you know it, these people are trying to elbow past you to pet your working service dog and you’re gaping like a fish, unsure of what to say to a person who has forgotten common courtesy and how to read.

So how can you tell people to leave your service dog alone without coming across as rude?

Honestly, there is no one thing you can say that will always come across as nice to all people. However, there are some quite a few different things you can try and see which ones you’re most comfortable with.

Simple Vest

indexKeep your vest uncluttered and simple. DO NOT PET should be huge and high contrast (red/black words on white, white words on red/black) or it can be a pictograph. Here’s a good example.

There are also leashes like this that might catch someone’s eye if they miss the vest.

A different breed of dog

People don’t want to pet a Doberman as often as a Golden Retriever. Your breed choice can factor in to how often people bother you.

If you have a Catahoula Leopard Dog, expect have people bothering you every five steps asking you what breed of dog you have and wanting to pet it.

Teach Your Dog to Ignore

Something that is a good idea to teach your dog is to totally ignore strangers petting them unless you give them word otherwise (usually a release word like “free” or “go ahead”).

And by ignore, I mean your dog doesn’t move a muscle. No tail wagging, eye contact or anything. This can help turn people off.

Body Blocking

Body blocking is when you move to stand in front of your dog, so a person can physically not reach the dog. This is what I use most often, so I have time to say “Please don’t pet my dog.” Otherwise, people are often petting before I can think of something to say.

Start Nice

Make sure to say please! You can still be nice while asking people not to touch your dog. It comes out a lot nicer than “Don’t pet my dog.” Even little kids respond quite well to a request like “Please don’t pet my dog.”

If you need to, you can briefly explain “He’s working right now and if he gets distracted, I could get hurt.”

Get Firm if Insistent

Don’t be afraid to say “Sorry, no. Have a nice day.” and move away quickly if you need to. That way you don’t have to deal with any awkwardness or continued presses for petting.

Really, don’t be afraid to just walk away!

Drive-Bys

These are those people who walk up from behind you and pat your dog on the head and hurry off. There’s not really a way to prevent these people from bothering you, unless you want to wear a shirt that says “Do Not Pet My Dog” on the back. (That doesn’t exist, by the way. Someone should make one.)

Even then, these type of people would probably ignore it.

Hand Out Cards or Pamphlets

If you want people to understand why you’re saying no, but don’t want to explain it every time, you could type up an explanation on a little card, tell people “No. Thank you for asking.” and hand off the card as you say “Have a nice day.”

This is also useful in cases where a store owner confronts you and insists your dog is not allowed. Many people carry mini laminated cards of the ADA law (or state law, in the case of SDiT) just in case.

Body Language

People are less likely to bother you if you don’t look them in the eyes. Avoid eye contact or smiling at people and they’re more likely to leave you alone. Don’t feel bad about it! No one at the store will care.

Try to walk with purpose. Make a list before you go to the store and plan out where you’re going. If you can avoid browsing while people are nearby, do it. This will cut down on your stops a lot.

Be prepared to ignore glances, smiles and stares and to speed up subtly when people look at you.

Practice

One of the very best things you can do is to practice. Practice with family members and friends until you have quick responses that will be able to shut people down quickly and politely. Have your family randomly surprise you by trying to pet your dog very insistently.

Some phrases to practice responding to are:

“Hey! We don’t allow dogs!”

“The health department says no animals allowed here unless you’re blind. You’re not blind.”

“This is my store and I get to make the rules. I don’t care what the “ADA” says, no dogs allowed in here!”

“Can I see your papers?”

“Service dogs have to have papers! Everyone else does!”

As they reach out to pet your dog “Can I pet your dog?”

“Just really quick.”

A person tries to make eye contact with you and moves in as if to start talking with you or to “drive-by” pet your dog.

“Poor dog, he looks tired. That’s so mean, you don’t even let people pet him.”

“My old college roommate’s husband’s brother has a service dog!”

