Can You Travel with Your Therapy Dog?

Travel advice with therapy dogAre you finally ready to go on that vacation you’ve planned for a while?

But you aren’t sure if you’ll be allowed to travel with your therapy dog. That’s understandable considering the exponential rise in numbers of individuals traveling with their emotional support animals.

With therapy dogs, it’s a bit more complicated. Before we explain why, let’s try to differentiate between service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals, which is often a source of confusion for many people.

What is a Therapy Dog?

You’ve maybe heard the terms therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, and service dogs. Most people and pet owners use these terms as if they mean the same thing. However, they are very different things.

Therapy dogs play a different role than emotional support animals or service dogs. These dogs are trained and certified alongside their owners to volunteer at schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other places where people might need them. They provide affection and love to people with health conditions, lonely people in nursing homes, students, and patients in hospitals. If you love to spread love within your community, you can look up how to register your dog as a therapy dog and get started.

Therapy dog travel

On the other hand, emotional support animals provide their owner with comfort, affection and help relieve any symptoms of the owner’s disability. To register your dog as an emotional support animal, you must undergo a mental health evaluation and get a letter of recommendation from a licensed mental health professional. These dogs don’t require any special training to perform their task.

Lastly, service dogs are animals explicitly trained to help their owner or handler with a disability. Common examples of service animals are guide dogs for the blind, mobility assistance dogs, diabetic alert dogs, etc. These animals are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Public spaces, organizations, and airlines must let the dog go with their owner wherever they are going.

Therapy Dogs and the ADA

Emotional support animals and service dogs are covered by legal instruments – the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the letter of recommendation from a licensed mental health professional.

However, there are some grey areas.

These grey areas often have therapy dog owners thinking they have the same rights as service dogs and emotional support animals. But there’s some difference.

With emotional support animals and service dogs they focus on treating a single person. However, with therapy dogs, the owner uses the animal to help or support multiple individuals. This difference is crucial to how the airline treats therapy dogs.

Therapy Dogs and Airlines

When you consider the number of people you see traveling with dogs, it’s understandable if you assume that your therapy dog will be allowed to board a flight with nothing more than an email or phone call. The ADA and Air Carrier Access Act will likely allow service dog owners to board and fly with their pets at no extra cost, but your lovely therapy dog will not be allowed to board as these laws don’t cover it.

It will be considered a pet, and allowing it to the board will be at the airline’s discretion. While there are cases where an airline has allowed a therapy dog to travel with the owner, these examples are few and far between.

Wondering what to pack too? This video is well worth watching.

Final Thoughts

The bottom-line here is your therapy dog might not be allowed to travel with you. Therapy dogs have the same right as a regular pet. And you would need to ask for permission to travel with your therapy dog from the airline way before your trip. That way, if the airline refuses, you can make alternative plans.