When it comes to flights, flying, airplanes and Service Dogs, the law is clear: your Service Dog gets to ride in the cabin free of charge. Disability or the size of the Service Dog doesn’t matter, as long as the dog in question is partnered with someone who has a disability, and the dog is task trained to help mitigate that disability. Just because your Service Dog has access to the plane, though, doesn’t mean they’re ready to just waltz on board and go. Here are 5 vital skills your Service Dog needs before flying with you.
Service Dogs and Airplane Skills: Excellent Leash Walking
From the time you exit your vehicle all the way through the time you exit the airport at your destination, you are going to be reliant on your partner’s excellent leash walking skills. The distractions in an airport and plenty and they range from hordes of crowds, to food, to exceptionally loud noises, to whirring luggage, to running children or people trying to catch flights. Your hands will likely be full of carry ons or baggage, and now is not the time to have to be focusing on ensuring your partner walks well.
Your Service Dog should be able to calmly walk on lead, remaining by your side, no matter the distraction, unless their task work dictates otherwise or they are directed to do something else. Additionally, your partner should know how to follow you on lead when it’s required they do so. Airplane aisles are oftentimes very narrow, and there likely won’t be room for your dog to heel next to you.
Service Dogs and Airplane Skills: Back Up
Your partner needs to know how to back up, and they need to be comfortable doing so when asked. You may need to change direction and there’s not room for them to turn around (queued up in a tight security line or in an airplane aisle), or it may be better, due to your dog’s size, to ask them to back into your seating area so that they can more comfortably lie down for the ride. Don’t just assume your partner knows how to back up, especially if they’re a larger breed. Your Service Dog needs to be taught this skill, as most dogs aren’t used to having to independently move their back feet.
Service Dogs and Airplane Skills: Under
“Under” is a vital Service Dog behavior, and it means that when asked, your partner moves “under” the designated bench, chair, table, seat or other item. It can also direct your partner to scooch under your legs if there’s not room directly under where you’re sitting.
When riding in a plane, your partner will be expected to occupy the floor space in front of your seat, and the best way to do this, especially for bigger dogs, is for them to “under” the seat in front of you, almost as if they’re a carry on. Even if your dog doesn’t fit all the way under the seat, having their back half under and their front out means they’ll be much more comfortable during the flight.
Service Dogs and Airplane Skills: Stay
Being in airports and on planes means there’s a whole lot of waiting around, riding or chilling for long periods of time. Your partner needs to be comfortable lying quietly for extended periods of time, even under heavy distraction. Don’t expect your Service Dog to suddenly be able to lie down and remain there for several hours if you’ve never taught the skill.
A great way to practice resting quietly for long times and navigating tight spaces is to attend movies or theatre performances. The aisles there, as well as the length of the show or movie, allows you to practice skills you’ll need.
Your partner should also know how to stay so that they don’t have a difficult time at the security checkpoint. You can either go through the scanners with your partner, or you can ask your partner to “stay” and walk through separately. The second option is usually better, as most Service Dogs wear gear that will alarm and going through separately means only your partner needs to go through a pat-down. During a pat-down, a TSA officer wearing gloves will gently check your partner’s gear and collar. It is helpful if your partner knows how to stand for examination, or has a stand-stay.
Service Dogs and Airplane Skills: Leave It
Food. People. Dropped items. There are all kinds of opportunities for your dog to be presented with something they shouldn’t have. “Leave it” is not only polite, but it can keep your partner safe. Your Service Dog needs solid food refusal, and they should know how to redirect their attention to you when asked.