When travelling by air you can prepare your service dog ahead of time to reduce the stress for you both. Airline travel is not suitable for dogs that are anxious, do not like small spaces, crowds or are sound-sensitive.
Specific Basic Skills Dog needs:
- allowing self to be patted down by security staff which may include use of the wand. (Alternatively, taking off all harnesses etc., that may contain metal and pass through the metal detector on her own)
- pee and potty promptly on cue (ideally on a variety of surfaces and over a grate) (Can also carry potty pads or child diapers for emergencies. Easy clean-up and disposal.)
- curl up in tight spaces for long periods of time (start shaping the dog to go into a box then a round space such as laundry basket)
- ignore other people eating off trays in close proximity
- recognize that a familiar mat means calm relaxed behaviour
- be comfortable with the sound of pop cans being opened nearby
- stay calm in the presence of loud roaring sounds and vibrations
- ignore the 'ding dong' sounds of the stewards making announcements
- teach dog to follow a chin rest or nose target so you can walk dog naked through metal detector rather than be patted down with gear on.
- can wear mutt muffs for at least for take off and landing (sound is louder then)
Here are some tips:
- Practice a variety of modes of transport that mimic different aspects of plane travel (elevator for air pockets, laying on bus floors for vibrations, train travel for tight spaces. etc.).
- Practice in a local airport before ever getting on a plane
- Do shorter practice runs if you plan on traveling for long trips especially with layovers.
- Don't count on having enough time to potty your dog outdoors between plane changes (training the dog to pee on pee pads or in floor grates is handy at airports).
- Take toys and treats for long trips so you can break up long stationary periods.
- Teach simple tricks or games that can be done in a small space (nose target, 4 foot paw lifts, retrieve keys etc)
- Carry a familiar mat with you so the dog has a place all his own.
- Practice staying in small spaces for increasingly longer time periods (Place a couch or chair facing a wall to mimic the space under and in front of an airline chair).
- Learn to read your dog to watch for signs of stress and knowledge of low key ways of relieving that stress (such as chewing a bone or toy on take off, playing a gentle tug game, using a massage, etc.)
- Pack a clean up kit: disposable baby diaper, paper towels and wet towelettes to do clean ups.
- Make sure you have all required documents
- Read each airlines guidelines for service dogs on their website to make sure you notify them in the amount of time they request and that your dog qualifies as a service dog
- Carry your medication on you, not in the dogs vest or pack
- Prepare for other dogs and kids in your dog's personal space
Here is a link to guidelines airlines in Canada must follow for service dogs. They have a descriptive section for how huch space each dog needs to be given by size of dog.
Haley Mauldin shared her first experience flying with her SD. Here is what she wrote!
I thought I would share some of my experiences from flying for the first time with my SD. Other people’s posts about this had really helped me so I thought I would add!
Things I did to Prepare:
• Played youtube videos of planes taking off through the speakers in the car (good way to get them used to how loud the plane is especially during take-off and landing).
• Did a lot of tuck practice in small spaces.
• Practiced putting Morgan in a sit wait (I use a wait command and a stay command depending on the situation), walked away from him, then stopped, turned around, and called him to me immediately into a sit stay. We did this with a lot of distractions.
• Use the bathroom on command.
• I flew Southwest, when I bought the ticket I said I was flying with a trained assistance animal, I had no trouble at the counter and didn’t get asked for anything (I was, however, using Morgan’s pull strap due to a recent dizzy spell so I think they assumed he was a SD not an ESA).
• Went on Morgan’s first shuttle thing through the airport, something we hadn’t really prepared for but he did fine.
• When we got to security we went through a different line a little ahead of everyone because they had a working bomb sniffing dog and didn’t want him to get distracted by Morgan.
• We went through the metal detector separately. Really glad we practiced in highly stimulating environments because there were two ESAs losing their minds over Morgan just on the other side of the metal detector.
• I went through and they swabbed my hands then had me call Morgan through but I couldn’t take his leash until they had the results from the swabbing so it was good that we had practiced him coming to me and immediately sitting.
• I didn’t take his vest off when we went through but wish we had because Morgan carries two sets of medications of mine in his vest and they had to pull them out of his vest and examine them, in the future I will just take his vest off and send it through the scanner.
• On the other side of security we ran into the two ESAs on flexi leashes that were barking and running up to Morgan and one started snapping at Morgan so I switched sides with Morgan and body blocked them from Morgan (he did great ignoring them).
• My flight ended up getting delayed an extra hour because of a storm over the airport. All in all Morgan ended up going nine and a half hours without a bathroom break. The morning we flew I only gave him his breakfast and let him drink water until about noon (we got to the airport at 4:00pm). I’m really glad I didn’t feed him after that. On the plane I gave him a little water and some of his kibble to tide him over.
• We loaded onto the plane after those in wheelchairs and were given bulkhead seating. Thinking back on it I’m really glad we took the bulkhead seating as it allowed Morgan to do paws up DPT while we were flying which I don’t think he would have been able to do in a regular seat. He, however, wasn’t too fond of not being able to tuck under but it ended up working!
• I brought his small dog bed that rolls up for him to lay on (I use it when we go to class so he knows exactly where to go).
• When it came time for takeoff Morgan checked in with me a few times and I gave him a little kibble to get his jaw moving to try to help with the pressure changes in his ears just to be safe.
• He checked in a few times with me at first but then relaxed.
• When it came time to get drinks I got ice water and gave Morgan a couple of ice cubes (he loves them) which I felt he deserved and was a good way to give him water without having to worry about spilling.
• The one thing I wish I had done a little more exposure with was the opening of soda cans. I don’t drink much soda so Morgan wasn’t really familiar with the sound and they were opening all of the cans on the other side of the thin wall right in front of where he was laying. He was fine but a bit confused at first so something we are going to work on.
• Morgan did a few alerts and DPT during the flight and then really just slept the rest of the time. I brought his sweater but didn’t end up using it.
• All in all the flight ended up being almost six hours with around nine and a half hours between the plane and airport.
• Got the usual comments about “what’s wrong with you?” “Who trains pitbulls to be service dogs?” “Are you blind?” “Who are you training him for?” But I have my canned responses so I just used those and moved on.