Imagine you are blind, out walking with your dog - to the bus stop, to work, to the grocery store, to visit a friend, or just to get some exercise - and a dog starts barking nearby. Your guide dog picks up the pace, pulling you faster. You have no clue if the dog is leashed, if the dog is friendly, if the dog is about to attack you or your service dog. You can't see. Your heart races. Are you going to be bitten? Is your guide dog going to be killed?
Imagine you are hearing impaired, and out with your service dog when your dog gives a "Danger!" signal, and you turn around to see an unleashed dog preparing to leap on you or your service dog. You don't know if the dog is friendly, all you see are giant paws and teeth coming straight at you.
Imagine you have balance issues and you are out walking with your service dog, and another dog bounds up and jumps on your dog, knocking him aside, and knocking you down. As your dog struggles to reach you to help you, the other dog keeps jumping on you and your service dog, and then someone comes up laughing about how "playful" and "friendly" their dog is. You are bruised, shaken, maybe you have a broken bone, and your service dog is being kept from aiding you by the laughing person and the "playful" dog.
Imagine you are in a wheelchair, and you have a service dog that pulls you and fetches things for you, opens doors, turns on lights, and helps you balance as you wheel up and down ramps and curb cutouts (some of which are distressingly scary). You're on your way up one of those scary narrow ramps when someone walking their "friendly" pet dog on a leash comes up and insists on letting the dogs "greet" one another, and the "friendly" dog pushes your service dog hard enough to pull your wheelchair off kilter on the ramp and you tip over.
These scenarios and similar ones play out all across the US every day.
At least 75% of the people assisted by service dogs have experienced at least one attack on their service dog by another dog. More than half of those attacking dogs were off leash, and many were unsupervised, just roaming the neighborhood. An attack is where the dog or the human partner are injured by the encounter (bruises, scrapes, broken bones, slobber from bites that don't break the skin, bites that draw blood, or the service dog later dies of the injury). The pet dogs that were leashed and attacked a service dog did so with the pet dog's owner unable or unwilling to control their dog.
Half of those teams who were attacked by a pet dog experienced more than one attack.
Nearly 85% of the people assisted by a service dog had suffered interference by an aggressive dog - a dog the owner usually claimed was "friendly" or "playful". Interference is where no one is injured, but the service dog team is terrorized, delayed, or even had to abort their activity. More than 80% of these attacks and interferences happen on a public right-of-way, and more than 90% of them happen in areas with clearly posted leash laws - sidewalks, parks, bus stops. Nearly 70% of these were attacks by dogs that were off leash. Many of these off leash dogs were running loose in the neighborhood because the owner let them out to "get exercise" or to "play" with other dogs. The leashed dogs that interfered with the routines of a service dog team frequently did so with the pet owner's encouragement ("Awww, look, they're greeting one another! I think my dog likes your dog. They should be friends!"). The rest did so with the pet dog's owner unable or unwilling to control their dog.
What can you do?
When you are walking your pet dog, make sure your dog is on a leash strong enough to hold the dog. If you can't prevent your dog from sniffing at or leaping on the service dog, cross the street to keep your dog from going up to and interfering in a service team. Or duck into a doorway, or do something so you and your dog get out of the way of the service team. If your dog is truly well trained, tell your dog to sit/stay until the service team is past.
Yes, it inconveniences you, but your dog is a pet; their dog is their partner. Interference with them could compromise their well-being. They know you're there, and will move over themselves to give you more space. But if your dog can't keep to their own space, keep from sniffing, blocking, jumping on the service dog or the handler - it's up to you to get your dog away from the service team.
When you are outside of your property with your pet dog, in public areas like public right-of-ways, parks, bus stops, streets, the verges between houses, public areas in neighborhoods, keep your dog leashed and under control.
Do not let your pet dog roam the neighborhood unsupervised and off-leash. A fenced back yard is ideal, but barring that, give your pet dog frequent walks on a leash. Make sure your home and fenced yard is escape proof.
Don't stake your pet dog out in the front yard, where it is frustrated by all the people, children, and animals (including pets being walked on a leash or service teams) passing by - stakes pull up or leashes/collars break. A staked dog is an accident just waiting to happen.
A dog jumping up on other people, leaping on other dogs, barking at other dogs, running up to other dogs, is not "friendly". Not "playful". A dog off leash is not under control. Even the best behaved dog has off moments. It just takes 30 seconds to destroy a service dog's career. 30 seconds of a dog breaking training, being a dog.
Help reduce the number of service dog teams that have been interfered with, intimidated, or attacked by pet dogs. Help the people who need service dogs get about their lives without fear for themselves and their canine partners.
All it takes are two little things: a leash and keeping control of your pet dog.
The sequel is here: Not Your Dog, Not a Pet