That Girl’s Blog: Service Dog Etiquette

Scout is a Service Dog trained through resources from Heroes In Transition

Scout is a Service Dog trained through resources from Heroes In Transition

“STOP! Please Don’t Pet. Please Don’t Distract.”

I have to admit; sometimes it’s hard to follow written instructions, especially when you are looking at a dog with big brown eyes and floppy ears. But when you see a vest with patches, including a big red “STOP” and the words “Service Dog,” you have to control yourself. This dog is working. This dog has an important job and someone’s life depends on this dog.

Meet Scout. Scout is a specially trained service dog through Heroes in Transition. Scout’s job is to help a veteran cope with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). That veteran is Andy.

I had the chance to meet with Andy, Scout and Matthew Noone from Hynoone K-9 Training. My intention was to learn about the training process for these amazing dogs. What I quickly realized was there was something far more important. It seems the general public really has no idea how to act around an official service dog.

It’s nobody’s fault. We are only human. We see a dog and we want to touch it. We want to play with it. We want to give it cookies. We want it to like us! This is where the frustration builds for both handler and trainer. As I talked with Andy and Matt, Scout laid quietly on the floor at Andy’s feet. Occasionally he would raise his head and make reassuring eye contact with Andy.

As we chatted, a woman walked right up to Scout and started to talk baby talk to him. Scout didn’t react. Then a teenager walked by and stepped right on his tail. Still, Scout didn’t flinch – but I did. I was baffled! For as much as I love dogs, I would never approach a service dog without asking permission from its owner. Actually, I rarely approach any dog without asking permission from the owner. As a dog owner, I know that I am the exception. I thought, however, that a vest on a dog was a signal to most people.

“Would you walk up and pet someone’s prosthetic arm?” Matt’s comment gave me pause. The analogy was stark, and to someone with little experience with PTSD, it might sound exaggerated. It’s not.

He went on to explain how important a service dog is to a veteran with PTSD. The Mayo clinic defines PTSD as “a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”

At times, these flashbacks and nightmares become both emotionally and physically debilitating. Andy is a combat veteran. The things Andy has seen and survived are the stuff Hollywood makes movies about. Andy lived through atrocities that friends of his did not survive. When Andy came home, his family was elated and tried to surround him with “normal” civilian activities. Unfortunately, the damage done to Andy was not as simple to recognize as a shrapnel wound or a lost limb. He tried years of counseling and medication. Andy shut down. He wouldn’t leave his house. He couldn’t get out of bed.

After 2 years of unsuccessful therapy and prescription medications, Andy was given contact information for Cyndy Jones. Cyndy is a Gold Star Mother. Her son, Captain Eric A. Jones, United States Marine Corps, was killed in a helicopter collision during a combat mission in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in 2009. Cyndy has dedicated her life to helping veterans who need it after they come home in memory of Eric. She founded the non-profit organization “Heroes in Transition” along with Ken Jones and Mike Warrshaw. The organization offers home modifications for disabled veterans, transitional support group therapy, financial support for service families and assistance dogs for veterans. An assistance dog was beginning to look like Andy’s last hope.

It costs approximately $14,000 to acquire and properly train each service dog. Heroes In Transition works very hard not to pass costs on to veterans in need. In the past year, Matt has helped to match and train service dogs for 18 veterans. EIGHTEEN in ONE YEAR! I am not very good at math, but I know, that’s well over a quarter of a million dollars in costs. It is also a life-long training commitment. Matt makes it very clear, that he insists on continued training for both the dog and the veteran. Matt volunteers a great deal of time. It is an important job.

Scout and Andy

Scout and Andy

The dogs become a barometer. If the veteran isn’t doing well, the dog reflects it. If the dog isn’t doing well, Matt can follow up with the handler and get them assistance. It’s for life. These dogs are trained to save their handlers life. And they do.

I was surprised to find out there is no official certification for service dogs. There are a few organizations that have tried to unilaterally set standards for service dog training, but they don’t always work. Each situation is unique. Each veteran is unique. Each dog is unique. You need a trainer willing to work within the parameters for each situation.

To add to the frustration, there are a lot of fakes out there: fake service dog breeders, fake trainers, fake service dogs and sadly, people who fake disabilities.

So how can you be sure the dog walking around the mall is a legitimate service dog? You can’t. Sure, if a dog is flopping along on a leash and jumping on people and taking food from strangers, odds are it’s just a pet. But if you see a vest with patches asking you “Please Do Not Pet,” the best thing you can do is offer a friendly smile to its handler and go about your day or night.

Andy still has difficult days. He still has days when he does not want to get out of bed. Those are the days when Scout reminds him to get up and get moving and continue living. As I tagged along listening to Andy and Matt talk and tell stories, I began to appreciate his American Flag tattoo and his All-American smile, which, if not for the dog at his side, might never have seen the light of day again.

Please share this story, or at the very least the picture of Andy and Scout with the guidelines for service dog etiquette. No one would intentionally do harm to a veteran, but not knowing how to act around a service dog can be detrimental.

Click the Image to Enlarge

Remember these simple rules

Remember these simple rules

To learn more about Heroes In Transition, or if you would like to volunteer or make a donation, please visit:

About Cat Wilson

Cat Wilson is "That Girl" on Cape Country 104 – a Cape Cod native and longtime Cape radio personality. She is a passionate supporter of Military and Veteran causes on the Cape and also hosts local music spotlight program, “The Cheap Seats” on Ocean 104.7.

Speak Your Mind

737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
Contact Us | Advertise Terms of Use 
Employment and EEO | Privacy