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Travel Tips for People With Service Dogs

golden lab on airplane

It’s that time of year again, where many of us begin to think about taking summer vacations. If traveling with a service dog, there are some tips and tricks you should know to make your trip go as smoothly as possible. This post discusses air travel with a fully trained service dog. Service dogs in training do not legally have access under the Air Carrier Access Act, which governs all things involving airline access for people with disabilities. If you need to take your service animal in training on a trip, access depends on each individual airline.

The first thing to do is make sure your service animal can handle a flight. They need to be able to lie quietly for long periods without disturbing other travelers. Also, they need to be relatively calm while working through a crowded and stressful airport. Most service dogs can do this kind of thing by the time they finish training, but it’s important to acclimate young dogs to crowds and tight spaces before they fly.

As savvy service dog handlers already know, airlines flying within the United States must allow any trained service animal to travel with their human partner in the cabin of an aircraft. People traveling with Psychiatric Service Dogs or Emotional Support Animals will require specific medical documentation from a physician verifying the need for a service animal. Also, some airlines have changed their policies about these specific types of service animals over the past few months. It’s a good idea to contact your airline of choice to ensure you have all the required documentation with you before your trip if you are traveling with a PSD or ESA. For people traveling with service animals that mitigate all other disabilities, generally credible verbal assurances, a vest or harness with special markings, or an identification card are all that is necessary to travel by plane. Access is sometimes different for international travel. Some countries, like the United Kingdom and Australia, require service animals to undergo a quarantine period before they can enter the country, so be sure to check with your airline and the US State Department before taking an international flight!

Before you leave, it’s generally a good idea to limit your dog’s food and water intake a few hours ahead of time. This helps your dog feel more comfortable if they do not get an opportunity to relieve themselves for several hours. It’s certainly a good idea to relieve your dog right before leaving home and, if possible, at the airport before you check in.
Once you arrive at the airport, the check-in process is straightforward. If checking luggage, feel free to do that as you normally would. Airport staff can provide you with assistance checking in and getting through security, but it’s a good idea to ask for this service as soon as you arrive. Most airlines provide a space for notations about special assistance requests when booking your reservation.

Going through security can seem intimidating, but the process is usually straightforward. The TSA personnel can ask what tasks your dog performs for you, but not about your disability. It’s important to remember that at no time during the screening process should you be separated from your dog. Also, you should never need to remove your dog’s leash, harness, or collar. The easiest way to get through the metal detector is to place your dog on a sit/stay right before entering. Most people find it easiest to go through the detector before the dog and call their partner to follow them a few seconds afterward. Most dogs will need to be inspected by a TSA officer after they go through the detector because their equipment will set it off.
Recent changes now require that after you successfully go through the metal detector, you cannot touch your dog (other than holding the leash) until the dog has been inspected and cleared by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel. Even if you walk through the metal detector and do not set off the alarm, you can be required to undergo additional screening if you touch your dog before it has been cleared.

Once you pass through TSA screening, it’s time to find your gate! It’s generally a good idea to check in with a gate agent as soon as possible once you get there. They can help you board prior to other passengers if you would like. It’s generally a lot easier to get a service dog settled before the plane gets crowded, so most service dog handlers take advantage of pre-boarding. Gate agents can also sometimes help with changing your seat assignment if necessary.

While on the aircraft, your dog should lie quietly at your feet, not disturbing other passengers. Some dogs do get motion sickness, so giving them a few small treats before takeoff and landing can help with that. Flight attendants may offer your dog water or ice cubes if a flight is especially long. In most cases, the flight itself is the easiest part of the whole travel experience!

Don’t forget to make sure your pet’s vaccinations are current and that they are protected from fleas and ticks before they travel. I use Vetality Avantect™ II on Diamond because it kills and repels fleas, ticks & mosquitoes and is super easy to apply. Avantect II contains the same ingredients as K9 Advantix® II *but COSTS LESS! I love Avantect II because fleas don’t have to bite your pet to die which is especially important for working dogs that wear a harness. Nothing more irritating than flea bite dermatitis with a harness rubbing the area making the situation worse.

Hopefully, this short guide has been helpful to some readers. Feel free to leave any questions you may have in the comments section, and happy trails!

By: Shanna Stichler

*This product is not manufactured or distributed by Bayer, the maker of K9 Advantix® II for dogs. K9 Advantix®II for Dogs is a registered trademark of Bayer

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