By Michael Litzky, CPDT-KA
There have been a lot of stories in the news lately about dogs flying in airplanes. These articles have mostly centered on emotional support dogs, which is exactly what it sounds like – a dog that has been certified by a mental health professional as providing emotional support for their owner, usually suffering from some degree of anxiety, depression, phobia or other mental health related issue. Emotional support dogs are allowed places that dogs would otherwise not be permitted. Like on an airplane.
The Air Carrier Access Act (49 U.S. Code §41705) provides protection for these support animals and allows them to ride in the cabin of a plane. (The Americans with Disabilities Act covers service dogs). It is not difficult to certify your dog as an emotional support dog and many people are able to obtain a certificate online. However, as we’re beginning to see, this easy, non-regulated process comes with a price.
An airplane can be a scary environment, just ask anyone with the common fear of flying. (This is also another acceptable reason for getting your dog emotional support designation.) For a dog with no experience on a plane, it can be downright terrifying. You may have read that a passenger was bitten multiple times by an emotional support dog on a Delta flight last summer. This incident, one of many, has led Delta and other airlines to reevaluate and change their pet policy. Delta now requires owners to submit a Confirmation of Animal Training Form to verify their dog is “trained to behave in a public setting and takes [the owners] direction upon command.”
From a trainer’s perspective, this is great news, though not for the obvious reason of increased business. These dogs NEED training. Not just for the sake of the other passengers, but also for the well-being of the dog. Proper socialization and exposure to variables the dog will encounter in an airport and on an airplane is essential. An owner’s ability to get their dog to listen, not at home in an easy environment, but somewhere the dog will be over-stimulated and distracted, is a must. If owners fail to properly prepare their dog to fly, benefits like this will continue to become more regulated and eventually taken away.
Along these lines, and I cannot say this strongly enough, anytime you are in a public environment you should PICK UP YOUR DOG’S POOP! I am constantly amazed at the indifference of people who just leave the poop on the ground, sometimes within feet of a dog poop station with bags and a trashcan. We will lose the ability to bring our dogs to public places if irresponsible owners continue to allow their dogs to eliminate in these areas without cleaning up the mess. But I digress…
It doesn’t matter why you want your dog to fly in the airplane cabin with you as an emotional support animal. You understandably do not want to put them in cargo or you can’t afford the additional fee. Maybe you genuinely suffer from severe emotional difficulties and need them with you. Regardless of the reason, you should train before you fly. You don’t need to train your dog to be a fully certified service animal, which can take months, if not years, and cost thousands of dollars. Even a basic training course, whether one-on-one or in a group setting, can be the difference between an emotional support dog behaving on an airplane and one becoming famous for all the wrong reasons. Airports are doing their part – you can often find a fenced in area for dogs outside the airport as well as actual bathrooms designated for dogs inside the terminal – it’s about time we did ours.
49 U.S. Code §41705
Michael Litzky is the Owner and Head Trainer of Idle Paws Dog Training. He is a Certified Professional Canine Behavior and Training Master Instructor and Behavior and Aggression Management Trainer. He is also a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed. He has worked with thousands of dogs in all areas of dog behavior and obedience.