When a service dog approaches you and it’s alone, it might be asking urgently for help
Most people are aware of some rules regarding service dogs: don’t approach or pet a service dog who is on the job, and be aware that service dogs are allowed to be in places that other dogs aren’t — like grocery stores. However, as a recent viral Twitter post revealed this week, most people don’t know what to do when dog with a service vest or harness approaches you — and there’s no one on the other end of its leash.
The “Service Dog PSA” opens with the story of a woman who tripped and fell while with her service dog. The dog, who was trained to get an adult if she has a seizure, tried to get the attention of a nearby woman, who “was swatting him and telling him to go away.”
Little did the woman know that she was ignoring a sign that there may be a nearby emergency.
— Melissa Hope (@lissalet) June 16, 2018
“If a service dog without a person approaches you, it means the person is down and in need of help,” the post continues. “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…. if what’s-his-face could understand that [L]assie wanted him to go to the well, you can figure out that a dog in a vest proclaiming it is a service dog wants you to follow him.”
The post, which went up on Saturday, has since been shared over 163,000 times, so hopefully the word is getting out. The woman who posted it said that while it wasn’t her personal story (it originally appeared on Tumblr), she was glad to educate so many people about what to do in these situations, which could be life-or-death scenarios.
After the post appeared online, the Today show investigated the issue further, speaking with a professional dog trainer about what exactly to do when an active service dog approaches you alone.
Do you know what to do if a service dog approaches you without a person?
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) June 19, 2018
The trainer expanded on the information in the original Twitter post, explaining exactly how a service dog might alert you to an issue and how you can let it know that you are there to help.
“What they’re going to do is take their nose and nudge your leg,” she explained, mentioning that service dogs are not often trained to jump or bark. “If you see a dog in vest without a person attached to it, follow it.”
As for how to respond to a service dog looking for help:
“The verbal cue is not going to be a secret password,” she said. “You can say, ‘What?’ or ‘Where?’ or just start walking [to follow the dog].”
The response to the information, which is new to many, was widespread.
my classmate's service dog came up to me alone outside and i said "where's your mom?" he ran off and i ran with him. his mom was having a seizure on the sidewalk and i was there to put my sweater under her head to protect her.— [LDog] gretchen mothman (@solelymoving) June 18, 2018
always follow a service dog https://t.co/oruNJDW2YK
Honestly... I’d follow a stray dog into a dark ally so you better believe I’ll follow a service dog! https://t.co/FijxecOhdq— Coach Mike (@gymMIKE10) June 18, 2018
Bottom line, the internet is sometimes a complete gem when it comes to alerting people of little-known facts that could literally end up saving a life.