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Guide Dog Class Lecture: Going on a Trip with Your Guide Dog

Travel provides many opportunities for pleasure and adventure. Of course, whether you have a service animal or not, travel also includes obstacles and inconveniences. Planning ahead will help minimize hassles and help you manage the unexpected. This material discusses information about automobiles, taxi cabs, Uber and the like, buses, airplanes, trains and cruise ships – as well as mention of travel to Hawaii.

Feeding and Watering When Traveling
Since your dog will travel more comfortably without a full stomach or bladder, feed and water lightly before your trip. If your dog has a special medical issue, check with your veterinarian for food and water requirements.

Oftentimes, relieving opportunities are limited during travel. Give only small amounts of water during the trip. Keep in mind, however, that dogs require more water in hotter temperatures. If your dog seems thirsty, ice chips are a convenient option.

When you reach your destination relieve your dog as soon as possible. Once settled following the trip, feed and water your dog as is appropriate for their schedule.

What to Bring
If you are traveling away from your home for a number of days, pack a portable bowl, baggies and plenty of dog food. Bring along your dog’s head collar as well. Not only is it a useful tool for managing your dog, it can also be used in lieu of a muzzle. To the best of our knowledge, there are no muzzling requirements for public transportation in the US. Nonetheless, you might want to carry your head collar in case a transportation official who is less current on legal requirements requests it.


When you will be riding with your dog at your feet, you may want to enter first. Locate the car door, remove your dog’s handle or entire harness if appropriate (so the dog will be able to maneuver more easily) and give a “wait” verbal cue; your dog may sit or stand while it waits. As you sit down, leave one leg out and call your dog in with the release word, “OK”. Have your dog sit either facing you or sideways. If in the front seat, your dog will be facing you with its hindquarters under the dash. Bring your leg inside between the dog and the door. If someone is holding the door for you, you can let them know when to close the door or you may want to do it yourself, since you will know when you have the dog safely situated with the feet and tail tucked in and away from the door.

If it is not realistic to enter before your dog, have your dog “wait” for a moment while the door is held open. Essentially, you want your dog to demonstrate patience prior to entering a vehicle. Before exiting any vehicle, gather up any of your dog’s equipment that you might have removed.

Where your dog rides in a vehicle depends on both the layout of the vehicle and your preferences. We do not recommend allowing your dog on seats, but some smaller cars leave no other option. If you must allow your dog on a seat, keep your dog in one spot with his head inside the car. To keep the seat clean, you may want to lay down a towel or sheet for the dog.

Air bags can be dangerous to children and animals. Although we don’t know of any guides being harmed by airbags, you may feel more comfortable having your dog ride in the rear of the vehicle.

Station Wagons, Hatchbacks, and Minivans
These vehicles have open floor space in the rear. Your guide dog can ride in the back as long as they are comfortable and well-behaved. Dogs can become worried if they slide around without traction to brace themselves. Make sure your dog has something to grip, or provide a secured crate for the ride.

Pick-Up Trucks
Many states now prohibit loose dogs in the back of open pick up trucks. Dogs need to either be cross-tied or in a crate. This law has prevented car accidents and saved the lives of many dogs. If you must transport your guide dog in the back of an open (or covered) pick up truck, do so only in a kennel crate. Securely fasten it to the truck so it is unable to slide around. Also to consider during hot weather for uncovered pick-up trucks; while newer trucks have fitted composite inserts that do not get extremely hot in the sun, earlier model pick-up trucks have metal beds which may become burning hot in the sun. For extremes in temperature, use your best judgment; you may need to find room inside the cab of the vehicle for the safety and comfort of your guide dog.

Taxi Cabs / Uber / Lyft
Enter the vehicle with your guide dog as you would any other automobile. More often than not, the cab’s engine will be idling as you get in. Your dog may show some initial hesitancy to approach the running vehicle, but will likely relax quickly. As usual, remember to retrieve any of your dog’s equipment that you might have removed.

Taxi cab and similar (Uber, Lyft, etc.) travel can sometimes pose access issues to the blind traveler. Whenever possible, call for a ride from a location, such as your home, office, or restaurant. If you hail a cab or other transport vehicle from curbside and are refused access or encounter any other problems, then the transport company will not be able to identify the driver.

