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First time flying

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Hi there,
 I just had some questions regarding flying with my ESA for the first time. I'll be flying with my sweet shepherd puppy, he loves all people, animals and just about anything! I'm not really worried about his behavior he does amazing in all situations, we have taken him to fairs, black friday shopping, malls, basically everywhere I go and he is a total social butterfly. He has already passed several obedience classes and we are currently in a CGC prep class, he has exceeded my expectations.He heels beautifully and whenever we are out and about we get comments left and right how well behaved and handsome he is. He has a very good stay as well (at 8 weeks old I placed kibble on his paws and could leave the room for 5 minutes come back and he would still be waiting for a release). We practice hour long down stays often and he loves his place command. However I'm worried about him physically... he has never had food or water withheld and I heard it is recommended you skip dinner AND breakfast if you have an afternoon flight. I'm worried about dehydration, do we really need to withhold water for so long? He has never had an accident inside any building since he was potty trained as a 8 week old pup and he goes to the bathroom on command. Overall I'd just like some expert advice here and some reassurance... he is my rock and I couldn't imagine going anywhere without him. He is so keyed in to me, whenever I feel the slightest off he is always there for me. I'm also a little worried about the "pat down" , if they use the metal detector wand on him he might try to play with it (occasionally my serious mellow pup acts like a goof lol), would they get mad and deny us? Can I bring dry treats on the plane? I'm also worried about the wording in my letter, it was from my actual licensed medical health professional who my regular doctor recommended for my disability and I go to her regularly in person so it isn't some BS letter but I see those advertised all the time I'm worried the airline might deny me if it isn't perfect. I'm also wondering if anyone has ever flown before with SouthWest Airlines? I called ahead and wanted to provide them my letter but they said just bring it the day of... I called twice just to confirm and that is what they said both times. When we log in to see his name is already listed there on the flight. I plan on taking him to the airport a few days before the flight just to get him used to everything (more so for my sake) and I want to see if we can practice going through security and if I can talk in person to the people at the south west counter and make sure I did everything correctly but i'm not sure if you are allowed to do that?
Thank you for your help

Here is my letter (i've edited out my personal info): This is written on her professional letter head including her license number and all her contact info.

To Whom It May Concern:
This letter is to meet the requirements for obtaining an Emotional Support Dog to assist ****** in managing her ***** Disorder. Gandalf will be the assigned dog for her. I completed ******'s evaluation on February 9, 2017 and plan to continue ongoing therapy with her. ****** has received evaluations in the past documenting the above diagnosis that is consistent with the current diagnostic impressions.

If you have any questions feel free to contact me.


I didn't catch how old your puppy is, but if he's about six or seven months old (which is the youngest I'd take on a plane outside of a crate, and then only for a very, very short flight) then he should be able to hold his bladder for four to five hours at the minimum. Even if your flight is only an hour or two you will have to consider possible delays, security check ins, and technical problems with your plane resulting in a grounding, which may take longer than what your puppy can hold. You can play with him to stimulate his bowels and bladder and have him toilet before you leave the house to make sure he is completely empty. Fasting is safe for healthy, adult dogs. A healthy adult dog can go for twenty four hours without food with no ill effects, I don't think it'd advisable to fast a young dog. I think your options are to limit his consumption but not to fast him, and to exercise him rigorously for an hour or two before your flight. If your dog really can reliably toilet on command and it's been proofed to different surfaces you can try toileting him on a potty piddle pad in the restroom of the plane.

I have never known an adult dog that would leave kibble on his paws with a five minute out of sight stay. Perhaps one of the obedience champs that are around and about may be capable of that but a normal eight week old puppy is not psychologically capable of holding a five minute stay at all. At that point puppies are usually holding commands for a few seconds at a time. Unless your dog was asleep I don't see how that's possible, maybe one of my betters could explain if it is. I know there are a few dogs who would probably hold it (Cole - Kirsten's late service dog - perhaps being one. I know she trained him in out of sight stays with fancy mirror rigging, a very clever trick before smart phones and tablets). Most fully trained service dogs do not have the willpower to leave kibble on the paw for five minutes with their handler out of sight unless it's an exercise that's been rigorously trained and practiced.

