You’re out shopping when you turn the corner to find a cute dog browsing the merchandise. Your first instinct tells you it’s someone’s service dog, but then something doesn’t seem right. People posing their pets as fake service dogs has become a widespread problem. Real service dogs can be any breed, their owners don’t always have visible disabilities, and they’re not required to carry any kind of identifying paperwork or distinguishing badge. This makes spotting the fakes exceptionally difficult, but if the dog is showing any of these behaviors, it’s most likely an impostor.
#1 – They’re Being Carried or Pushed in a Cart
Service dogs are trained in countless different kinds of jobs, but no matter what their specialty is, they always need to be alert and ready to work. If the dog is being toted around in a purse or getting a free ride in a shopping cart, they’re unable to perform their duty. Both large and small dog breeds can be trained as service animals, but short little legs are no excuse to not walk on their own.
#2 – They’re Not on a Leash
It seems ironic, but you’ll never see a highly trained service dog out in public and not on a leash. They’re more than capable of staying by their owner, but leashes are used to protect the dog. Always using a leash is a basic part of being a responsible dog owner.
#3 – They’re Pulling on the Leash
Because they’re always leashed while they’re working, service dogs have impeccable leash manners. They never pull and always stick close to their owner’s side. Dogs used for mobility and support assistance may lean into their harnesses as part of their job, but they don’t yank their person in different directions as they feel like it.
#4 – They’re Barking or Whining
Some dogs are trained to bark or whine as an alert to warn their owner of an impending medical emergency, like a stroke or panic attack. But besides these infrequent sounds, a service dog would never bark at another dog or whine out of impatience.
# 5 – They’re Sniffing Everything
All dogs rely on smell more than any other sense, and taking your pet on a walk usually involves a whole lot of sniffing. When a dog has a job to do, those scents are a distraction. Service dogs are trained to stay focused, and they won’t be careening down aisles sniffing everything on the lower shelves.
#6 – They Have Indoor “Accidents”
A dog that isn’t fully house trained should never be taken into an indoor public area. For male dogs especially, indoor accidents are not always accidental, and instead, it’s the dog’s way of marking a new territory. Whether they did it on purpose or not, urinating or defecating indoors is an unacceptable behavior for service dogs.
#7 – They Steal Food
Stealing food—whether it’s off a table, out of someone’s hand, or something they found on the ground—is a hard habit for pets to break, but resisting temptations is one of the first lessons a service dog learns.
#8 – They Look Nervous
Socialization is a major part of service dog training, and if the dog in question is the real deal, they’ll seem calm and confident no matter what’s going on around them. They won’t be spooked by loud noises or big crowds, and they won’t cower or tuck their tails between their legs.
#9 – They Seek Attention
Service dogs know they have a job to do, and they only have eyes for the person on the other end of their leash. They don’t put their noses into other people’s space seeking head pats or belly rubs.
# 10 – They’re Aggressive
Some service dogs are trained in protection, but that doesn’t mean they lash out at other people or animals without being explicitly told to. A dog that is growling, lunging, or showing other signs of unprovoked aggression is not a real service dog.
Fake service dogs put unfair scrutiny on the people who actually need their animals for medical or emotional purposes, and they’re an insult to the dogs that go through months of intense training to be good at their jobs. The service dog reputation is at stake, and it’s because some pet owners think “no pet” policies shouldn’t apply to them. If you decide to approach someone about their dog, remember to do so politely and realize they have no legal obligation to answer a long list of questions.