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Interacting with Service Animals in School

Our last article outlined how an education standard could include a province-wide policy for allowing students to bring their service animals to school. Once an elementary or high school student’s service animal is allowed in school, staff should know how to interact with it. In addition, fellow staff members may also have service animals. Moreover, staff of other educational institutions should also know how to behave around service animals. For instance, staff at universities, colleges, and private schools should know how to interact with the service animals of students or colleagues. In this article, we suggest some best practices for interacting with service animals in school.

Interacting with Service Animals in School

Do’s and don’ts when encountering service animals

When service animals are at school, staff should know what to do or not do. They should also be able to explain these do’s and don’ts to other students in the class or school. Here is a list with some suggestions.

For instance, do:

  • Pay attention to the student or staff member, not the animal
  • Ask what tasks the animal assists with, not what the student or staff member’s diagnosis is

On the other hand, don’t:

  • Ask that the animal be left elsewhere
  • Pet the animal, unless its owner gives permission
  • Call the animal
  • Feed the animal
  • Entice the animal with toys
  • Disturb the animal if it is sleeping

Service Animal Responsibilities

Older service-animal owners, such as high school students, adult learners, or staff, should have full responsibility for interacting with their service animals in school. For instance, the animal’s owner should be in charge of:

  • Giving commands, such as “sit” or “stay”
  • Feeding the animal
  • Taking it outside when needed, and cleaning up after it
  • Correcting it if it does something wrong

When students are younger, an adult handler may share or take responsibility for some or all of these tasks. Some service-animal owners may want to tell students about why their animal is there and what it does. Alternatively, others may want their animal’s handler to do so. some owners may also be willing to talk briefly about their disabilities. However, others may prefer to answer curious classmates’ questions but not draw extra attention to the animal. Staff should work with each student or staff member to find out which approach they would like to take.


Under the Customer Service Standards of the AODA, service animals are allowed almost anywhere the public can go. Exceptions include places where food is made, but not where it is served. If school board policies follow this standard, service animals should be able to go almost everywhere their students and staff do. For instance, students and staff should be able to bring their service animals with them:

  • In class
  • In the school yard
  • In the cafeteria

However, students and staff should not bring their service animals into school kitchens or food laboratories. If a student or staff member needs to use them, such as for a cooking or baking activity, their service animal should stay in a different room. Meanwhile, staff should provide a different way for the student or colleague to receive the help the animal usually gives. For instance, an animal may:

  • Calm a student
  • Alert a staff member to sounds
  • Open doors

Staff should work with the animal’s owner to plan how the student or colleague will access the event without the animal.

School staff can best serve all their students when they know about interacting with service animals in school.