I don’t know anyone who really loves flying. There is a lot of hassle. Bags, packing, crowds, confusing parking, security screenings and the list goes on. Dog trainers appreciate that preparing a service dog for the rigors of flight is not an easy task.
Behaviors Needed for Air Travel
Flying is stressful for all dogs, even appropriately trained ones. The dog is required to remain in a small space and should not interfere with others. The dog needs to remain quiet and essentially still, in close proximity with many unfamiliar people during the flight, the loud sound of the engines and changes of air pressure do not make sense to a dog and are added stressors. To even get to the flight, the dog needs to go through TSA with the owner. None of this is easy for any dog.
Prepare for the unexpected
Service dog trainers need to help owners prepare to handle the unexpected when traveling. What if the dog gets sick for example? What if they encounter someone who is allergic or very afraid of dogs assigned to the seat next to them? Yes the law is clear, but it’s also important to have compassion and consideration for others.
Essentials that clients need to know:
- Laws are changing, there are growing questions and negative publicity about abuse of ESA and service dog laws on flights. Airline policies change sometimes overnight with little warning. The Department of Transportation is in the process of reviewing the Air Carrier Access Act and it is impossible to know for certain what changes (if any) will be implemented and when.
- Stress builds and being in a new location is difficult for the dog. Clients need to have many strategies in mind to help the dog both during the flight and after.
- Dog relief areas in airports vary, they are not all easy for people to access. Some may not be well-maintained.
Is the dog ready for air travel?
- Is the dog sufficiently trained to work in the complex and tight environment? This is a process that a minimum requires months (not days or weeks).
- Is the dog’s temperament and behavior when in stressful situations known? A dog that may show aggression when stressed does not belong on an airplane (and is not appropriate as a public access service dog candidate for that matter).
- Is the dog confident when in unusual environments? Crowds? The dog should not be afraid of loud noises, things like rolling luggage, unusual sights and sounds. Service dogs in training need practice in various situations including airports.
Is the owner ready?
- Can the owner identify when the dog is anxious and does the owner know how to reduce the dog’s stress level?
- Can the owner control the dog’s behavior in complex environments? It should go without saying, but the owner must have very solid handling skills.
- Does the owner have a plan to help the dog decompress after the flight? This may mean a change of plans. While it may be fun to land and go right to a great restaurant, the service dog may need a quiet evening in a hotel room. The dog’s needs matter.
Deciding to leave the service dog home
Some clients may wish to choose another accommodation when they travel instead of the service dog. Some clients may travel with a human caregiver, may bring extra adaptive equipment or plan for a different way to accommodate their needs. If this is the client’s choice, the trainer can help guide the client on appropriate care of the service dog while they are away from the dog. Because dogs can get sick or injured, all clients need to have “back up” accommodations if for some reason a service dog cannot work.