A child tries to push past you to pet your dog and the mom just smiles and doesn’t do anything.

“I want to take my dog into stores with me too! Where’d you get that vest?”

Don’t Feel Bad

Remember, if people choose to be mad, that’s on them to deal with. You can’t make someone feel happy or mad, that’s their choice.

You have the right to have an uninterrupted store trip just like everyone else. Move on if you can, if not, ask for a store manager. Managers are happy to kick out rude people and accommodate you, in most cases.

You also do not need to educate anyone about service dogs (except in some cases the store owner, if you feel like it).

It’s very unlikely someone will follow after you, so don’t be afraid to continue on your way. The person will get over it. You and your dog’s time and safety is more important than how people feel about not being able to pet your dog.

What are the situations you’re afraid of encountering when you start taking your service dog in training out in public?

6 Responses

  1. Mika says:

    Thanks for the tips.

    The petting is a big problem for me. I feel rude telling people to stop. I’ve even had an anxiety attack due to it happening once at a grocery store when someone behind me in line started and as I was asking them to stop the grocery clerk started so I switched lanes and the person behind me followed over.

    As far as explaining the law I have found these cards very helpful. They are small business card size and you can hand them out and keep on going.

  2. Mika says:

    Oops I forgot the link.

    http://amzn.to/1H6r2cj

    • Allie says:

      I have those same cards. I bought them when I bought my vest. Thankfully I have not had anyone confront me about my dog because the vest clearly identifies her as a service animal, but I keep the cards in my wallet and my car always so I am prepared if/when it does happen. I like that they have the phone number for the Department of Justice, so if I am feeling brave enough, I can tell the manager/whoever to call that number if they don’t believe me.

  3. Allie says:

    Here is one thing I trained my dog to do to prevent people from petting her: I taught her to sit literally right between my legs. I step my feet apart a little farther than hip distance and use the command “step up” for her to position herself between my legs and sit/stay. I have recently been using it when I am waiting in a line or stopped to read a product label or something. I found that people are far less likely to reach between my legs to pet my dog than if she is just sitting next to or behind me.

    Now that she has that part of the behavior solid, I am starting to teach her to walk forward with me while staying in between my legs, so that when we are in a long line that is just inching forward she does not have to move back into heel position on my left in order to take just two steps forward and then get back in between my legs. I think that teaching her to walk forward with me while staying in between my legs will be very useful, especially with many people around.

    So that is my suggestion for people who, like me, are unable to appropriately tell people to buzz off. When I have to confront people, it can trigger a panic attack. So far since using this between my legs behavior, not one person has been able to pet my dog, and even though some people still ask me (I rehearse saying “no thank you, she is a working service dog, she can’t be distracted.”) , they are basically physically unable to pet her without my permission. And as an added bonus, my dog who loves people, is reminded not to pay attention to people who coo at her while she is working. Also, part of her job is to remain in physical contact with me when I am in a crowd to keep me calm, so this behavior accomplishes all those things at once.

  4. Tia says:

    The service dog that works great for my allergies is a standard poodle. The attention that she garners every day I am in public is rather high. What I would like is for people to understand I am disabled (I also have a white cane,red tip) and have 5 disabilities. Just common courtesy would work for me and effective parenting techniques so I do not have to continually monitor the poor behavior of little ones. No matter what I say and as kind as I say it, people will continue to behave in dangerous and annoying ways as I continue my life as a person who benefits from the use of a service dog. I send positive energy to all who have their lives enhanced by these amazing four footed companions and hope that other people with disabilities can encounter the improvement that many of us already enjoy. My best to all.

  5. Darcy Rohde says:

    A simple “No, I’m sorry you can’t– it interferes with his training”

    or “I wish you could, but it would interfere with the training we’re working on.”

    And REMEMBER: Dogs need to learn to work with distractions too– so distraction-less training would not be very effective in a real emergency or medical alert when some serious distractions would arise!!!

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