The Adventures of Django and Arya

Assistance & Service Dogs

While some airlines don’t accept pet cats or dogs to fly in the cabin or hold, all airlines permit trained Assistance and Service Dogs (SVAN) to fly free of charge in the cabin. Normally, Assistance Dogs are accepted on most routes offered by an airline. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are no longer accepted to fly in the cabin free of charge with international pet friendly airlines. On the other hand, Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSVDs) are allowed under an airline’s Assistance and Service Dog policy on flights to and from the USA. However, some countries don’t permit even trained and registered Assistance Dogs to arrive in the cabin of a plane. Read on for all the information you need when flying with an Assistance or Service Dog.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

What is an Assistance or Service Dog (PSVD)?

An Assistance or Service Dog is a dog that has been professionally trained to perform a task, or tasks, for a person with a disability. Therefore, a dog that provides protection or comfort is not regarded as a qualified Assistance or Service Dog.

Trained and registered Assistance & Service Dogs fall into the following three categories:

Guide Dog

A dog that guides people who are blind or visually impaired.

Hearing Dog

A dog that alerts individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds.

Service Dog

A Service Dog aids individuals with disabilities other than blindness or deafness. They’re trained to perform a wide variety of tasks, such as

  • alerting to a medical crisis
  • bracing
  • providing assistance in a medical crisis
  • pulling a wheelchair
  • retrieving

For example, an Alert Service Dog is trained to indicate that their owner is about to experience symptoms of their disability, such as, a seizure, or that they need insulin for diabetes.

Types of Tasks Performed by Service Dogs

A Service Dog task is a trained behavior that the dog does on cue, or command, to mitigate its partner’s disability.

For instance, a cue can be:

  • verbal
  • a hand signal
  • something in the environment
  • a behavior exhibited by the partner or another person

Service Dogs are professionally trained dogs that help mitigate many different types of disabilities.

  • Service Dogs can be trained to work with people who have power or manual wheelchairs, have balance issues, have various types of autism, need seizure alert or response, need to be alerted to other medical issues like low blood sugar, or have psychiatric disabilities. 
  • Service Dogs can help by retrieving dropped objects that are out of their person’s reach, by pulling wheelchairs, opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking to indicate that help is needed, finding another person and leading the person to the handler, assisting ambulatory person to walk by providing balance and counterbalance, providing deep pressure, and many other individual tasks as needed by a person with a disability. 

Types of recognised Service Dogs include the following:

  • Autism Service Dog
  • Diabetic Alert Service Dog
  • Medical Alert Service Dog. 
  • Mobility Service Dog
  • Psychiatric Service Dog
  • Seizure Service Dog
  • Service Dogs for Veterans with Military-related PTSD

How Can I Obtain Accreditation for my Service Dog?

For an Assistance or Service Dog to be formally recognised and permitted to fly in the cabin free of charge on international flights, the dog must have received training from an affiliate of one of the following organisations:

If an owner trains their dog and wants to obtain certification, they must both work with an accredited member of one of the above, for a minimum of six months. They must also complete all the requirements of a programme trained assistance dog.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) & Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSVDs)

From 1 March 2021, the US Department of Transport (USDoT) implemented a new ruling regarding ESAs on planes.

Subsequently, Emotional Support Animals or Comfort Animals (ESAs) are no longer recognised as Assistance or Service Dogs. This is due to the fact that ESAs haven’t undergone any task based training to aid their owner’s health and wellbeing.

However, as Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSVDs) are trained to perform a specific task for their owner, you can travel with a PSVD through an airlines Assistance & Service Dog policy, on flights to and from the USA. In order to fly with a PSVD, you must first complete a USDoT attestation to your dog’s training and behaviour, and submit this to your airline prior to your flight.

PSVDs don’t have to be professionally trained and registered with an organisation. The majority of PSVDs are trained by their owner, which is why PSVDs are only recognised on flights to and from the USA.

What Documents Do I Need to Travel with an Assistance or Service Dog?

If you’re flying with an Assistance or Service Dog, you’ll be asked to provide evidence of the qualifying training.

As a rule, airlines generally require the following:

  • That your Assistance or Service Dog has been individually trained in a specific task, or tasks, to assist you with your disability or medical condition
  • You have documentary evidence confirming that your dog has been trained as an Assistance Dog
  • Your Assistance Dog must wear an identifying jacket or harness
  • Your Assistance Dog must remain under your control at all times

However, some airlines may have additional requirements, for example, that your dog wears a muzzle for the duration of the flight and remains on a lead. And most airlines state that your dog cannot occupy a passenger seat, and must sit on the floor at your feet in the cabin.

To protect passenger safety onboard, Assistance Dogs can’t block the aisle, and you won’t be able to occupy an Emergency Exit row.

So it’s important to familiarise yourself with your selected airline’s pet travel policy for Assistance Dogs.

Also, be sure to comply with standard pet travel scheme regulations, as well as the laws of the country you are visiting. And remember to ensure your Assistance Dog is fully protected against any foreign illnesses before you travel.

You can find everything you need to know about flying with your Assistance Dog in our aviation pages!

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