Traveling with a Service Dog: Planning Your Trip

I’m getting ready for Another trip out to Oregon. I’ll visit family in the Willamette Valley, then do some exploring and adventuring along the southern Oregon coast. Having grown up in the state and coming from a family that loves to camp, hike, and generally explore a place pretty thoroughly, I’ve seen a lot of my beautiful home state. But this little coastal region will be new territory for me. And this time, greta gets to come, too!

Long-time readers will know that Greta and I have been working through some Post High School Stress Disorder, which prevented her from accompanying me on my last trip. It’s prevented her from working with me for quite a while now, but with the support of a Wonderful dog trainer and Cooking skills. Now it’s time to put all that hard work to the test!

Traveling with a service dog is both easier and more complicated than with a long white cane.  There’s a lot more planning involved, for one thing. Canes don’t need food, or to relieve themselves, and people aren’t likely to tell you that you can’t bring your cane with you to a hotel or attraction. In the next couple weeks I’m going to share with you how i plan and prepare for overnight trips with my service dogs.

Today we’ll talk about planning, and next week I’ll share a couple of packing lists that can streamline your travel plans.

1. Make a list, and check it twice

Service dogs can legally accompany their humans almost everywhere in the United States, Europe, and the UK. I am, of course, most familiar with US access laws, so I’ll be writing within that scope. But there are a few exceptions, even in America. And there are also places you simply might not want to bring your furry companion. As discussed in this Post, some places may legally welcome dogs, but be unreasonably stressful environments for them.

I begin preparing for any trip, be it a long day trip or a weeks-long sojourne, by making a list of all the places I intend to visit, and ones I might end up at if plans beget unexpected adventures. I don’t always write this list down, especially if it’s a shorter trip, but i do make the list every time.

What should go on this list?

  • Modes of transportation
    Lodging accommodations
    Where you plan to eat
    Exercise or other self-care activities
    Attractions, both indoor and out, structured and free-range
    Places you plan to conduct business
    Places you might end up waiting in between other events and appointments

Here’s a sample list from my upcoming trip:

Transport:
Car
Airplane
Kayak
Jet-boat
Pedestrian travel in suburban and rural environments

Lodgings:
A business-class hotel
My parents’ spare bedroom
An AirBnB property
A condo

Where I Plan to eat:
Hotel
Airport
My parents’ house
The AirBnB
The condo
Picnics
Several types of restaurants

Self-Care Locations:
The yoga niche in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport
The beach
Possibly pool or hot tub at condo

Attractions/Activities:
Beach-walking
Family portraits on the beach
Historic museums
Kayaking trip through the Redwoods
Jet-boat tour up the Rogue river
Board games in the AirBnB with family
A local yarn store
My grandparents’ assisted living facilities
Hiking trails, ranging from volcanic terrain to woodland

Places of Business:
This isn’t a business trip for me. If I do any work it’ll be on my tablet on whatever couch I happen to land on.

Where I’ll Kill Time:
Airports

No list is likely to be exhaustive, of course. I’ll probably end up waiting in a few other places than the several airports I’ll travel through. But because there’s some flexibility in my vacation plans I can’t anticipate where all I’ll  have to park myself temporarily. But a list like this gives me a pretty good idea of where I can, and want, to take Greta and when it might be better for her to curl up in the travel crate and sleep away my absence.

2. Make a list of needs:

Like humans, dogs have somewhat predictable basic needs. Food, lodging, a place to relieve themselves, a bit of exercise and self-care, and access to needed services like grooming or veterinary care are all important things to think about when traveling with a dog?

Grooming your dog on vacation, you ask? Oh yes. This can be a courtesy to hosts, hotels, car rentals, Uber drivers and AirBnB hosts, but it can also be a necessity for the dog. I took greta camping a few years ago, and scheduled a grooming appointment at the local Petsmart on our return to get the pine pitch removed from her coat. It made her more comfortable, and kept my belongings and environment less sticky.

