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If a Service Dog Approaches You, It's Because Their Owner Needs Help

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Perhaps you've noticed a hardworking service dog when you're out and about. It no longer seems out of place to see one at the movies, an airport, or a grocery store. As a result, we've all memorized the same rule: Don't go up to a working service animal and try to pet it. But what do you do if the animal approaches you and he or she doesn't have an owner?

Recently, a "Service Dog PSA" explaining what you should do in the above situation went viral. The tweet starts with a story that was first posted on Tumblr: The original writer, whose name is Tessa, has epilepsy, so her guide dog is trained to alert someone if she's having a seizure. When Tessa tripped and fell, her service dog mistook that action for a seizure and ran to get help. Despite a bruised ego, Tessa was fine and went after her dog — only to find a very annoyed woman shooing him away.

"I feel like I need to make this heads up: If a service dog approaches you, it means [their owner] is down and in need of help. 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. We’re going to update his training so if the first person doesn’t cooperate, he moves on, but seriously guys. If what’s-his-face could understand that Lassie wanted him to go to the well, you can figure out that a dog in a vest proclaiming it a service dog wants you to follow him."

After Hope's tweet went viral, the TODAY show interviewed a professional dog trainer about what to do in this scenario. The trainer echoed Hope's tweet and elaborated, "What [the dog is] going to do is take their nose and nudge your leg. Service dogs are trained to not bark or jump, so all you have to do is simply follow them to their owner in distress. The verbal cue is not going to be a secret password," she said. "You can say, ‘What?’ or ‘Where?’ or just start walking [with the dog]."

So now that you have permission to follow a dog wherever they take you, go! You could end up saving a life.

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