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Traveling and Flying With A Service Dog

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Traveling with Your Service Dog

diabetic service dog

Service dogs help people with disabilities to be more mobile. Every day trains, planes, buses, and cruise ships carry people and their service dogs to routine destinations or on exotic adventures and vacations. The following tips might just make your trip a little less stressful and a lot more enjoyable.

Your trip will not be the most convenient time to discover that your service dog gets nauseated on trains or is so captivated by seagulls that he won't work for you on the beach. Some service dogs adapt well to new environments, schedules, food and water; while others may become distracted or stressed. As a service dog owner, you and your trainer have tried to expose your service dog to all kinds of different noises, obstacles, and situations, but you just can’t cover all the bases. If you live in the middle of Arizona, taking your service dog for a walk along the beach at the ocean is not a training option. So there will be obstacles your dog has not encountered before and you should be prepared for them.

Adapting to these new environments can affect their ability to work, their needs to eliminate, their appetites, and their dispositions. The more you can introduce your dog to the conditions he will experience during the trip, the better you will be able to anticipate his reactions and plan for his comfort.

Be Prepared before You Depart

1. Know what conditions your dog will experience, such as:

  • Climate
  • Crowds
  • Typical noises, types of animals you may encounter
  • The cultural attitudes toward service animals

2. Find out what laws apply to your dog and to you as a service animal handler during travel and at your destination. Include laws that affect ownership, like leash laws or muzzle requirements in foreign countries. Your complete understanding of your rights and responsibilities will help you plan your itinerary.

3. Make 3 copies of all necessary documentation. Keep one with you at all times. Keep one copy where you stay. Keep one copy with someone at home who can be contacted at any time to fax it to you should you need another copy while traveling.

4. Always have a current record of the dog's vaccination history, in case of incident.

5. Talk to Your Veterinarian

  • Find out if there are any diseases or parasites that your dog might be exposed to while traveling, and discuss with your veterinarian what you can do to protect your dog.
  •  Time zone changes can be as hard on dogs as they are on some people. Discuss whether to alter your dog's feeding and elimination times to adjust his schedule to fit the time zones you will visit.
  •  Ask how long to withhold food and water before and during traveling, to reduce the dog's need to eliminate.
  •  Discuss whether you need to change the schedule or dosage of any medications your dog needs. Obtain an adequate amount of the medication, and a prescription for the medication in case your supply is damaged or lost.
  •  Find out if you can depend on the safety of the water supply during your trip, or if you should give your dog bottled water.
  •  Discuss how to recognize and treat motion sickness (and altitude sickness if you will be in high altitudes) in your dog.

 Get a referral for veterinary services at your destination.

Things Your Service Dog Needs to Know in order to Travel

  • Tolerate being handled by strangers. Going through security or importation checkpoints you and your dog might have to be checked with a metal detector wand.
  • Your dog should be accustomed to traveling on elevators, escalators, lifts as well as buses and other transport vehicles.
  • Teaching your dog to eliminate in a variety of situations is will help you overcome any obstacles when it comes to meeting your dog’s toileting needs. Teaching your dog to eliminate on command, an on a variety of situations will be invaluable to you on your travels. Teaching your dog to eliminate on newspapers or into an absorbent diaper will give you options to use no matter where you are. Carry a plastic bag with you to put under the newspapers or diaper for easy and fast clean-up.
  • Some airlines now have service dog bathroom facilities available within their terminals

vests for service dogs


Be Able to Prove That Your Dog Is Yours   

diabetic service dog

  • Carry a written detailed description of your dog: age, weight, height at shoulders, identifying markings, license number, and contact information for the licensing agency. . If your dog is tattooed, carry that number and the contact information for the registration agency.
  • Keep a  photo ID tag on your dog's vest and that gives some identifying information, such as, "Service Dog" and your last name and a phone number. Make sure this is a phone you have access to or is one where someone will notify you immediately in the event that your dog is separated from you and found.
  • Have an engraved ID tag on your dog’s collar with your dog’s name along with your and a phone number.
  • If you choose to have an electronic chip planted in your dog, make sure it can be read by any type of scanner and that scanners are routinely used where you are going

