What Should You Do If A Service Dog Approaches Without Its Owner?

"Don’t get scared, don’t get annoyed, follow the dog!"

When you think of dogs saving the day, Lassie always comes to mind. Every time Timmy found himself in trouble, the beloved dog would run home to seek June Lockhart's help without fail. While Lassie couldn't communicate in the traditional sense, her family instinctively knew to follow her lead. Yet, while this image has become an unforgettable element of our pop culture, few people knew that the same sort of response applied to service dogs — until recently, of course. 

In a tweet that has since been deleted, Twitter user @lissalet shared the following graphic, which describes an experience her friend transformed into a public service announcement for the social media age: 


"So today I tripped," the text reads. "Fell flat on my face, it was awful but ultimately harmless. My service dog, however, is trained to go get an adult if I have a seizure, and he assumed this was a seizure (were training him to do more to care for me, but we didn't learn I had epilepsy until a year after we got him)."

Yet, while the dog did as he was taught, the woman he found was merely annoyed, not alarmed. Thankfully, the dog's owner was not in the midst of a medical emergency. However, the experience inspired them to share this information on social media.

"If a service dog without a person approaches you, it means the person is down and in need of help," the owner explained. "Don't get scared, don't get annoyed, follow the dog! If it had been an emergency situation, I could have vomited and choked, I could have hit my head, I could have had so many things happen to me. We're going to update his training so if the first person doesn't cooperate, he moves on, but seriously guys. If what's-his-face could understand that lassie wanted him to go to the well, you can figure out that a dog in a vest proclaiming it a service dog wants you to follow him."

After the original tweet went viral — a post that has also gained traction on Tumblr — users shared similar stories on Twitter, while countless others expressed gratitude for this unexpected lesson:

TODAY also ran a segment during which Carson Daly asked the show's resident dog trainer, Olivia, some basic questions about service dog etiquette, including how humans should react if an unaccompanied service dog should approach them.

"What they're going to do is take their nose and nudge your leg," the trainer explained, specifically noting that service dogs are not usually trained to jump or bark. "If you see a dog in vest without a person attached to it, follow it."

When asked if one should say something to indicate they're prepared to follow the dog, Olivia said there's no clear command. "The verbal cue is not going to be a secret password," she said. "You can say, 'What?' or 'Where?' or just start walking [wherever the dog leads]." 

Olivia concluded the segment by adding that those who rely on service dogs can train their companion to move along to someone else should the first person they come upon react negatively to the dog's request. Doing so could ultimately save the owner's life.

Cover image via Belish / Shutterstock


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