So, now I’m reviewing my list from above and considering each location in terms of time spent there, access to facilities greta might need, and what I’ll need to bring to each location to meet those needs.

Let’s look at the condo, for example. We’ll spend a couple nights in one near Crater Lake on our way to the coast. I’ve been in condos operated by this company before and know I’ll have space to set up a travel crate, and there’ll be places where I can easily feed Greta. There’ll also be at least one bathroom wit the space to put down Greta’s water bowl. I prefer to give her water in a bathroom or kitchen because Greta is a messy drinker, and bathroom and kitchen floors are easy to wipe up with available towels.

But what about needing to relieve herself? I won’t know until i get there what floor we’re on, and how far I might need to walk along the building to get to a patch of grass, or a flower bed with enough open ground for her to squat. And then, of course, I’ll need to locate an outdoor trash can so i can properly clean up after her.

Sometimes, like in this case, I can’t anticipate how to meet every need in advance. But I can plan for how to learn what i need once I’m on the ground. I’ll prime my sighted companions to be on the lookout for good grassy spots and outdoor trash cans, and I’ve more or less trained them all to recognize things I can use as tactile or auditory landmarks. THey’ll be able to give me directions.

If I were traveling alone I would begin by asking the reception staff for directions to places they recommend I take Greta. Failing that, I would  stop into the room just long enough to drop my bags inside, then walk greta around the perimeter of the building until she indicated desperation, or a prime spot. Dogs, particularly German shepherds, don’t like to make messes, and Miss Greta is good at communicating when she’s found what she needs.

Now that I’ve located everything I need, I apply Greta’s normal schedule to those needs and our facilities. Her body won’t adjust to the time difference on the first day, it by the third day she’ll have more or less settled into local time. I can get up a little earlier if it’ll take me a few minutes to walk to our outdoor space, and be more than usually attentive to her indoor behavior in case of biological emergencies created by the disruption of travel.

Applying this list of needs and needs-meeting formula to each of the above-mentioned locations, I can reasonably pack for each day’s activities, and pack for the trip in general.

3. Make a list of likes and dislikes

This past spring i wrote a Series of posts on what to do wit a service dog in a wide variety of situations. Life is full of adventures, and there’s no way to train a dog, or a person, to expect all of them. So The Seeing Eye focuses on teaching principles that can be applied to a lot of different scenarios. One of those principles is, to borrow a phrase, “though all things are permissible, not all things are edifying.”

That is, just because Greta CAN legally go to the zoo doesn’t mean she SHOULD go to the zoo.

And, not all dogs have the same strengths and tolerances.

At TSE we were told that loud movie theaters often distressed dogs. I’ve never had this problem. But we were also told our dogs were trained to generally ignore other animals. Prada had an unhealthy fascination with chickens, and Greta is, as long-time readers may know, high-strung enough that a trip to the zoo would simply be unkind to all involved.

Knowing my dog as i do, i can look over my list of locations and activities and decide where she’ll be most useful, and where she would be too overwhelmed by the human strangeness of things to do her job adequately.

This trip might include some hiking. While Greta is pretty good at following an un-paved trail, she is a senior dog and has a history of shoulder and hip problems. I’ll read thorough descriptions and reviews of each trail we consider before determining if the trip would be more harmful than fun for her.

I’ll also consider whether the terrain might be hard on her little paws, since she’s used to inside flooring and pavement. Once, when I took Prada hiking across an obsidian flow, I made her wear her snow booties to protect those paws from the sharp volcanic glass.

Anneliese, Prada, Galadriel, and Anneliese’s mother stand on a hillside covered in black, glistening rock. Prada, a long-haired German shepherd wearing a Seeing Eye harness, also wears little red booties to protect her paws. Her human pack-members wear assorted hiking gear, and do not share her displeasure about their own boots.

Today your favorite blindfluencer asks you to share the most unusual place you’ve taken a furry friend! Tell me the story and you might get featured on The dark Side!

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