Q: How do you register your dog as a service animal?
A: In the United States, there is no service dog registry. Any service dog registry you may find online that claims to be an official registry is a lie. Service dogs are prescribed by a doctor for an individual who is disabled, so that the individual would having greatly improved quality of life or life-saving results from tasks provided by a service animal.
Q: What training is required for a service dog?
A: Service dogs need to go through very extensive training in three basic areas of skill: manners, obedience in the form of public access skills (an example of what this should look like is the Canine Good Citizen Urban test), and specialized task training (things to help the handler), which generally takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months.
Q: Can any size dog be a service dog or emotional support animal?
A: Yes! Any size dog or breed can be an ESA or Service Dog. Some breeds are used more often for Service Dog work due to their temperaments and drive, but any dog with the willingness to work that is also in-tune with their handler’s needs can be a service dog if they are able to make it through the proper training requirements.
Q: Can you talk about the difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal or pet, especially as it relates to their training and behavior in public?
A: Service dogs going through extensive training, should be able to ignore the food on the ground, the cooing of humans, loud unexpected noises, unusual situations such as moving walkways, loud machines, flashing lights and sirens. A service dog is not only an exceedingly well behaved and well trained dog, but they are also someone’s medical life-saving device. It is a felony to distract a service dog. That includes the kissy noises and coos, it’s illegal, don’t do it! Just because a service dog can ignore you, doesn’t mean they should be put in the situation to be distracted by humans. Be respectful of the working dogs you see. Many people think when they see Biscuit, “oh he’s just napping during a meal” when in reality, the times I need him the most focused throughout the day, are when I am eating. Biscuit has never missed an oncoming allergic reaction alert – I have accidentally ignored him before, and when I have, I spend multiple days unable to do much of anything, in horrible pain with aftermath effects. If someone was distracting him and he missed an alert, I would have nearly a week of being out of commission because of that. You never know what a service dog’s exact tasks are, so always practice ignoring them. We know they’re cute, but they have life saving work to do!
Q: What documents do you need to carry when traveling?
A: The biggest “documentation” or proof of a service dog that one carries, as cheesy as it sounds, is their mannerism and professionalism. A service dog shouldn’t sniff at things as it passes, never should use the bathroom in a store, should be in tune with their handler, ignore other dogs or distractions, stay in a heel (how tight or loose that is is up to the description of the handler). A service dog should always be able to perform a task response on command if need be and should be able to complete the task without distraction. Keep in mind, every dog has bad days – that doesn’t mean they aren’t a real working dog. If your service dog came from a center, you also likely have a patch from that center. I always keep our vaccination records, rabies certificate, my doctors note and our training certificates with us when we travel, as well as a section in my phone with all his records should anything ever happen to the papers.
Q: How do large dogs sit in the cabin on the plane?
A: In order to travel on a plane, Biscuit is required to stay within my leg room on the flight or I need to purchase a second seat for him. Generally, I have had airlines move me to an empty row if they see one to allow him some extra room. I always try to get the bulkhead seats which have the most space for him. When Biscuit and I fly, I bring a mat for him to “place” which is one of his commands that he needs to stay on that spot until I release him, and then he just sleeps the whole flight unless he needs to alert me. I have seen other Service Dog handlers just have their dog “tuck” into their foot space where they curl into a ball.
Q: What items do you need to bring when traveling with a service dog?
A: Things that we typically travel with: Biscuit’s Service Dog Vest or Harness, his shoes/boots (for extreme weather), poop bags, 2-3 collapsible bowls & a metal bowl space permitting, hand sanitizer & wet wipes (specifically due to my allergies, but have come in handy other times!) I always bring at least two meals for him in my carry on in case anything should happen to my luggage, my medications, high value treats, a Eurolead/hands-free leash, Biscuit’s “place” mat, his vaccination records, a tag with updated phone numbers or location where we are staying should he get lost, and a medical ID card for me (I use the one my iPhone).
Q: What has been your experience flying with different airlines with a service dog?
A: I have honestly had very good experiences flying with United Airlines and Delta. With United, the one issue I will say that I have had endless problems with United Airlines is their check in staff does not always know the different between a Service Dog and an ESA. Due to this I have bad conflicting information given to me to be told I was correct. When I have addressed this with their customer service, I was given a sincere apology and an award credit towards my next flight. Delta had phenomenal legroom in the last flight I took with them, my first time flying with them with Biscuit. United I feel has the most consistent planes which is my preference as I am able to predict which seats work best for us with the space. Delta was very unpredictable and we also were delayed for +10 hours which was not ideal as I had to eat 3 meals in the airport, a food allergy person’s hell. I should note that despite all the issues Delta had with weather, they still put me in the same seat I had since they knew I had Biscuit and needed more room, this earned them brownie points with us.
Q: What is it like staying in a hotel with a service dog, specifically one that doesn’t allow pets?
A: When a hotel is not a dog friendly one, I make sure to ask where the best place for us to have him use the restroom would be, some hotels have had specific “service dog relief” areas, most don’t care where he goes. If they have a specific location, I always try to be respectful of that and have him go there. I also ask if there are any other service dogs staying and if they are located in our wing. Finally, I ask if they would like him to be vested at all times – often I stay in dog friendly hotels anyways, so I do not always have him vested at 11pm when we go out to use the bathroom. Also in any hotel, I always do my best to remove as much of Biscuit’s hair as possible, in order to minimize potential allergens for others.