Traveling with a Guide Dog

September 15, 2023

Many blind people travel on a regular basis for business and/or pleasure. Having a guide dog by the handler’s side can be a huge help, but it also requires more consideration and preparation to make sure things go as smoothly as possible.

First, one must consider their mode of transportation. Will they be getting to their destination via airplane, bus, train, or car? Sometimes, a car will be your mode of transportation and destination— Road Trip, anyone? What about a cruise vacation?

Some things to consider regarding each of these:

  • Air Travel

Airlines now require additional paperwork to fly with a service animal. The forms need to be completed online in advance of the flight. Each airline has their own rules and requirements for the documents that are needed.

A service dog will fly on the plane with their handler. They do not need to fly in cargo as other animals typically do. The dog will simply lie at their handler’s feet, tucked underneath the seat in front of them. It’s a good idea to select a seat that may offer extra legroom for them and their dog. On some planes, bulkhead seating offers more legroom, but on others it does not. Some passengers prefer the window seat so that their dog is not in danger of being stepped on or blocking the aisle. It’s really a personal preference as to what works best for them and their dog.

Relieving a service dog on a plane is not an ideal situation. It’s important to make sure the dog is as empty as possible before boarding the plane. Many airports now have indoor relief areas for service dogs, but many dogs are not very keen on using them because they are usually pretty small and the dogs are not used to going “indoors”.

  • Buses and Trains

These are similar in regard to legroom and seating. With these modes of transportation, they will have scheduled transfers and/or breaks. One should check ahead of time to see how long each stop will be and schedule the dog’s bathroom breaks accordingly.

  • Car trips

Car trips are a lot more flexible in regards to legroom and bathroom breaks. Many drivers stop several times along the route, giving the handler and their dog time to stretch their legs and relieve themselves.

  • Cruises

Cruises are a great way for a guide dog user to travel and see the world! With so much to do and many activities and food included, they are a convenient way to travel with so many things within reach. Cruise lines require paperwork and information about the guide dog in advance. The country/countries they are visiting may also require additional forms to be filled out prior to entry.

Some dogs are hesitant to use the relief boxes at first so it’s a good idea for the handler to practice ahead of time. The dog should be comfortable relieving on different surfaces like wood chips or fake grass.

As with all these trips, the guide dog handler should make sure to do the following things:

1. Pack plenty of food and water (if applicable) for their dog.

2. Pack any extras the dog may need: toys, poop bags, head collar, boots/shoes, raincoat, safety lights to attach to harness, grooming supplies, etc.

3. Fill out all paperwork beforehand and bring copies (i.e. entry forms, health certificate and rabies vaccination record).

4. Remember that travel is stressful for both the handler and dog. Allow extra time for any inconveniences or obstacles that may arise.

5. Have fun!

— Deanna Lewis, Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired Bindery Associate

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