When You See A Service Dog Without Its Handler | It's Me Laura Lee

July 2, 2020

When You See A Service Dog Without Its Handler


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Laura Lee, 53, with invisible wounds and scars. I've learned to embrace PTSD and depression because if I don't own them, they'll own me.  I don't want to simply survive, but to thrive.  I hope you'll join me on my journey.  It's sure to be a bumpy road.


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There’s a story that went viral in 2018, about what to do when you see a service dog without its handler, but it’s been a couple of years and I think it’s time to revisit the possible situation.


A handler and her service dog are always together when in public.  They are a working team.  So, if you see a dog without her handler something is wrong.  The dogs are trained to get help when the handler needs it.  The handler may have had a seizure, fallen, fainted, is otherwise unresponsive, or actually asked the dog to go get help. Dogs aren’t required to wear a vest or coat, but it’s my experience that most do so that the public can easily identify it as being a service dog and so you don’t approach it or pet it because it’s working.


So, what do you do if a dog wearing a vest or coat that clearly states it’s a service dog approaches you and it’s alone?  First, know that dogs are trained differently.  There’s no standard.  It may sit and look at you.  It may stand and nudge you on the leg.  And, there’s no cue for you to say or do.  In other words, asking the dog, “what’s wrong?” or “where’s your mama?” or “show me!” may work, but may not.  The best thing to do is to gently reach down and touch the dog.  Then start following her.  Simply start walking and follow the dog.   She’ll lead you to her handler.

Service Dog without its handler.

The dogs generally have the good sense to know which person to pick out of the crowd – which person is going to respond and follow, but that’s not always true.  If you don’t respond to the dog, it may go find someone else who will.

Just know that when you see a dog without her handler the dog is most likely not lost.  It’s being persistent on purpose.  It’s trying to get help for her person.  Don’t be afraid or if you are afraid summon someone nearby to follow the dog.


This, “go get help” cue has to be trained.  Scott and I will always go to the mall together to practice this cue, and Venus always finds him because she’s looking for him, but I’m waiting for the day that she runs into another friendly face…maybe someone she knows, or can’t find him and chooses someone else instead.  Please don’t be upset with the handler if you find her ‘faking it’ while training her dog.  The dog chose you for a special purpose and she thought you were a special person.  Honestly.


If you truly think you’ve found a service dog that is lost check the zippered pouches on her coat.  That’s where I store the ID card that has both Venus’s name and mine and all the emergency contact information.  If the dog isn’t lost, and it is searching for help, this may also be helpful – especially if you can’t find its owner.

Read about service dogs and my own service, dog, Venus.


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comments   | 

  1. Yvette Marie Johnson says:

    Really great article. I love that you are teaching people these things! Thank you!

  2. Alexis says:

    great tips! Not everyone knows what to do in this situation. Very helpful!

  3. Marianbe says:

    Great reminder. Not everyone is aware of this!

  4. Ramae Hamrin says:

    I have the utmost love and respect for service dogs. I wouldn’t know what to do if I saw one without its handler, but this makes sense. Thank you for this information! 🐕‍🦺

  5. Tricia Snow says:

    Great tips! I never thought about that it could be a training exercise!

  6. Bonnie says:

    This is good information to know. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Holly says:

    Thank you for sharing this.. I never knew this and its important to get this message out! Sharing this!

  8. Kristin says:

    I have never thought about this. GREAT information to know and could help save someone’s life by taking some simple action.

  9. Jen says:

    This is some great information, I had never considered the training aspect before. very good to know.

  10. Debbie says:

    Good info! We all need to know this.

  11. Thank you for this. I honestly would not know what to do. Now I know!

  12. I never thought about the dog being without the owner. Good tips.

  13. Rachel says:

    Thanks for sharing, this is a great article to help train dogs!

  14. Kate says:

    You are doing such a good thing for the service dog community. I’m learning so much!

  15. Liz says:

    Good information! I’ll keep my eye out and know what to do!

  16. This is a scenario I’ve never considered, thanks for the good information!

  17. Sandi says:

    I never knew this, thanks for sharing. It’s important information.

  18. Jane says:

    What a great post Laura. Thank you for teaching us about this. First thing I have in mind maybe bring him to the animal shelter if the dog doesn’t have an ID.

  19. Suzan | It's My Sustainable Life says:

    Thank you for bringing awareness to this! You brought up a few points I had not thought of.

  20. Douglas Jasper says:

    I would not have known that and who knows, having that knowledge may help someone in the future so thank you.

  21. Erica Pittenger says:

    Yes! So many need reminded of this, I needed a reminder too. Thank you! Service dogs are incredible and make my heart so happy.

  22. Leeandra says:

    Great information. This information could save someones life.

  23. Lisa Manderino says:

    I didn’t even think about this, but now I know what to do!

  24. Kendra says:

    Such important information! I’m glad I know this now. Thank you.

  25. Sara says:

    This is so good. I don’t know if I would’ve made the connection that the dog might’ve been coming to me as the one to go help their owner. Thank you for helping to educate others on this important matter.

  26. Great tips! I wouldn’t have known what to do in this situation before I read this.

  27. Barbara says:

    Good information!

  28. Alice says:

    I’ve known this for a long time, but many do not, so it’s important information to get out.

  29. Eva Keller says:

    I read about this recently and was surprised it is not as widely known as other service dog etiquette. I worked at Disney World and Disneyland and we have lots of rules to follow with service dogs and attractions, but no one ever mentioned what to do in this scenario.

  30. Cindy says:

    This is good to know, in case I’m ever approached by a service dog. I’ll be sure to follow!

  31. These are fabulous things to know!! I hope I don’t see a dog without his/her handler, but will now know what to do,

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Laura Lee, 52, with invisible wounds and scars.  I've learned to embrace PTSD and depression because if I don't own them, they'll own me.  I don't want to simply survive, but to thrive.  I hope you'll join me on my journey.  It's sure to be a bumpy road.



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