For the Community

three people with Canine Companions service dog

Disability Etiquette

  • When speaking with a person with a disability, speak directly to them and not to a parent, attendant, interpreter or service dog.
  • Ask whether someone wants your help.
  • Be mindful about physical contact. Don’t grab someone’s arm, don’t pat someone on the head, don’t touch their equipment.
  • Don’t make assumptions about a person’s ability or inability to participate in an activity or do a task.
  • Don’t ask about a person’s disability; they will share when they’re ready.
  • Don’t wear heavy perfumes. Many people have sensitivities to chemicals.
  • Always put the person first. They are a person with a disability, not a disabled person.
  • Avoid outdated terms like crippled, handicapped, retarded, wheelchair bound or hearing impaired.
  • Avoid using disempowering words like victim or suffers.
  • If you have trouble understanding someone with a speech disability, ask them to repeat the part you didn’t understand.
  • Use proper service dog etiquette. Make sure to acknowledge the person before acknowledging their service dog. And always ask before you pet. Remember the dog is working and we don’t want to distract.

Service Dog Etiquette

So often when we see service dogs with their partners, we’re immediately drawn to admire them and even pet them. However well intentioned, it’s important be aware of the rules surrounding working dogs. People with working dogs generally enjoy engaging with those drawn to their canine partners. Just remember to observe the tips below, and enjoy your interaction with the team.

  • Don’t touch the dog without asking permission first. This is a distraction and may prevent the dog from tending to the human partner. Be sensitive to the fact the dog is working and may be in the middle of a command or direction from its human partner. Most dogs need to be told to be “released” from work mode to interact with someone.
  • Please don’t feed the dog. It may be on a special diet. Food is the ultimate distraction to the working dog and can jeopardize the working service dog team.
  • Speak to the person, not the service dog. Most handlers do not mind talking about service dogs and their dog specifically if they have the time. In fact, they often enjoy it!
  • Do not whistle or make sounds to the dog as this again may provide a dangerous distraction.
  • Never make assumptions about the individual’s intelligence, feelings or capabilities. Offers of help are appreciated, but ask first. Usually, the human/dog team can get the task done by themselves.
  • Always approach an service dog calmly and speak to their human partner before touching or addressing the dog.