By Sam Mazzotta
Can I Pet That K-9?
DEAR PAW'S CORNER: My parents and I were marching in a demonstration, and we passed two police officers who each had a police dog. I love German Shepherds and I wanted to pet one of their dogs, but my parents wouldn't let me. Why was it wrong to pet them? -- David, via email
DEAR DAVID: K-9 police dogs, just like service animals, are working dogs that are trained to accomplish complicated tasks. When they're at work, they should not be disturbed, even with a well-meaning pat.
A K-9 may be trained to help apprehend suspects, or to detect illegal substances, or to perform search and rescue. They are large, energetic dogs, and though they're well-trained, they can be aggressive.
When a neighbor and their dog approach on the sidewalk, the polite way to interact is to ask permission to pet the dog. When K-9s and service animals are working, the best way to help them is to leave them be. Petting a service dog can confuse it or cause it to lose focus on the task it's supposed to be doing. Petting a K-9 trained in apprehension can get your fingers nipped, or worse.
If, and only if, a service dog's owner or a K-9's handler invites you to approach, should you do so.
Police departments sometimes put on demonstrations or other events with their K-9s to meet the public. If you want to meet the dogs and ask questions of the police officers about what their workday is like, these are good opportunities to do so. When fairs and other public events start up again, find out if and where any such demonstrations are taking place.