Service Dog Etiquette

Service Dog Etiquette

A blog to highlight rules when encountering a service dog

Popping to the supermarket to pick up extra bread and milk is a normal part of everyone’s week - though for some people it’s a bit more of a challenge.   Our service dogs are there to help us do these things independently, but if the public are not versed in service dog etiquette, it can take far longer than usual.

With thanks to Rachel Cresswell, who wrote this post originally and I have tweaked it. (She was happy for people to share her post.)

I want to introduce you all to my Assistance Dog, Walter. Walter is my Mobility Assistance Dog who helps to mitigate my disabilities during simple, day-to-day, activities. It has come to my attention that many of the New Zealand public are unaware of the rules around what to do if you see a working dog in public so I want to take a few moments to clarify and educate you on a few things.

NEVER distract a working dog.

This includes talking to, clucking at, making eye contact with AND PETTING, and please, please, please, do not assume that I am blind (it happens a lot) and therefore will not see you giving him a drive-by pet. I do.  I'm a teacher, so I see more than you realise.  Ninja strokes seem to happen an awful lot, even though Walter's jacket clearly states that he is working.

Walter is there to help me and every time someone stops to talk to him/pet him it distracts him from the job at hand. Just like you, all I want to do is make a quick 10 minute trip to the supermarket to buy milk, but I can't do that if people keep stopping me to ask if they can pat him. The answer will always be 'No, sorry, he is working'. I then also need to take extra time to re-focus him, making my errand out take a lot longer.


If you see us out and about please be kind and give Walter some space to work. Walter is trained to work in crowded spaces, but how would you like it if someone with a trolley was parked right up your backside in the checkout line? Please, be considerate.


If you see Walter with me, and I fumble and drop something, or look like I am struggling to get something off of the bottom shelf in a store, please know that Walter is trained to help me. I know that you are just trying to be chivalrous by offering to pick it up for me but, thanks, Walter's got this!

On the same note, if you see me sitting in the middle of the supermarket aisle, staring at the top shelf, I probably would appreciate help to reach an item (Walter is very clever, but even he has his limitations!).

Only break the rules if …...

If a vested assistance dog comes up to you in public without its handler it probably means that something is seriously wrong. This is the one time you should not ignore a working dog. If the dog has been trained to do so, it will lead you to its injured, unconscious, or lost handler so that you can help them.  Walter is not specifically trained to do this, but a very valid point for many other working dogs, so I have left this in from the original post.

If I need help, I will ask for it, or if I can't, I will ask Walter to 'SPEAK' so as to get someone's attention (but I reserve this for emergencies). If you hear a single bark in an unexpected place, such as coming from inside the toilet of a shopping mall, please investigate!


There are a variety of different service dogs, and they wear different coloured jackets, but the rules apply to them all.  I have found that even quite young children happily accept a parent explaining that “the dog is a special helping dog - he is helping the lady - he wears a jacket to show he is working and to show that we mustn’t touch him”.

People around New Zealand who are partnered with a service dog will thank you immensely for reading, and following, these rules.