Assistance (Service) Dogs

service dog

Dogs can certainly be a best friend, but when they are assistance animals they are much more. These dogs allow people freedoms many of us take for granted everyday.

Rachael Armstrong is a Washington State University sophomore veterinary student at who provides "basic training" to assistance dogs. "Zack" is the two-year-old German shepherd currently under Rachael’s tutelage. His title is prominently displayed on the red vest he wears. Given his job will be to assist someone with day to day living, Zack must be exposed to every possible public environment.

It is essential for people to understand that assistance dogs, even in training, are not pets. They receive between one and two years of "basic" training exposing them to public places and then go on to "finishing" school for several more months to perfect their skills.

If you encounter a person with an assistance dog there are a few simple guidelines to follow:

  • Do not touch or speak to the assistance dog. This is a distraction that interferes with their work and could endanger their human companion.
  • Never attempt to feed an assistance dog! Food is a significant distraction.
  • Speak to the person, not the dog, if you have a question or would like information about their dog.
  • If you feel compelled to help someone with an assistance dog, offer your assistance and wait for it to be accepted. Well meaning or not, assistance that is not sought is interference and can endanger both the handler and the dog.

Look at service dogs as you would any other hard working service provider, with respect for the job they are doing.

This Pet Health Topic was written by Sarah Hoggan, Washington State University, Class of 2001.

Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.

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