Also, why is your ESA going to fairs, black Friday shopping, malls and "basically everywhere else you go"? ESAs do not have public access rights and can not be brought into public venues with an expectation of accommodation like service dogs can. ESAs are only granted special privileges in flying and housing, both are only given with proper documentation. Emotional support is specifically excluded as a task by the Americans with Disabilities Act which is the federal law that protects a disabled handler's right to have their trained assistance dog accompany them in non-pet friendly areas.

The ADA does not protect ESAs of any species and thus you are liable to have your dog removed from any public venue you take him to. You can always call ahead and ask if he can come but unless he performs trained tasks that mitigate your disability (as a rule, cuddling, petting, licking or comforting are not generally tasks - generally because licking can be implemented in legitimate task work) then you do not have the right to be accompanied by your dog in public and any store that sells human food is obligated to decline access to you and your dog because it's a health code violation.

TSA should not get upset with you if your dog tries to play with wands or hands, but if he is at risk of mouthing the agents I would put him in a cloth muzzle when you go through security. If you want to avoid a pat down altogether walk through the metal detector with him - just make sure he had no metal on his collar or leash. You can take it all off and carry him through if he's small. They usually reserve pat downs for dogs who do not pass through the detector. Do not take him through off-leash on the ground.

We have members here who have flown all over the world with many different airlines. You should be fine so long as you follow the airport's instructions.

When you go to fly take all of his vaccination papers with you, as well as your doctor's note.

Dry treats should be permitted on the plane, if you're really worried take peanuts or cheerios as treats.

Airlines permit people with bogus online letters every day, I wouldn't worry about the wording in your letter We have an article on the front end all about flying with ESAs and about ESA letters, I will poke around and see if I can get you links. 

Hi Gandalf

Nice to meet ya,

When it comes to withholding food and water, it all depends on how long your flight is. If you have an afternoon flight, I would suggest feeding him in the evening the day before, and just skipping breakfast. Maybe give him a few pieces of kibble right before the flight just to settle his stomach. Some breeds, including shepherds, have a tendency to throw up bile if their tummy is empty for too long so giving small amounts of kibble can actually prevent throwing up. You just don't want your boy to have to go potty in the middle of the flight. If he is still young, make sure he can at least hold it for the duration of the flight before bringing him. Definitely give him water the night before and morning of if your flight is later in the day. I would suggest simply not giving him any water a few hours before your flight, and also playing and walking with him before, along with giving him multiple potty breaks to make sure he has everything out of his system. The increased activity will help him to be more tired and sleep during the flight, as well as help him get everything out of his system when he goes potty.

Planes are pretty close to buses. If a dog can handle the loud noise of a bus engine along with the shuddering and shaking of a bus, it helps prepare them for a plane ride. It's important that he is okay with lying on a shuddering floor. However, since he is an ESA, he can'r be brought onto public buses. I would suggest just putting him on the floor of your car and driving over a bumpy surface to make sure he's okay with that. As long as you act like nothing is wrong, it should help him be okay with the shaking. But others should have more tips on training for an airplane ride.

With security, the best way to do it is to have your pup perform a sit stay in front of the metal detector, walk though, and then when you are all clear, call your boy over. If he is wearing a metal collar or something of that sort it will set off the alarm. The guards will probably pat your dog down and then swipe your hands. It's all very normal, and as long as your boy has a good sit stay and can come on his leash you guys should have no issue. The TSA agents have to deal with a heck of a lot of misbehaving pets being taken onto flights. So your boy who has good obedience shouldn't have an issue.

I agree with summertime. Just a quick note. We love to make sure we are helping everyone to understand the laws and what not here. As long as you have a licensed note from a mental health professional stating you need an ESA, and a recent certificate of health from your vet, that should be fine for an airplane ride. But just to clarify, you have an ESA, not a service dog, so he by law isn't allowed in public places unless they are pet friendly or you have been given special permission. Since you stated bringing your boy into malls above, I just wanted to help clarify. I know they might be pet friendly, but the laws are so confusing I just wanted to add that.

Here is a recent thread talking about airplane rides if you are interested.;topicseen

Good luck on your flight! I'm sure your boy will be amazing!

Letter needs to state either that you are disabled or that you are substantially limited in your ability to perform major life activitities by your condition and that your diagnosis appears in the DSM IV. It should also state that you need the animal in order to fly or at your destination. There's a sample letter on the front end of the site. I'm on my phone which means it's hard for me to flip pages and read. I'll take a guess at the URL but if I'm even one letter off it won't work.


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