It’s hard for strangers. My dog is beautiful; dogs aren’t usually allowed in public; he’s sweet and social, and seeing him assist me is often amazing to them–and to me!
When I explain his working role, I like to say that *if his vest is on, he’s a living medical device. What a remarkable thing: that I can trust him so fully and know he has my back. He’s vital to my daily independence, and just as he has responsibilities for standards of behavior in public and has to maintain a fairly high tolerance for distractibility, it’s my responsibility to keep him safe and never allow him to be disruptive to others. We don’t go into a place of business if he’s muddy or wet. I don’t allow him to lick himself (that happens outside, because it has to happen–he’s a dog), and I even try to minimize the how often he shakes his body to remove excess fur. It’s not something cafe customers want in their coffee.
He works hard and he plays hard, which is not something people who encounter us in public can see. On duty, he gets behind the ear scratches from me and moments of downtime from his job. So you can smile, or give a small wave, or ask before you reach out to pet him. I might be able to let you! Although every handler has different preferences, I don’t even mind if you ask his name, because as long as you don’t call him, he keeps right on truckin’. He is a good boy. And he is a living medical device. And I say that with all the love you can possibly imagine. Not treating him as such is not just a difference of opinion between me and somebody who’s a lover of dogs. It’s in direct opposition to years of hard work, 76 hours of handler training, and the command review we do daily to keep his mind challenged and his responsiveness high.
When the vest is off? He’s my bunny, my bear, my noble steed. He snorts and rolls and comes for cuddles and kisses.