Cruising with a Service Dog

I travel with a service dog, myself, so I'm very well versed in the applicable laws. HOWEVER...

as seasoned handlers know, it's not always about what the rules ARE. It can often be about what people THINK the rules are.

For example, service dogs are exempt from Florida's 30 day health certificate rule. Even so, I was held up quite a while on a ship inspection because the cruise line representative insisted that this documentation was necessary.

Literally us just sitting in the cruise terminal for an hour.

Therefore, take everything with a grain of salt, as the actual law, company policies, and employee's understanding of them are often wildly different.

NOTE: all of this is for U.S. task trained service dogs. NOT service dogs in training, which are not addressed in the ADA.

Can I bring my service dog on my flight?

If you have a trained, tasking service dog to mitigate your disability, the dog may travel with you. All the guidance for this is in the ACAA. NOTE: additional forms are required for task trained Psychiatric Service Dogs.

Typically you would book your flight, then immediately call the airline. Give them your reservation number and let them know you will be traveling with a service animal. Ask if any bulkhead is available. They will ask you to fax, email, or upload supporting documentation required by the ACAA.

PRO TIP: If your dog won't be tasking while you're in flight, consider using a carrier. It's often less stressful for everyone. The dog feels safer, the other passengers aren't so nosy, and you can actually nap. I like this one, as the zip down compartments allow a lot more room.

Can I bring my service dog into my hotel?

Yes, and they cannot charge you a pet deposit. You may not leave them unattended in the room at any time. Hotel, along with other common issues, are address in this handy FAQ.

Can I bring my service dog on a cruise? Yes, ships leaving from the U.S. adhere to U.S. standards for disability access.

My dog needs a lot of gear, food, water... does that count against my allowed bags?

Nope, SD supplies are exempt, just as a wheelchair or dialysis supplies would be.

Where does the dog go potty on the ship? The cruise line typically provides a 4'x4' (ish) box filled with mulch or pellets of some kind. To be honest? Most dogs don't love it.

Do yourself a favor - get a similarly sized piece of fake grass. (Make sure it comes with drainage holes, or cut some yourself.) Lay it right over the mulch, and stake the corners into the mulch. This will make life MUCH easier.

Where will the potty box be? It really depends on the cruise line. Some try to put it in a stairwell near your room. Others have designated areas that are "THE" established potty space and they won't move it for you, sometimes because it will be used by more than one service dog.

The potty area may also be exposed to the weather, and may be in a place where there is a "wind tunnel" effect that makes the doors quite difficult to open on your own. (I'm looking at you, Celebrity!) Also, this is why I mentioned the stakes. Don't want that pee-soaked fake grass flying away!

If you have strength or stamina issues, or other limitations that would make it difficult/impossible for you to access such an area, it's good to know ahead of time so other arrangements can be made.

NOTE: somewhat ridiculously, potty pads are not allowed for in-room use!!

What are the rules while we're on board?

Rules may vary a bit by cruise line, but typically...

  • the dog isn't allowed within X feet of a swimming pool, whirlpool, spa, or any other onboard body of water

  • you can't leave the dog in your room unattended

  • the dog must be leashed when not in your room

  • the dog can't potty in inappropriate areas

  • no barking, growling, etc. Professional working dogs only!

  • no sitting on the furniture (except in your room)

  • no eating from the table. This includes you feeding them from the table! Please feed in your stateroom.

  • no unsolicited contact with other passengers or crew

Basically, if you're a professional team, it won't be any different than a regular day of public access.

What about getting off at the ports? Each country - and sometimes state - has their own rules.

Hawaii Alaska Taking Your Pet to Foreign Countries

Keep in mind that other countries may view your working dog as "just a pet" and their pet import policies must be respected, as well as the access limitations of pets in that country.

What all forms / veterinarian tasks need to happen?

You may have to have your vet complete forms for each port, and your dog may need additional vaccinations.

What about "street dogs" at our destinations?

This is a frequent fear of handlers who are new to travel. However, I've never really heard of anyone having an issue. Street dogs are typically pretty laid back, and service dogs are typically well trained for public access. However, you may want to carry some dog repellent spray just for peace of mind.

How do I get this started? Once we book your stateroom, we'll contact Disability Services at the cruise line to make arrangements. They'll require a description of your service dog as well as a description of his or her tasks. The sooner we start the process, the better, as turnaround time can be a little slow.

Whew! That was a lot to cover. I hope it all made sense. Give me a call at 1-800-990-3614 or to set up your service-dog-friendly trip!!

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