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All You Need to Know About Traveling With A Service Dog

Updated: Apr 26

Traveling with a service dog can be a rewarding experience, providing individuals with disabilities the freedom and independence to explore the world. However, it also comes with its own set of challenges and considerations. In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about traveling with a service dog, from legal rights and protections to practical tips for a smooth journey.


A dog with a harness in water.

What is a Service Dog?


In our blog post on “The Key Differences Between Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, and Therapy Animals”, we go into greater detail about this very topic. In summary, a service dog is a highly trained animal that assists individuals with disabilities in performing tasks related to their disability. These tasks can include guiding individuals who are blind or visually impaired, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, providing physical support for individuals with mobility impairments, and even detecting medical emergencies such as seizures or low blood sugar levels. It's important to note that service dogs are not pets; they are working animals trained to perform specific tasks to assist their handlers in daily life.


Legal Rights and Protections


Service dogs are afforded legal rights and protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States. According to the ADA, service dogs are allowed to accompany their handlers in all areas where the public is normally allowed to go, including businesses, restaurants, hotels, and public transportation. This means that service dog handlers have the right to bring their service dogs with them wherever they go, regardless of any pet policies that may be in place.


A Golden Retriever wearing a harness and leash looking up.

Training and Certification Process


Service dogs undergo extensive training to learn the tasks necessary to assist their handlers effectively. While there is no official certification or registration process for service dogs in the United States, reputable organizations provide training and certification programs to ensure that service dogs meet certain standards of behavior and are capable of basic and advanced skills. It's essential for service dogs to receive proper training from qualified professionals to ensure they can perform their tasks safely and effectively.


Preparing for Travel


Before embarking on a trip with a service dog, it's important to plan ahead and make necessary preparations. Travel Awaits provides some great info in their article “7 Key Tips For Traveling With Your Service Dog”. Such considerations include researching airline policies and accommodations for service dogs, ensuring the service dog is up-to-date on vaccinations and health check-ups, and packing essentials such as food, water, medication, and comfort items for the service dog. It's also helpful to familiarize oneself with the destination's laws and regulations regarding service dogs to avoid any issues during the trip.


You can find additional information about the specifics required for traveling interstate with a pet on websites like the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.


Air Travel 


When flying with a service dog, it's essential to understand the requirements and procedures for traveling with a service animal. Each airline may have its own policies regarding service dogs, including documentation requirements and seating arrangements. Service dog handlers should communicate with the airline in advance to ensure a smooth and comfortable journey for both themselves and their service dog. Additionally, navigating airport security and boarding procedures with a service dog requires careful planning and coordination.


The U.S. Department of Transportation details the specifics of traveling with a service animal under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), including how airlines determine whether an animal is a service animal, what kind of documentation is required by individuals traveling with a service animal, and tips on traveling with your service animal. 


International Travel


The following resources provide useful information regarding international travel with a service dog: 


We also recommend you review information pertaining to the country’s requirements for pet arrival that you are traveling to (exporting), how to return with your pet to the United States (importing), and also check with the airline carrier in person or on the phone to review their policies. 


The main thing to take away from these resources is as follows, according to AskUSDA: “The requirements for traveling overseas with a service or an emotional support animal are generally the same as those to travel with a pet. Getting your animal’s required paperwork for overseas travel can take weeks and sometimes months.” This is why it’s a good idea to start on these processes as soon as possible.


A curly black, white, and browkservice dog wearing a harness with a pack and a leash.

Ground Transportation


Traveling by bus, train, or other forms of ground transportation with a service dog also require careful consideration. While service dog handlers have legal rights and accommodations on public transportation, it's important to be aware of any specific policies or procedures in place. Service dog handlers should communicate with transportation providers in advance to ensure a seamless travel experience for themselves and their service dog.


Accommodations


Finding pet-friendly accommodations and understanding hotel policies regarding service dogs is essential for a successful trip. Service dog handlers should communicate with hotel staff in advance to inform them of their service dog and ensure that appropriate accommodations are available. It's also important to be prepared to handle any issues or misunderstandings that may arise during the hotel stay, advocating for one's rights as a service dog handler.


Why Everyone Should Know About The Process of Traveling With A Service Dog


Traveling with a service dog can be a rewarding and empowering experience, providing individuals with disabilities the opportunity to explore new places and create lasting memories. By understanding their legal rights and protections, preparing adequately for travel, and advocating for themselves and their service dogs, handlers can ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. With careful planning and consideration, traveling with a service dog can be a fulfilling adventure for both the handler and their loyal companion.


Additionally, even if you’re not a handler of a service dog yourself, keeping yourself educated about the proper service dog etiquette and the ins and outs of how individuals with service dogs navigate their lives can help make processes like traveling run smoother for everyone.


If you’re looking to learn more about the world of service dogs, the Compass Key blog is a great resource where we discuss a variety of relevant topics—all with the goal of helping and educating others about service dogs. 

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