As a dog owner, I’m always wanting to take my Great Dane, Newton, on vacation with me. Could you imagine what that would be like if you were seated next to me on an airplane, though? Believe it or not, I would be really stressed out about my dog’s comfort, but also yours! Is my dog breathing on you? Does he have enough room? Do you have enough room? Did you just sneeze because you are allergic to dogs? He isn’t a service dog, but because I am an intern at K9s For Warriors, I understand a little more about service dogs than the average person. I often imagine what traveling with a service dog would entail.
I want to be clear: Newton is my pet, but I do try to take Newton everywhere with me. Traveling with a pet is completely different than with a service dog. However, since I now have an understanding of a service dog handler’s perspective on traveling, and I know first-hand what it’s like traveling with a large-breed dog, I want to walk you through the potential scenarios service dog handlers face when traveling. My hopes are to introduce you to a new perspective on the challenges and requirements of traveling with dogs and offer tips along the way if you want to travel with yours.
When I travel with Newton, I get annoyed quickly with all the questions. A few are fine, but when every person who walks by asks if your dog is a pony, it can get annoying. Yes, I know he’s bigger than me and yes, I know you could put a saddle on “that thing." If you see a service dog and his handler traveling, keep the questions short. I know warriors have experienced this before. But I know they are also bombarded with other questions like: “Are you disabled?” “What’s wrong with you?” Those questions – by the way – are illegal to ask. You can only ask the following: 1. Is that a service dog? 2. What tasks is the service dog trained to perform? It is exhausting spending the whole day traveling and when everyone has questions to ask, it can cause anxiety and unnecessary stress. Imagine how a handler with PTSD would feel.
If you are traveling with your pet dog and see a service dog, make sure you keep your dog at a distance to keep everyone safe. Many times, people march up to my 140-pound boy with their 2-pound dog, and it causes me anxiety - not because Newton’s toe nail weighs more than the dog, but because other dogs who don’t have the same amount of socialization as mine can be unpredictable. With the size of my dog, it would be considered my fault if something did happen, even though Newton wouldn’t hurt a fly.
If you’re flying with your pet dog, check the regulations with your airline before heading to the airport. When flying internationally, many countries require a period of quarantine for your dog. Please also remember you do not have the same rights as a handler/service team because they are protected under the ADA; you are not. Follow up with the airline to ensure everything is ready to go well before you head out of town. Remember that all canines aren’t fit to fly, (i.e. Newton) so it is important to judge your dog’s temperament before deciding. If your dog is fit to fly, bring an empty water bottle in your carry-on to refill after you go through TSA and invest in a collapsible water bowl that can clip to the side of your bag. If you have a dog that drools more than he drinks, bring a couple hand towels for easy clean-up.
Anytime you travel as a warrior-canine team or an owner-pet combo, bring vaccination records, a picture of your dog, and any medicine they may need while they’re away. Any identification your canine may need to stand out as a working dog is also important. You may consider bringing a health certificate of your pet, as some flights and countries require it. Additionally, make sure you bring a leash, collar, name tags and poop bags for your furry friend. And if your dog's poops are the size of a horse, bring extra!
Before a long trip, whether by air or by land, make sure your service dog is well exercised and limit water intake. A quick zooommmm around the backyard is all Newton needs to nap for the next four hours. In your carry-on bring 1-2 sealed, unopened containers of your dog's food and check the rest of their food with your luggage. Bring treats in an easy-to-reach place along with a favorite toy or two. One of the most difficult decisions I make before taking Newton on a trip involves what toy to bring him… all of them are his favorite and all of them are 2-3 feet long. I almost have to pack more for him than for me! Bring along a blanket to help keep them comfortable and if space allows, a dog bed. It is always a good idea to bring along pet specific cleaning spray just in case an accident happens.
I hope these tips will help you if you are traveling with a pet dog or a service dog!