Holiday travel with a Service Dog doesn’t have to be stressful. By following a few simple tips, you can reduce any difficulties associated with bringing your partner along for Christmas celebrations.
Prepare Ahead of Time
Preparing ahead for holiday travel solves many potential problems. If you’re flying, call the airline and let them know about your Service Dog. If you’re driving, look up good spots to stop so your Service Dog can stretch their legs. Having a solid plan in place means you don’t have to think about details on the day of travel. Preparing ahead also means packing for your dog. Divvy out individual meals and put your Service Dog’s gear in a small bag so it’s easily accessed. Bring extra food, medication, treats, and copies of documentation. It’s better to have a bit too much and not need it than to need more and not have it. If you’re traveling for an extended period, consider purchasing a bag of food once you reach your destination instead of trying to fly with or pack enough for several days.
Understand Travel Buddies May Not “Get It”
People who don’t routinely see you working with your Service Dog may not entirely understand what your partner does for you. Many people are lucky to have friends and family who support their Service Dog, but some teams might face criticism, disdain, or other difficulties when they return home for the holidays. Be prepared to enforce boundaries concerning your partner, especially regarding access and interaction. Many holiday guests may not “get” that your partner is working for you while around the house, so be sure to be clear about when your Service Dog is on duty and when they’re off duty.
If there are children, consider using a visual cue that your partner is working or not. A bandana often works well for this. If your Service Dog has a bandana on, it’s like an invisibility cloak and the kids should pretend they can’t even see your dog. If your dog isn’t wearing a bandana, then they may be petted or played with. If you’d prefer that no one interacts with your partner except for you, then enforce that from the very beginning. Be clear and consistent in your expectations.
Stick to a Routine
Try to avoid changing your Service Dog’s routine during holiday travel if at all possible. If your partner generally eats at 10 am and 3 pm, do your best to stick to that schedule. If you usually go for a stroll around 7, try to get out and about around that time. Keep in mind that time zones don’t mean anything to your dog. Sticking to a familiar routine will give your Service Dog an anchor of sorts to rely on when all kinds of other things about the day — the people, activity levels, outings, weather, etc. — vary from the expected. Make sure your dog gets enough exercise and rest throughout each day. They need the outlet and downtime to recover, just like people.
Keep in mind that unfamiliar foods or different water sources can upset your partner’s digestive system. Check with your vet about proper dosage for an anti-diarrheal, just in case, and consider keeping some in your travel kit. If your dog is particularly sensitive, stop by a grocery store when you arrive and get a couple of gallons of bottled water for your dog to drink.
Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Break
Traveling and extra social interactions can take a lot out of both you and your Service Dog. Don’t be afraid to take a break for either yourself or your partner. If you notice your dog isn’t quite themselves or they’re behaving in a way that isn’t typical for them, they might need some time to chill and recover. The same goes for you! If you need some extra rest or alone time, take some.
Holidays sparkle and dazzle us with shiny ornaments, lots of lights, and all kinds of tasty goodies. There’s extra traffic in and out of the house, more vehicles on the road, and in some places, lots of alcohol. Always keep safety on the forefront of your mind. Many common holiday ingredients, including sugar substitutes, are toxic for dogs. Bright and colorful holiday plants like poinsettias cause possible lethal reactions if ingested. Ornaments aren’t for eating. Many alcoholic beverages are sugary and might be inviting for your Service Dog. Make sure to keep your partner away from them. In all things, safety first.