Members of our Alumni Association have offered other suggestions for paid car travel:

  • If possible get driving directions from a website. This will give you the distance from where you want to be picked up to where you want to go. It will also let you know total miles and the driving time.
  • It is better to patronize a larger, well-known company as they are oftentimes better organized than some of the smaller independent companies.
  • If you have a service animal and the driver refuses to take you, report it immediately to the transport company and the local police. You are not obliged to tell them that you have a service animal when you call for a vehicle.

Municipal Buses

City buses commonly approach and stop close to the curb. For this reason, it is a potential safety issue to you and your dog to wait for a bus at the curb edge. A couple steps back from the curb is sufficient while you wait.

When the bus comes to a stop and the doors open, say "forward" with a hand gesture towards the bus. Once you locate the door, depending on what is most comfortable for you and practical for the situation, you may either heel your dog or work your dog if the stairway and/or aisle are wide enough. If you heel, keep your leash short and have your dog follow immediately behind you.

Locating a Seat
City buses often have reserved seats behind the driver. These seats frequently face the center aisle and are convenient as they keep you close to the front exit, allowing you to talk with the driver to confirm stops. For some buses, the common exit for passengers may be the rear exit, but drivers seldom object to dog users using the front.

To keep your dog from being stepped on or bothering passengers, keep them close to you and make sure that body and tail are not in the aisle. Note: A GPS tool can be very helpful in announcing bus stops so you are not totally reliant on the driver to let you know about your stop.

Either work or heel your dog to the appropriate door and down the stairs. Say "forward" as soon as you are on the sidewalk. In order to clear the bus and put distance between your dog and the sound of the revving engine, work several feet away from the bus door if possible. If this is not possible, face your dog towards the bus so your dog can watch it leave.

Cross-Country Buses
When planning your bus trip, call the carrier and get complete route and schedule information. You will know where you will be stopping for meals, where and when your transfers will be, and how long any layovers will last. This will help you prepare a feeding, watering and relieving schedule for your dog.

When choosing a seat, you will need to consider your dog's comfort for a longer ride. Your dog will have to lie in front of you and this space can be very small. In tight spaces, it would make most sense to remove your dog’s handle or entire harness (at trip’s end, remember to retrieve any of your dog’s equipment that you might have removed). If the space is so tight that your dog cannot turn around, help your dog back in so it does not have to stare at a blank wall for the entire trip. Some of the best seating on busses is in the first seat behind the driver or the front seat by the door. There is more room on the floor at either of these two seats.

Busses are now equipped with seating for wheel chairs, and (if not being used) this area can provide abundant room for a dog and its handler. However, remember that should a person in a wheel chair come on board you will likely be required to give up that seat.

When making reservations for air travel, make a point to inform the ticketing agent that you are traveling with a guide dog. A note will be made on your record so airline staff can be prepared if you request assistance during your journey. As of January 2021, the Department of Transportation is requiring pre-travel forms to be filled out for all passengers traveling with a service dog. This paperwork is specific to the airline that you are traveling with and can be found on the airline’s website. Airlines are requesting to have the forms completed no less then 48 hours before travel. For last minute travel that is booked less than 48 hours from departure, contact the airline directly. If you need assistance or have questions, please contact the GDB Support Center as we are happy to help.

Further, travelers with disabilities and medical conditions may call “TSA Cares” toll free helpline at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at security checkpoints. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recommends that passengers call approximately 72 hours ahead of travel so that TSA Cares has the opportunity to coordinate checkpoint support with a TSA Customer Service Manager located at the airport. Travelers may also request a Passenger Support Specialist ahead of time by calling TSA Cares.

TSA Passenger Support Specialists at airports across the country identify and resolve traveler-related screening concerns quickly to enhance the traveler experience. These Support Specialists receive specialized disability training provided by TSA's Office of Civil Rights and Liberties, Ombudsman and Traveler Engagement. Travelers may ask a checkpoint officer or supervisor for a Passenger Support Specialist who will provide on-the-spot assistance. Passengers with special circumstances may include travelers with disabilities or medical conditions, Wounded Warriors and/or passengers who wear specific religious clothing or head coverings.