Traveling Within the United States     

Federal laws protect people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals. No deposits or extra fees may be charged for the service animal. ID or "certification" of the service dog's training, or of the person's disability, cannot be required for access on buses, trains, planes, taxis, rental cars, US-registered cruise ships or to places open to the public. Whether you purchase your dog’s service vest or IDs from us or somebody else, we highly recommend them. Time and time again we have been told how huge the difference is when your dog is properly outfitted when traveling. It is also a good idea to have at least a current vaccine record and some identification for the dog in case of an emergency.

Traveling Outside of the United States

Well in advance of your trip, contact the Embassy or Consulate of the country you will be visiting. Request the regulations that apply to you and your service dog, and the requirements you will have to meet for entry and access into their country. Include all ports of call for cruises or tours. Be aware that some requirements must be completed months before you plan to depart, and some countries do not accept service animals at all.

  • Get a letter and health certificate from your veterinarian that states your dog is in good health and up to date on all vaccinations, and another letter from your healthcare provider regarding your disability and your dog's role.
  • Contact the Embassy or Consulate for a translation of those letters in the language of the area you will visit, on official letterhead and signed by an official. You might have to submit a health certificate for your service dog to obtain this translation. If your original documents are needed by the Embassy, keep copies and ask that the originals be returned to you with the translation. This process might take several weeks
  • Keep a record of all officials contacted, in case you have to get back in touch with them during your trip.
  • Respect the laws and customs of the area. Find out how service dogs are regarded in the areas you will visit. Some areas may not have animal control laws so be prepared for encounters of loose and roaming dogs and other animals.

Flying with Service Dogs           dog vests

Book your flight well in advance. When you are making your flight arrangements, let your airline know you will be traveling with a service dog or an ESA (emotional support animal). This phone call will also assist in letting you know if your specific airlines asks for anything else prior to travel. Make sure you write down the date as well as the name and department of who you spoke to and get a confirmation number for your conversation if available. At this time, you should also call and speak to the manager of your lodging provider.

  • Talk with your medical or mental health professional and let him/her know that you're dog is serving you in a necessary way and you would like documentation from them. If your medical professional does not already know, be prepared to answer some specific questions about what your dog is doing to help you.
  • Outfit you dog with a Service dog Vest and/or service dog IDs. Even though it is not required under the ADA, the  TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and airlines have their own requirements once you are getting ready to get on an airplane. It makes a huge the difference while traveling when your dog is properly outfitted and will make your trip easier and less stressful.
  • Call the airline again: 24-48 hours before your flight. Reference the date and confirmation number of your original call to them. Review with them that you will be flying with a service dog or an emotional support animal. Confirm that they have noted this and get another confirmation number for this conversation as well. You should keep all these records of your conversations with your airline carrier together and within easy reach upon check-in.
  • Check in early and have the confirmation numbers from your previous phone calls and let them know you are here early and ready for your flight. Ask if there is anything they can think of that you would need their assistance for. An airline with great customer service may even help escort you through security.

Here is some additional, airline specific, service dog and emotional support animal information to help you:

AirTran Policy

Alaska Airlines Policy

American Airlines Policy

British Airways Policy - you have to scroll down quite a bit to get there.

Hawaiian AirlinDelta Policy

Frontier Airlines Policyes Policy - Hawaii enforces strict animal quarantine laws. Make sure you prepare very well when using them.

JetBlue Policy

Southwest Airlines Policy - then click on "Assistance Animals" box on left side of page.

Spirit Airlines Policy

US Airways Policy

United Airlines Policy

To assist travelers with disabilities, the Department of Transportation has started a toll-free hotline. The purpose of this hotline is to:

• Give general information about the rights of air travelers with disabilities.
• Mail printed consumer information.
• Help in disability concerns that need information as soon as possible.

Contact the Department of Transportation at 800-778-4838 (voice) or 800-455-9880 (TTY), 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Eastern Time, 7 days a week 

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