Traveling with any animal can be stressful or full of uncertainty. You never quite know how your companion will react to these different traveling situations, even if they’ve been on trips with you before. Like people, every animal is different.
Service dogs are highly trained companions for people living with disabilities, physical or otherwise. It’s estimated that upwards of 500,000 service dogs (not emotional support animals) are currently helping people live happier lives. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs are allowed to travel with their handlers on different forms of travel, although individual airlines or companies may have their own requirements.
It’s likely while traveling you have come across a service dog on planes. They can also travel by train, bus, or other forms of transportation. Though they are trained for high-stress situations, there are still things you should keep in mind if you’re traveling with your service dog.
1. Check Company Policies
Though service dogs are legally allowed to accompany their handlers, many companies have certain policies to make it easier on both you and the business. Some airlines require documents and advanced notice, particularly if your dog will need its own seat on the flight. Trains and coaches may have similar policies, so well before your travel date, be sure to look into these so you’re prepared.
2. Limit Food and Water Before Travel
The day before you depart, limit your dog’s food and water intake. This will prevent them from needing to take bathroom breaks as often. Most airports and stations are likely to have a spot for service animals to relieve themselves before your trip, but limiting their intake beforehand will save you some time. It will also minimize the possibility of an accident happening on the journey itself. Have water handy if needed, but keep strenuous exercise (outside of their normal duties) to a minimum so they don’t dehydrate themselves.
3. Prioritize Comfort for You Both
Traveling can be uncomfortable with or without an animal. Be sure to have cushions or other comforts necessary for your own security, but also your dog’s. A cushioned harness might be one option or a blanket for them to lay on during the journey may be useful. You know your dog as well as they know you, and you know what will make them comfortable.
4. Consider a Vest or Collar
Most service dogs already have a vest or something signaling their status, but if you don’t, consider getting one before you depart. Making your dog stand out as a service animal will discourage people from approaching you so that they can focus, and it will signal to the staff what your situation is. Most service vests are brightly colored.
5. Have Supplies Ready
Though you will limit their food and water intake, accidents happen. Have some doggy bags on you. You should also carry something to give your dog water if needed, especially for flights where it’s easier to get dehydrated. A service animal won’t require as much attention as the average pet, but they are still a living being that needs care. Having just a few supplies on hand is never a bad idea.
Taking a trip with a service dog may not be as stressful as it would be with a regular pet, but they are still animals and still need some care, even though their job is to aid you. Being prepared before your journey will make it that much easier for you and your companion. All it takes is a little research!