Assistance to the Gate
If a family member or friend is going to see you off at the gate, they almost always need to get a special pass from the airline. Passes are issued at the ticket counter and a passenger is generally limited to one escort. This person must present photo identification to obtain a pass and should carry only essential items (e.g., purse) since they will need to be screened as well. If you need to save time, you might want to consider an airline escort. These staff persons can often get permission to take you to the front of a security line. With either type of assistance, you may choose to either go human guide (i.e., heel your dog), or you may follow and work your dog.

Security staff has stringent screening protocols and guidelines to follow and are required to check everyone carefully, including people who are blind and their guide dogs. In 2014, the TSA added passenger screening canines, or PSCs, to many airports. These canine teams are trained to “sniff out” explosives and the components used to make them. The canines also are used to assist TSA with expediting the screening process for travelers at the checkpoint. When active, a team can screen more than 400 passengers in an hour, allowing many travelers the opportunity to receive expedited screening with no reduction in the level of security being provided.

The detector dogs generally do not make physical contact when they are searching for odor. The handlers are required to verbally announce their presence to alert service dog users they are in the area. They tend to move fairly quickly and don’t linger long. The PSC teams are permanently assigned to an airport and can be used anywhere and anytime on the premises. A guide dog user can ask at the ticket counter if the canines are being used at the airport.

Airports can be busy and congested and often have undefined open areas to negotiate. You may find it helpful to solicit assistance for the location of specific airline counters, security check points and gates. We recommend avoiding the flat, moving sidewalks often located in airports. This is a conveyor belt type of system, where the sidewalk itself moves under the floor at both ends. The exits off these belts are hard to prepare for, and can be sudden and jarring.

How to Negotiate Airport Security Check Points

Metal Detectors
People with disabilities, those with prosthetic devices, and others with medical conditions do not have to remove their shoes at checkpoints. However, those who keep their shoes on will be subjected to additional screening that includes a visual/physical and explosive trace detection sampling of their footwear. Additionally, regulations require mandatory secondary screening of any passenger that is transporting an item aboard the aircraft that is detected by the walk through metal detector. Your guide dog’s harness and collar will trigger the metal detector, which means security will need to do a further exam of you and your dog.

Metal Detectors – Recommended Method of Passing Through

  • Locate the security portal without moving into it, and place your dog on a “Sit, Stay” just outside the opening. Hold the end of a long leash and walk a few steps through the portal. (Never leave your dog on a stay and drop the leash).
  • The metal fittings of the leash will occasionally trigger the alarm as you walk through. If the alarm does sound, in compliance with regulations, the passenger (you) will be subject to secondary screening. If the alarm does not sound, the passenger is clear. Call your dog with a “Come” verbal cue. As your dog passes through the detector, the metal in the harness will set off the alarm. If you were clear, only the dog will need to undergo further inspection by the screener.
  • The security personnel will then direct you to an area for secondary screening.
  • You are not required to be separated from your dog for any reason.
  • If the TSA agent does not secure and bring you your personal property from the x-ray machine, ask them.
  • Keep your dog under control as security personnel conduct their inspection.
  • Understand that the TSA agent may lack knowledge when directing blind passengers. Advocate for yourself as needed, educate when possible and be patient.

Metal Detectors – Optimal Method of Passing Through

  • The only way to avoid secondary screening is to not trigger the alarm. It is possible to avoid secondary screening by removing your guide’s standard equipment and substituting a non-metal slip lead onto your dog before passing through the portal. Send your dog’s usual equipment (metal collar, leash and harness) through the x-ray machine. Be sure to reclaim this equipment immediately.
  • Please note that it is against regulations for the TSA screener to ask you to remove your dog’s harness. Any piece of equipment which is considered “working” gear can stay on the dog unless it is being scrutinized for a specific reason (which must involve a TSA supervisor). You may choose to remove your dog’s harness and use a non-metallic collar/leash to avoid the possibility of a secondary screening, but TSA security may not ask you to remove the harness as standard procedure.

