Service dogs were trained from puppyhood for a very important task: assisting humans. But, whether it’s for visual guidance, alert tasks, hearing, and so on, service dogs are not your typical household pets. This makes us wonder, can service dogs play with other dogs? Are they ever off-duty?
In this post, we will discuss this most-asked question to help handlers manage the canines. This is essential information as service dogs aren’t supposed to be raised as household pets.
What are service dogs?
Before we directly answer the question above, it’s important to understand what service dogs are first.
Unlike most domesticated canines, service dogs are often bred and trained for a specific set of tasks. This is where they got their name.
Moreover, there are different types of service dogs based on the tasks they perform. This also affects the choices of breeds that suit service dog training.
For example, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are preferred for guide service dogs because of their size and temperament. On the other hand, Poodles and mixed-sporting canines are often trained for diabetic alert purposes.
But whatever the breed or task is, service dogs require special treatment. They can’t be raised like any other pet.
Handlers have to adhere to specific conditions and rules set by the organizations placing the service dog. Again, this is for the safety and efficiency of the canine while at work.
This is also why service dog organizations are strict when it comes to placing the canines in their handlers. And consequently, this explains why service dogs come at a hefty price.
Can service dogs play with other dogs?
So now, for the biggest question, can a service dog mingle or play with non-service canines? Yes, but only if the canine is off-duty.
Service dogs are still dogs, so their urge to play is something trainers can’t erase. Still, service dogs are trained to know when to play and when to be fully alert.
While service dogs can play with household pets, living with them full-time is a different story. There could be complications if you plan to get a service dog while keeping other canines or pets in the house. Below are some of it:
Unfortunately, the organization may not allow it.
Many service dog programs won’t place a canine to a handler if he or she already has a dog. In this case, the handler would have to choose whether to keep the domesticated pet or comply with the service dog requirement.
This may seem harsh or even brutal for some, but the service dog organizations do this for very good reasons.
First of all, the presence of other pets could disrupt the service dog’s attention and efficiency on its job. Service dogs can still relapse if exposed to wrong stimuli, no matter how trained.
Aside from the condition of not having other pets, the organization will also impose safety measures for the dog. This includes dog-proofing your house, having a caregiver for the dog, and ensuring that the canine gets periodic vet checks.
On the other hand, some organizations will allow placing a service dog in multi-canine households under specific conditions. Most of the time, this is allowable if the service dog’s tasks aren’t as painstaking as alert dogs.
Other pets might distract the service dog.
The biggest problem with raising other dogs with a service canine is the risk of distraction. No matter how much you try to separate the service dog, some form of distraction can still occur.
For example, the excessive barking of other pets in your home could affect the alertness of the service dog. In some cases, the service dog will end up barking, too, as animal instincts kick in.
Aside from that, service dogs’ attention could become divided when there’s another dog around. This is something that alert dogs should never be exposed to. It’s because alert dogs need to have laser-like focus while they are on duty.
Other pets may enforce negative behavior.
Service dogs also run the risk of picking negative behavior from other household pets. This includes chewing and begging at the dinner table.
While service dogs are trained, they are still animals who can be influenced through repetitive exposure to the stimuli.
Also, your approach to the household pet may encourage the service dog to exhibit negative behavior. For example, if your household pet chews things and gets away with it, the service dog may think that it’s an acceptable action.
Remember that bad habits die hard, even for dogs. So instead of compromising your service dog’s training, it’s best to separate them from other pets.
Other pets may get jealous.
Lastly, other pets in your home may grow jealous of the service dog. This is because service dogs must remain within the arm’s length of their handler. And if your other pets aren’t fully trained, they may end up attacking the service dog.
When such an attack happens, the organization may pull out the service dog from you. Worse, you may be banned from securing a service dog until you give up your pets at home.
What to do if your pet approaches a service dog
If your dog happens to approach a service dog in public, it’s important to know what you have to do. Take note that service dogs in public are often on-duty and must not be disturbed in any way. With that, here are a few pieces of advice to keep in mind:
✔️Retrieve your dog
When you see your dog approaching the service dog, you must lead it in the opposite direction. Service dogs always wear a vest with an ID on it, so they are easy to spot.
The goal here is to prevent your dog from having any contact with the service dog. You should keep your distance and bring your dog as far away as possible once it starts to bark.
✔️Talk to the handler
If your dog interacts with an on-duty service dog, it’s important to talk to the handler. Never try to speak or touch the dog. It’s best to apologize and take your dog away as soon as possible.
