Travel Part 1: Traveling with a Service Dog

Few years ago but very holidayish

Few years ago but very holidayish

The holidays are upon us! I do not know where this fall went but now snow is being predicted so its safe to say it is almost over. This fall was very busy at the Parrott household. I had a lot of medical things come up but after one inpatient stay (psychiatric), 3 out-patient treatments (migraines) and 2 surgeries (bladder related) I am sitting here feeling incredible thankful because for the first time in 4 years, all of my medications are working amazingly. With all this out-of-the-way, I finally feel well enough to write again.

Holiday time is one of the busiest travel times of the year and I thought it would be a great time to write a travel post. I know this has been a long time coming as many people always ask me what it is like to travel with Bella. This post is going to have 2 parts; Part 1: What it is like to travel with a service dog and Part 2: a refresher on service dog etiquette.


Part 1:

The first time I flew with Bella was a little chaotic. I tried so hard to be prepared but felt like a fish out of water when it actually came time to travel. I think if I had been traveling with someone it wouldn’t have been as bad, but I was on my own and my anxiety was still really uncontrolled. Here are a few important travel tips.

1) Be prepared and know your rights and laws

Flying falls under the Air carrier access act (ACAA) and not under the Americans with disabilities act (ADA) so it is important to know that different things will be expected. I find it best to travel with a doctor’s note and a copy of the laws. If your dog is and emotional support animal (ESA) or only a psychiatric service dog (PSD), you must have a doctor’s note. If your dog is for mobility, guiding, hearing or medical alert a note is not needed.

2) Call your airline:

this is the bulkhead of the plane and is where we are usually placed

this is the bulkhead of the plane and is where we are usually placed

While it is not required, it is recommended that you call the airline you are flying with after you book your flight and at least 3 days before the flight. There are major benefits to calling a head of time. A lot of flights have a limited number of animals that can be in the cabin, by calling a head you will save the hassle of possibly having too many pets on board.
Also, with bigger dogs, the airline will help find the right seating for you. When Bella and I fly, we usually get the bulkhead of the plane. It makes it much easier to sit with a yellow lab when you have extra room. Please note that people are much more willing to work with you if you are willing to work with them.
Calling ahead of time is also the perfect time to ask if there is anything required of you as a handler. While they cannot ask for identification of a service dog, they can ask for doctors notes for ESAs and PSDs like I mentioned before. Also, some flights require a health certificate, this is mainly for international but it’s nice to have. This will be brought up again in a little bit.

3) Packing: Packing for your service dog can be a lot like packing for a child. It is important to make sure you have the following items

Be prepared with shoes and coat depending on where you are traveling

Be prepared with shoes and coat depending on where you are traveling

– Dog food: if you are checking luggage and you chose to put some food in there, make sure to pack a few meals in your carry on in case your luggage gets delayed.
– Service dog equipment; this includes but is not limited to, leashes, vests, packs (vests with pockets), harnesses, leads and shoes. As well as anything you use to work your dog.
– Collapsible food/water dish: Make sure you have this in your carry on.
– Poop bags: because we are responsible pet owners most of us don’t need to be reminded but…. Make sure you have them.
– Mat/Bed: depending on where you are staying, it might not be appropriate for your dog to be in your bed, bring a mat or blanket to sleep on that will make them feel comfortable. Depending on where you are going or what you are doing, your dog will need plenty of rest.
– Toys/ treats: this makes down time easier.
– Any medications or vitamins your dog might need
– Grooming supplies: many service dogs are well-groomed, if you brush your dog frequently, don’t forget to bring these items as well. In our case, Bella sheds a lot, so I like to brush her to minimize the fur clouds and vacation is no exception. Same with teeth as well.

4) The week or night before (depending on if you’re a procrastinator): It is best to check and make sure you have the following ready to go in a handy place (like your carry-on).

Waiting for our flight while in Sioux Falls

Waiting for our flight while in Sioux Falls

– Documents

a. Health certificate: while this is not required, I recommend going to your vet the week before and getting one. It is a handy document that says your dog is healthy and safe to travel. It is also a great time to get a record of shots and immunizations. That way, if you have to go to a vet for any reason, you have health information.
b. Doctors note stating that you need a service dog. No they can not ask for this if your dog is more than just a psychiatric service dog but I carry it for flying just in case. Some airlines are weird about it and that is why it is important to know the laws.
c. Boarding information: Because I call a head to let them know I have a service animal, they usually ask that I go to the front desk to get my boarding pass. But they will send a confirmation email so make sure you have that with.

– Dog needed stuff:

a. Travel water bowl
b. Treats: I try to stick with non-smelly quiet treats, they are nice to have during take of and landing.
c. Poop bags: not for in the plane silly but if you have to go to pet relief stations.
d. Extra leash: if a leash breaks in the airport your going to want to make sure you have an extra, its small and easy enough to put in a carry-on
e. Baby wipes: they are cheaper than dog wipes and are great for dog drool and accidental pop spills on your dog.
f. Not “needed” but sometimes useful extras

– Towel/blanket/or down stay mat: some people prefer to have their dog on one instead of the floor of the plane. I don’t tend to bring one, but some do
– Toys: this can be a controversial item. Some handlers say yes and others say no. I have brought a mess free chew bone for long flights and it can be helpful. Flights are boring for dogs too. But if you’re bringing a toy I recommend leaving squeakers at home. People don’t really notice a nylabone but they might not be thrilled with “monkey” and her 6 squeakers.

Plane 2

– Stuff for you!

Don’t forget your medication, especially if you have anxiety. Also keep your medication on you and not in a check luggage. That would be bad to lose.

5) Before the flight:

– A few hours before the flight limit your dog’s water and food intake. As of right now, most pet relief stations are outside of security so if your dog has to go, it might not be easy. Also, limiting food is great in case you find out your dog is motion sick. When it comes to traveling, I give treats and ice chips. If I have a lay over I will give some water but not a lot.
– Take your dog for a long walk the night before if your flight is early or a few hours before you go to the airport. This helps tucker them out.
– Take them potty: After you get your boarding pass and before going to security, make sure to take one more trip outside, it might be awhile before you go out again.

* Plan accordingly for going through security, as it might take longer then usual.


That list turned out longer than I thought it would. Please note that I am not an expert so something you find helpful might not be on this list. If you have a tip I would love to hear it! Also, this is what works for us and may differ from your routine. While this sounds overwhelming, after your first flight, it becomes pretty easy.

This concludes “Part 1: What it is like to travel with a service dog”. Stay tuned for “Part 2: a refresher on service dog etiquette.”

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