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What if your dog tugs against the leash,

sniffs the ground, eyes a squirrel, or lets out a bark?


By law, service dog handlers must be in control of their animals. Even a good service dog can need a correction now and then, but repetitive bad behavior is out-of-control behavior. The U.S. Department of Justice sets specific standards in some cases--for example, more than one bark is considered out of control if your dog does not obey, and you can be asked to leave the premises. So get ready to meet some high standards. But don't worry--even basic obedience training will teach you how to control your dog.


There are exceptions to service dog behavior requirements--if, for example, they interfere with the work the dog is trained to do. A dog might be trained to bark to alert a handler to seizure; tug against a leash to pull a wheelchair; sniff a room to confirm there is no danger before a veteran with PTSD enters. These behaviors are part of the dog's training and therefore not signs that the dog is out of control. 

Formal vs. Casual Etiquette

Many handlers set a high bar for service dog etiquette (remember, there are a lot of military people in this field!). Some handlers want their dogs tightly heeled. Every time they inch forward in a line, the dog stands and sits, repeatedly. That is proper service dog etiquette. My trainer would cringe to know I don't do this any more. He would count two seconds on his fingers, then make a correction if my dog was staring at someone or something for those two seconds. I get it. The dog is supposed to be focused on the handler.  


But over time, I saw that there are different handler styles, and anything too formal makes me personally a little nutty, so there is some flexibility. As long as Jesse is calm and silent, obeys me, alerts and assists me, and is not bothering anyone or anything, then I don't bother to count how many seconds she looks at something.  Jesse will sit or lay down if I stop for longer than a moment (I'm guessing because she's tired), but I don't care if she stands, either, and I don't pay much attention either way. There are no laws about this. It's like a veteran once told me: "I'll decide when my dog stands at attention." Amen. 




  1. heels at your left side on a slack leash (if you are right-handed and have use of your hands); the leash is held looped in your left hand. (You can reverse this if you are left-handed.)

  2. is quiet and calm at all times (generally perceived as "invisible")

  3. is attentive to you--watches and listens carefully.

  4. sits or lies down when you stop (NOTE: I don't expect my dog to do this for brief stops or inching forward in a line, but a dog standing too long tends to wander around).

  5. ignores the presence of other people and does not seek attention from others (I admit I break this rule by giving my dog the "Okay" command to allow her to interact, but this can be stressful for her since she is trained to constantly watch me for simptoms)

  6. "tucks" under tables and desks (does not hang out in the aisle where people can trip)

  7. rests in a designated "place" (such as a dog bed) when the handler is busy or walks away without a leash--and responds to the command "Go to Place."

  8. pays no attention to food on a table or on the floor

  9. keeps "four on the floor" (meaning all four feet are on the ground). NOTE: Sometimes I put my dog in my lap to prevent anxiety, so there are exceptions.

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