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Dressing Service Dogs
By: Myra Markley

Personally I am all for putting vests on service dogs while they are working and while there is no federal law requiring this that I could find, I still think it's important and I'll explain why.

A service dog or one in training is going to attract attention, especially if you are in a location that doesn't allow dogs (the grocery store for example). People are going to notice that there is a dog in a place where no dog should normally be. Kids are going to yell point and squeal. I've actually lost count of the number of times I've heard "Look mom a doggie!" screamed out across the room Ė and I tried to keep count for awhile.

Adults are going to smile or frown and while the majority of people will stay away from the dog others will reach out to pet the dog as it walks by. I must admit those "sly petters" do bother me and it does distract my dog more than it should.

However once my dog got her first vest with patches that read "I'm working- please don't pet me" and "Service Dog". I found that at least some people were more respectful of me and the dog simply because they noticed the vest. In stead of just petting the dog they'd stop and ask for permission and respected my decision when I'd have to say no.

Sandi - Golden RetrieverUnfortunately my dog has what many people have called "A sweet face" which doesn't help keep people away while we are working in public.

Those who choose not to vest their dog often are confronted when they enter stores or at some point are tracked down by employees and asked to explain why they have a dog in the store. I've heard of people being asked to take the dog out of a store because it isn't clearly marked as a service dog. In most cases simply explaining that the dog is in fact a service dog will dissuade a store from kicking you out but not always. Granted legally you and dog can be there without a vest and you don't need to prove that the dog is a service dog unless the police get involved. However why go through all that hassle when you don't have to?

Another excellent reason for dressing your service dog is in case of an emergency. Let's say you become injured in an accident or due to your disability are rendered unconscious or otherwise unable to speak. What will happen to your dog? It'll be treated like any other pet dog and will probably be turned over to the local animal shelter for holding until you can claim the dog. On the other hand if the dog is dressed and marked as a service dog it will very likely be kept with you and watched over by the police or hospital staff until a family member can be contacted to pick up the dog. On that note I also suggest you keep a little "In case of emergency card" in your dogs vest so your family or friend can be contacted quickly Ė as much for your benefit as the dogs.

Are there more benefits to dressing your service dog you may ask? Why yes, of course. When a service dog is on duty and wears the vest while training or working the dog quickly learns that the vest means work. Over time itís like flipping a switch. Vest comes off and the dog gets to be a playful lovable dog, vest goes on and itís time to get serious. Dogs want to please people and they can do this best if they know what you expect of them. Letting the dog know the difference between work and play will help prevent hours of frustration for you and your dog.

Finally I have heard people complain that putting the vest on their dog is difficult or to time consuming when they are in a hurry. To that I say, adapt and plan ahead. I myself have very crippled, nearly unless fingers. I couldnít snap and unsnap my dogs vest at all. What did I do? I had the plastic clasp removed and a small belt buckle put on and punched eyelets in the strap. Now her vest is easy for me to put on and take off Ė itís even adjustable as she grows.

Copyright © K9s @ Work 2008
Owner: M. Markley