If A Service Dog Without An Owner Approaches You, Follow Them

Most people understand the basic practice of how to interact with service dogs, which is that you should never approach or pet a service dog unless you’ve asked the owner first. And sometimes when you ask, the owner might say no, and you have to respect that because when service dogs are working they can’t always be disrupted.

Recently though, there have been articles and videos circulating online about what to do if a service dog approaches you without their owner, which is important for everyone to know.

The Back Story

Emma and diabetic alert dog Rufus at elementary school in farmingdale new york
Photo Credit: Thomas A. Ferrara/Newsday via Getty Images

An epileptic woman tripped and fell by accident, and her service dog thought she was having a seizure so he went to find help. When the woman went to locate the dog, she found him being swatted away by a woman who didn’t realize what he was trying to do. Because of this, she chose to share her story online, so this hopefully wouldn’t happen to others.

If a service dog approaches you without their owner, they’re not looking to annoy you or get some affection from you. They’re looking for your help.

What Would Happen

guide dog in Shanghai, China
Photo Credit: Wang He/Getty Images

If a service dog approaches you while wearing a vest, harness, or potentially a bandana, and has no owner in sight, that means it wants you to follow it. Service dogs are trained to come up and nudge you to get your attention, and then they want you to come with them.

There is no specific word you need to know to communicate with the dog either. Simply acknowledge that the dog is there, through some sort of verbal communication like saying “where?” or “what?” Trainers have also said if you just start moving, the dog will lead you.

Why Would They Approach You

shopping with mobility assistance dog in Belgian supermarket
Photo Credit: Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If a service or guide dog approaches you, it means that their owner needs help. Service and guide dogs are trained for a number of disabilities and services so you won’t know immediately what situation you’re going to help with.

The owner could be having an epileptic or diabetic seizure, or they might have fallen or passed out, and the dog knows in that situation that it needs to find a human to help.

Now What Do You Do?

service dog walking with man in santa fe, new mexico
Photo Credit: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Once you found the service dog’s owner, you can try to identify the situation. If the person is conscious they might be able to tell you what they need. If you’re trained in first aid you can try to assist them, or you can simply call 9-1-1.

Not all service dogs are trained to find help and lead you back to their owners though. If you’re unable to locate the person, you should still call 9-1-1, to let them know where you are and that you’ve been approached by a service dog without an owner.

The Takeaway

Sparky the service dog - Search and Rescue and Service Dog Day and Awards
Photo Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

There is also a chance that if a service dog approaches you without an owner, he could be lost or have gotten separated from his owner. In that case, you can still try to follow him and assist him in helping find his owner. If you’re in a closed space like a grocery store or department store, you could head back in the direction the dog came from and see if you can locate their owner.

The lesson is whether it’s for them or for their owner, if a service dog approaches you alone, they probably need your help.