The Please Don't Pet Me header, multiple service dogs .

PDPM > About Service Dogs > Terminology

We are mindful that many visitors to this website may have little to no experience with service dogs, or people with disabilities, and have come here to learn more. First of all, we’d like to thank you for visiting and invite you to take in as much or as little information as you’d like, each time you visit. The world of service dogs is complex and continually growing. No one is expected to learn everything there is to know about them; neither novices nor those with decades of experience.

As you navigate this website, reading more and more, you will stumble upon terms you may never have heard of. Here, you will find a list of some of the terms that we believe will be the most foreign to newcomers. If you come across a term, phrase or acronym that is used, but not explained, please don’t hesitate to contact us to let us know that further clarification would be beneficial to others, who will eventually come across it.

Please click here to read about how we decided on the name, “Please Don’t Pet Me.”


Terms will be listed in the general order of the frequency in which they are used. (Not Alphabetically.)

Service Dog Team: A person with a disability who uses a service dog and the service dog who is individually trained to mitigate that person’s disability.

Partner, Partnership: These words are typically used to describe the relationship between a person with a disability and his or her service dog.

“I wouldn't have been able to attend my own graduation ceremony with out her there.”

(Service Dog) Handler: A person with a disability who uses a service dog to mitigate his or her disability. This phrase can sometimes be interchangeable with “owner,” but, in some cases, the person with a disability may not be the legal owner of the service dog. Within most contexts of this website, we will try to use the term “handler,” consistently.

A service dog and his handler take in a lovely winter vista, from above.

Service Dog Community: An unofficial demographic of people who are involved with service dogs in some way. This includes, but is not limied to: people with disabilities, who are partnered with service dogs, people who work for an advocacy organization, people who volunteer for an organization that provides service dogs to people with disabilities, etc.
In most contexts, within this website, this phrase will only be used in reference to people with disabilities who have been, are currently, or plan to be partnered with a service dog.

General Public: In most contexts within this particular website, this term refers to the majority of the population, in the United States, who do not have any prior experience with or connections to service dogs. It is a neutral term, with neither a negative nor a positive connotation.

Public Access: This term refers to a service dog’s presence in a place of public accommodation that does not permit pets. There is no certification required, in the United States, for a service dog team to be allowed access to such public places. While not required, many service dogs will undergo a Public Access Test (PAT). A public access test is comprised of a variety of skills tests that help to assess the dog’s readiness to work in public environments, as a service dog.

Service Dog Bradley poses next to a sign that indicates that only service dogs are permitted at that location.

Access Challenge: This is when a person with a disability enters or attempts to enter a business or other place of public accommodation, accompanied by his or her service dog and an individual, who is acting on behalf of the business or place of public accommodation, requires the person with a disability to produce more verification of the dog’s status, as a service dog, proof of disability or a variation of the two. An access challenge does not always result in total refusal of access.

Access Denial: An access challenge is the precursor to an access denial. This occurs when an individual who is acting on behalf of a business or other place of pubic accommodation refuses to allow access to a person with a disability, who is accompanied by a service dog, even after efforts have been made to explain the rights of the person that are protected by the applicable laws. An access denial violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and likely violates state laws.

On Duty: A service dog who is performing his or her intended job- otherwise known as, “Working Mode.” Typically this means the dog is working in an environment outside of the home. The service dog must behave in a manner that allows him or her to do his job, as well as manifesting “good manners,” and being unobtrusive.

Some types of service dogs are generally considered to be On Duty 24 hours of the day and 7 days per week. These are typically dogs whose jobs involve alerting to and responding to medical crises, as these may happen anywhere, at any time. It can also include service dogs who provide physical assistance to their handlers around their houses. However, even service dogs who are expected to perform their jobs, whenever it is necessary, are able to act like relaxed, pet dogs and members of the family, while at home.

Some service dog handlers who use vests, harnesses or similar equipment for their service dogs use these accessories not only for practical purposes, but also to communicate to the service dogs that they are On Duty, while wearing this equipment. The service dogs are expected to identify that they are wearing their working gear and to behave accordingly.

