Teaching Kids How to Act Around Service Dogs 


Service Dogs have become an increasing necessity in the modern era.

We see them everywhere nowadays. Still, as commonplace as they are rapidly becoming, the vast majority of people do not know or fully understand the purpose of a Service Dog or the proper protocol to follow when you encounter one.

It is important that to understand what these animals do and how to behave properly around them.

Fortunately you can talk to your children about Service Dogs to make sure they treat them for what they are:  A working animal extension of their handler, who deserves respect and consideration.

Be aware of this. No matter how hard or long the Service Dog trains, is socialized, or deemed for duty, keep in mind that not all Service Dogs may be fully comfortable around the sometimes unpredictability of active and inquisitive children.

No need to get angry or upset if someone says you or your child can not pet or play their Service Dog. It’s not meant to be a personal slight or them being mean towards you.

As we’ve mentioned, the animal is working and the owner or handler may not want to distract the dog just as a safety precaution. [FACT: Distracting a Service Animal is a crime punishable by State & Federal Law.]

Below are some tips on how to teach your kids proper behavior around service dogs.

Is a Therapy Dog the Same Thing as a Service Dog?


A therapy dog is a canine that has been deemed appropriate by a national group such as Therapy Dog International (TDI) as a comfort.

The therapy they provide is simply their company, the ability to touch a dog or see one or as a companion in a medical facility such as a nursing home, hospital, or in a school.

In the case of the reading dogs, they provide a non-judgmental reading companion.

Therapy Dogs have passed the AKC Canine Good Citizen test and usually another test given by the club or organization they are registered with.

Therapy Dogs should be friendly and eager to be petted by anyone they meet, but it’s good to get children in the habit of “asking” before petting any dog. As with all dogs, there are days that they themselves may not be feeling optimal, or have had shots or vet visits or may be suffering a recent medical malady themselves.

  • Therapy dogs are not allowed in any establishment that prohibits “pet” dogs.

What are Emotional Support Dogs?


An emotional support animal (ESA) is a type of animal that provides comfort to help relieve a symptom or effect of a person's disability. Under the governing law, an emotional support animal is not a pet and is generally not restricted by species.

To qualify for an emotional support animal in the US, its owner must have an emotional or mental disability that is certified by a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other licensed mental health care provider. These may be invisible disabilities.

The owner's mental health impairment must be substantial enough to produce disability, rather than discomfort or a desire to have a pet. Furthermore, for the provider to certify the animal, non-fraudulently, the emotional support animal's presence must provide a significant benefit, that makes the difference between the person functioning adequately and not.

An emotional support animal differs from a service animal. Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks, while emotional support animals receive no specific training, nor even, necessarily, any training at all. [It therefore stands that in the setting of mental illness, whether or not the animal is a "service animal" vs. an emotional support animal would hinge on whether or not it is formally trained to do something specific to mitigate the mental illness.]

Any animal that provides support, well-being, comfort, or aid, to an individual through companionship, unconditional positive regard, and affection may be regarded as an emotional support animal.

  • In the U.S., people with mental health disabilities can be exempted from certain federal housing and travel rules if they own an emotional support animal. To receive that exemption, they must meet the “federal definition of disabled”, and the animal must provide emotional support that alleviates some symptom or effect of the disability. The person must usually present a letter from a certified healthcare provider, stating that the animal provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the symptoms or effects of the disability.

While they provide a valuable service to their owners, they are not considered Service Dogs and do not have the same sorts of public access that service dogs have.

  • Under the Fair Housing Act, they are allowed to live in homes or apartments that would otherwise not allow pets.


The laws about flying with an emotional support animal are evolving, changing and currently under review. Please contact your airlines for more information before flying.

What is the difference from a Psychiatric Dog vs Emotional Support?


In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual," and therefore allows handlers of psychiatric service dogs the same rights and protections afforded to those with other types of service animals. Service dogs, including psychiatric service dogs, are allowed to accompany their handler in any location that is normally accessible to the public regardless of whether health codes or business policies normally would allow a dog to enter, provided the dog behaves properly and does not interfere with normal operations (e.g. barking, biting, defecating, or obstructing other people) or pose a direct threat to the safety of others.


