Dear Homeward Bound: How can I tell if it’s a service dog?

Dear Homeward Bound,
I am curious about how to know if a dog is a service dog? I see dogs in stores a lot and I don’t know if they are working service dogs or just people’s pets. Sometimes they’re really cute and I want to be able to pet them but I’ve heard that you shouldn’t do that if they are service dogs.
Dear Curious,
Great question! With more and more businesses becoming pet friendly it can be hard to tell. According to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), a “service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” Extensive training and the ability to pass the “Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test” are required for service dogs.
Service dogs are typically recognized by the vests they wear. Unfortunately there are people who take advantage of this identifying characteristic and purchase vests for untrained dogs so they can take their dogs out with them.
Because of this, perhaps the best way to identify a trained service dog is to look at the dog’s behaviors. A service dog should be completely focused on his or her handler and oblivious to distractions. If you see a dog who does not appear to see you or react to just how much you want to pet him or her that is probably a working service dog.
And you are correct that you are not supposed to approach a working service dog. But don’t worry; it is also amazing just to watch the partnership between the dog and his or her person.
Jessica Danyow
Homeward Bound

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