Secondary Screening
Any additional screening is determined by metal detection, random computerized targeting, or screener’s discretion. If secondary screening is required, an agent of TSA will guide you to a chair where they will physically examine you, your dog, and the dog’s equipment. You need never be separated from your dog for any reason. If the harness needs to be removed for an x-ray, the screener should ask you to remove the harness yourself (do not allow anyone else to remove the harness). You will then be asked to stand with your legs spread shoulder-width apart and arms held out straight to the sides as a TSA agent waves a hand held metal detector “wand” to inspect for metal objects on your person. This wand is a mechanical device about the size of a large walkie-talkie that is held about two inches from your body and swept over your arms, legs, and torso, front and back. The wand makes a high frequency sound if it detects anything that is metal. The screener should communicate everything that they are doing during the screening process. If their instructions do not make sense or are problematic for you, explain your concern and work with TSA to find a solution that is right for you and your guide. Remember to stay as calm as you can; it will help make things go more smoothly and your dog will appreciate it, too. If the “wand” alarms, an inspector of the same gender will need to physically “pat-down” the area of your body that alarmed. Also there is a mandatory “pat-down” of the torso at the end of the screening process. Private screening rooms are available at your request.

After negotiating security check points, make your way to your gate. If you have some time to wait before the plane begins boarding, alert the airline representative at the gate counter so they can seek you out when the airplane is ready for passengers.

Prior to air travel, consider visiting the site of the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration at: http://www.tsa.gov for a complete list of prohibited items and other important information.

When booking the ticket, explain that you are traveling with a guide dog and would like to have a seat with the most available room. The last seat on the carriage often has a lot of unused room right behind the seat.

If you are traveling with a companion in addition to your guide dog, you may want to inquire if there is any type of accommodations for persons with a disability. Oftentimes the companion ticket is free.

If the duration of your trip will be longer than five to six hours, make contact with the porter and ask what stops would be the most convenient for your guide’s relief. Many stops can be as long as a half-hour and the porter may provide you assistance with this task.

While riding the train, the porter can give you an orientation to the location of the passenger restroom. Often each carriage will have one but sometimes a person may have to go through to another car. Also inform the porter if you will later require assistance getting off the train, obtaining your luggage, or locating the arrival area.

Cruise Ships
When booking your tickets let the agent know that you will have a guide dog with you. Most American cruise lines have a “special needs coordinator” who is dedicated to optimizing the cruise experience for all passengers. You may want to make contact with this individual.

Some dogs tend to “hold out” while on a cruise ship. It is a good idea to practice “ship relieving” at home prior to cruising. Using housebreaking pads, or a plastic wading pool filled with filler material (sand or bark dust) that may be used on the ship can ease the transition for your dog. If you ask to be assigned to a balcony room, you can simply take your dog out on your balcony to empty rather than having to walk down the hall and out the doors for their relief. If you plan to use the outdoor relieving area offered by the cruise staff, be sure to request a room close by, since you may not want to walk a long way to relieve your dog.

Often times, these areas are on portions of the decks that are usually accessible to staff only. Suggest that a covered trash receptacle be placed near to your dog's box, and that it be emptied regularly. Also request that the crew have extra material—bark chips, sand or whatever you agreed to have used in the box for the dog--as the wind on the deck may tend to blow the material out of the box.

Avoid standing with your dog on an outdoor deck while departing or coming into port. Very loud horns are set off at these times and can be frightening to a dog. If you are disembarking in another country, contact that country's consulate before your trip to gather any specific information about traveling with a guide dog there. Some places in Mexico, the Caribbean, and other destinations have large populations of feral or street dogs that could pose a health or safety threat to your guide. You may choose to leave your dog on tie-down in your room while you go ashore.

If you plan to be off the ship with your guide dog for a full day in a foreign country, pack water for your dog. Avoiding local water may prevent gastrointestinal problems for your guide. Always carry a current rabies certificate in duplicate, along with any other health certificates for your guide. Finally, be sure you know what documentation is necessary to return to your home in the United States or Canada.

Hawaiian Travel
Hawaii is rabies-free. The state’s quarantine law is designed to protect residents and pets from potentially serious health problems associated with the introduction and spread of rabies; therefore there are strict regulations for guide dogs entering Hawaii. If you intend to visit the islands with your guide, start planning several months prior to your trip in order to meet the necessary legal requirements. Confer with your local veterinarian and contact GDB’s Support Center for information and assistance. Aloha!

Whatever your destination, mode of travel, or reason for your trip, with planning and preparation, you can have a memorable and enjoyable journey with your guide dog at your side. Safe travels!

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