Off Duty: A service dog who is not performing his or her job and is not expected to behave to the standards his or her handler holds him to, while he is working, is Off Duty. A service dog, who is Off Duty, may relax, play, interact with friends and family and is not expected to behave as if he were On Duty, working outside of the home. While Off Duty, a service dog is still capable of performing certain aspects of his job, like alerting or responding to a medical crisis or providing physical assistance to his handler.

Pet dog: A dog who is a companion to his or her owner, but is not a service dog.
Note: The terms, “pet,” and “pet dog,” have neutral connotations. Neither term should be interpreted as a word that carries a negative connotation. These terms simply make a distinction between a dog who is a service dog and one who is not.

Accessibility: In most contexts, within this website, this word is used in reference to a person with a disability’s equal ability to safely access and navigate an environment or make use of resources that are available to others who do not have disabilities.

Working Service Dog: This term can be used interchangeably, either to mean that the service dog is currently On Duty or to mean that the service dog is currently recognized as a service dog, who is partnered with a person with a disability, and works regularly- as opposed to a service dog in training, a retired service dog, etc.

Retired: A service dog who must discontinue his “working career,” due to age, illness or other factors that may render him unable or inappropriate for service work, will be retired. This means that he will no longer be recognized as a service dog and will become a pet dog. He will adopt the lifestyle of a pet dog, 100% of the time. In few cases, a retired service dog may continue to perform some components of his job, within the home, as physical condition and willingness may allow.

In Training (Service Dog in Training): Some people consider a young puppy, to be a service dog in training, as early as eight weeks of age. Others don’t consider a dog to truly be In Training, until he has received a predetermined level of training. While the age of a service dog in training may be debatable, this status indicates that he is receiving the necessary training to perform the job he will have as a working service dog, as well as the training that is necessary for him to behave appropriately in public environments.

Pet-Friendly: A business, venue or other place of public accommodation that does not have or enforce a “no pets,” policy. This means that dog owners may bring their pet dogs along with them, simply for companionship. Some common places that are pet-friendly are pet supply stores, some hardware stores, feed stores, some book stores and some outdoor cafes.

Socialization: This component of raising a dog is essential to preparing a dog to work successfully, in the future, as a service dog.

Gatekeeper: The individual who, on behalf of a business or place of public accommodation, determines which consumers are or are not allowed access.

Puppy Raiser, Puppy Walker, Puppy Hugger: These three terms are not necessarily interchangeable, but they are very similar. Terminology can vary from one service dog organization to another. They also may vary, depending on the specific type of care that is being given.

Puppy raisers are volunteers for an organization that trains service dogs for people with disabilities. Out of the three roles, puppy raisers are most likely to have a puppy, who is future service dog, stay in their household, as if he or she is just as much a member of the family as a pet dog. Puppy raisers are intensely involved in early socialization and basic obedience training.

Puppy Walkers are usually volunteers who visit the kennels where puppies and service dogs in training to interact with them by walking them, playing with and sometimes just spending time with the dogs.

Puppy Huggers are usually volunteers who visit the breeding kennels at a service dog organization to simply interact with very young puppies, to give them a head start at socialization.

Do you have a question about any terms you’ve come across that aren’t included in this list? Do you have an idea for a term we should include on this page? We’d like to hear from you!
E-mail us at:


Service Dog Acronyms:
SD: Service Dog
SDIT: Service Dog in Training
GD: Guide Dog
GDIT: Guide Dog in Training
PSD: Psychiatric Service Dog
PSDIT: Psychiatric Service Dog in Training

Service Dog Organization Acronyms:
IAADP: International Association of Assistance Dog Partners
ADI: Assistance Dogs International
GDUI: Guide Dog Users, Inc.

Acronyms of Laws that Affect Service Dog Teams:
ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act
ACAA: Air Carrier Access Act
FHA: Fair Housing Act

Disability Related Acronyms:
PWD: Person with a disability/People with disabilities

Other Acronyms:
CGC: Canine Good Citizen
CPDT: Certified Pet Dog Trainer
APDT: Association of Pet Dog Trainers
GSD: German Shepherd Dog
OFA: Orthopedic Foundation for Animals
PennHip: A not-for-profit program wholly owned and operated by the University of Pennsylvania
CEA: Collie Eye Anomaly
CERF: Canine Eye Registration Foundation

The Please Don't Pet Me footer, multiple service dogs .