Even if the two dogs seem to be getting along, you should never let the interaction linger. Canines can have altercations, which can be life-threatening to the service dog’s handler.
If the service dog approached your dog, you should talk to the handler just the same. It’s often a sign of distraction that requires correction. Also, you should let the handler correct the canine and don’t try to handle the service dog on your own.
✔️If the service dog is alone, assume danger.
If the service dog that your pet approached is alone with a loose leash, assume that its owner is in danger. It’s possible that the handler collapsed somewhere, and the dog wandered off for help.
The next best move is to report the incident to the authorities nearby. This way, the dog can be traced to the organization, and the area can be searched for the handler.
This can be life-saving information for the part of the handler. It will also prevent the service dog from getting lost or attacked by untrained pets.
How to keep your service dog happy
As much as they have a job to do, service dogs can still enjoy good playtime with their owners. This is granted that the dog is off-duty. Also, most activities must be exercise-based to keep the canine in shape. This way, your dog won’t have to interact with other dogs.
Here are a few activities you can do with your dog and those that you shouldn’t:
Things you can do
- Running on a treadmill. Service dogs like Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds have a lot of energy to expel. You can help your dog burn this energy by letting it run on a treadmill. You can also let your dog run in your yard when the weather permits.
- Scavenger hunt. Another way to stimulate a service dog’s mind is to play a scavenging hunt with yummy treats as rewards. Aside from keeping the service dog busy, it also enforces its training.
- Box game. With this game, you need a box that’s large enough to fit a service dog. The idea is to teach your dog to go inside the box or just put its paws in it to get a treat. Many times, handlers will let the dog offer various behavior/actions before tossing the treat. Overall, it’s a great way to sharpen a canine’s critical thinking.
- Swimming. Swimming is a recommended activity for service dogs, especially breeds with an affinity for water. This stimulates the dog physically and mentally. If you’re planning to swim to a public pool or fitness center, you should coordinate with the staff first, so you and your dog will be accommodated properly.
Things you shouldn’t do:
- Playing fetch with a guide dog. While this may differ across service dogs, many trainers discourage playing fetch because it promotes chasing. If your service dog happened to see a similar toy in public, there’s a risk that the pooch may chase after it.
- Letting the dog play on duty. Even if you feel well, it’s not wise to let your service dog play while on duty. This may lead to the formation of bad behavior, which can be difficult to correct later on. Also, it will distract the canine from its tasks.
- Tolerating negative behavior. Service dogs can still exhibit incorrect behavior from time to time. It’s the job of the handler to correct the canine. Most organizations will provide guidance for this part.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can service dogs be around other dogs?
A: It’s totally fine to expose your service dog to other canines. In fact, this will likely happen when going outside with your service dog. After all, these smart canines are trained to withstand distractions, including other animals. Still, you should follow the instructions of the organizations that placed the dog to you.
Q: Can I pet a service dog?
A: If you see a service dog in public, you should never try to pet it. Petting will distract the dog from its task. This is why service dogs often wear vests with ‘Do Not Disturb’ or ‘Service Dog’ tags. In addition, petting or engaging with the dog can be detrimental to its handler.
Q: Can you play fetch with a service dog?
A: Playing fetch is highly discouraged by service dog trainers. This playtime staple enforces chasing, which is something a guide dog or service dog should never do. In the long run, an innocent game of fetch can ruin years of training.
Q: Can you snuggle with a service dog?
A: Snuggling isn’t something service dogs are trained for. Overall, it’s harmless, but it’s important to ensure that you’re not treating the service dog as a pet. Always remember that the canine is a working dog and not just a household pet.
Q: Can other dogs ruin a service dog’s training?
A: Untrained or other household canines can impact the training and dexterity of a service dog. This is why many service dog organizations won’t place a canine on a handler if he or she has other pets. While it may seem limiting, such a rule is to ensure that the canine will perform its tasks well.
Q: Do service dogs have fun?
A: Even if they are working, service dogs can still have fun. They can be taken to casual walks, play with toys, run around the yard, and even have playdates. Still, a service dog’s way of having fun is slightly different than a typical household pet.
Can service dogs play with other dogs? Generally, it’s not encouraged to let a service dog play with household pets. It’s because such playtime may distract the working canine. Also, interaction with other pets may lead to the formation of negative habits.
Even if this is the case, your service dog can still have fun. You can take the pooch on walks, swimming, and playtimes in the yard.