A psychiatric service dog is a recognized sub-category of Service Dogs trained to assist their handler with a psychiatric disability or a mental disability, such as but not limited to:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [includes military, traumatic events or victims of abuse]

  • Schizophrenia

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Autism

  • Bipolar disorder


A psychiatric service dog can assist their handler by providing a safe presence that grounds them; the dog may perhaps lean on the person to provide a calming pressure.

Training to mitigate a psychiatric disability may include:

  • Providing environmental assessment (in such cases as paranoia or hallucinations)

  • Signaling behaviors (such as interrupting repetitive or injurious behaviors)

  • Reminding the handler to take medication

  • Retrieving objects (phone, water, etc.)

  • Guiding the handler from stressful situations

  • Acting as a brace if the handler becomes dizzy

Moreover, the dog can be an extremely useful companion in any controlled training concerning cognitive functions, such as walking the dog.

These dogs fall under the same laws and public access benefits as Service Dogs. 

So what is a Service Dog?

Under federal law, as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is one who is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.


To qualify as service dogs, the animals must be trained to actually do tasks. This sets them apart from dogs that provide comfort or emotional support just by being their dogs. The distinction is important when it comes to access to places where animals typically are not allowed, such as businesses where food is sold or served, or public transportation.


Service Dogs Come in all Shapes, Sizes & Breeds.

Many have Different types of Important Jobs to do.


A Service Dog is an animal that has been specifically trained to provide a specific type of service or a trained task for its owner to make functioning in life easier or to help them with their mobility in order to get around better.

They can help with:

  • Opening & Closing doors, draws

  • Retrieve Items like the phone, keys, medication

  • Act as a balance or counter balance

  • Act as a guide or body block in a crowd

  • Carry items

  • Pull a wheelchair

  • Navigate stairs or crossing a street


Because of the duties they perform for their handler, Service Dogs are allowed where pet dogs are prohibited.

Service dogs are specially trained to help individuals with disabilities, which can range from people who are visual or hearing impaired, have a physical limitation, or to people with other less obvious disabilities or medical conditions.

Because of this, understanding what service dogs do and how to behave around them is very important.

A Service Dog is typically recognizable by its vest, which can be in any array of colors or styles, but will usually have some form of “Guide Dog”, “Hearing Dog”, “Service Dog,” or “Assistance Animal” wording on the vest.

However, in order to protect the privacy of individuals that choose not to make their handicap known to the public, wearing a vest is not required by law. This is why it is always a good idea to keep a respectful distance from all dogs in public settings. 



The scope of Service Dogs is not limited to those with Physical Disabilities. There are Service Dogs that also alert for Medical Conditions such as but, not limited to:


  • Blood Sugar

  • Asthma

  • Seizures

  • PTSD

  • Anxiety

  • Autism

  • Vertigo

  • Migraine

  • Food Allergies


For this reason Service Dogs are always considered “on duty” whenever they are with their handler. It is seldom advisable, if ever, to pet a working service dog or attempt to distract the service dog from doing its job by making kissy noises, whistling, barking, running, screaming, or attempting to feed it a treat, etc.


These dogs go through an intense training to be able to do the job that they need to do, but they are still dogs with their own innate instincts from time to time and can still experience having an off-day or struggling to do their job in a crowded store or venue. With the onset of COVID-19 and wearing masks this can be made incredibly harder for them to hear commands or smell special hormones they have been trained to detect.


This is why distracting them from doing their job can put their human in a very dangerous health situation if they miss spotting and alerting their handler in time to take precautions or remedy the situation.



Approaching a Service Dog & Handler Team


  • When you see a service dog, speak to the person who is with them, not at or to the dog.

  • If you’re with your own dog, don’t approach the service dog until you ask if it is okay.

  • If you see a person with a service dog, please yield, just like those in wheelchairs service dog teams have the

  • Do not whistle or make any other sounds around a service dog. This could be distracting to them if they are listening for commands or working for a hearing impaired handler.

  • Never give treats or other food to a service dog. They are trained to not beg, but this can also be distracting to their work especially if they are working for someone with food allergies.

  • Don’t ask specifics about the handler’s disability unless they are already sharing it with you. This is invasive to their privacy. You can ask about the dog specifically if you are interested.



Service dogs make a huge difference in so many people’s lives.

These dogs are extremely well trained, and they deserve our respect.


Teaching your children this will make the service dog’s job and public life much easier and will teach your child a lesson about how hard working and incredible these animals really are.