Flying With Service Dogs Part 3

So many Questions?
  • What does it mean to have a “disability” when we are talking about the DOT?
  • What kinds of tasks do service dogs and psychiatric service dogs perform?
  • Does a service dog or PSD need to be professionally trained or certified by an organization?

What does “disability” mean under DOT?

A service dog brought on board a plane must be trained to assist with a “disability”. The term “disability” has a specific legal meaning under the DOT’s rules and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). A disability means a physical or mental impairment that, on a temporary or permanent basis, substantially limits one or more major life activities. “Major life activities” are things like working, sleeping, learning and other essential life activities.

The definition of disability covers both physical impairments (for example, someone that has limited mobility or has sight impairment) and mental impairments. “Mental impairments” include emotional or mental illnesses and specific learning disabilities.

The DOT’s new rules also specifically mention “psychiatric, intellectual or other mental” disabilities. Psychiatric service dogs are commonly used by people with conditions like severe depression, anxiety, PTSD, phobias and autism.

It’s important to note that even though emotional support animals are no longer recognized as assistance animals for flights, PSD owners are still protected. Remember however that there is a crucial distinction between ESAs and PSDs: a psychiatric service dog must be trained to perform tasks. ESAs on the other hand provide support just through their presence.

A disability means a physical or mental impairment that, on a temporary or permanent basis, substantially limits one or more major life activities. “Major life activities” are things like working, sleeping, learning and other essential life activities.

US Department of Transportation
What kinds of tasks do service dogs and psychiatric service dogs perform?

What kinds of tasks do service dogs and psychiatric service dogs perform?
Service dogs perform a wide array of tasks and it would be impossible to present an exhaustive list here. There is no official list of eligible tasks. The key criteria is that the service dog must be specifically trained to perform the task to assist the owner with their disability. For individuals with physical disabilities, service dogs perform tasks such as:

  • Guiding the visually impaired.
  • Guiding the hearing impaired.
  • Alerting the owner of an oncoming seizure.
  • Alerting the owner of a rise or drop in blood sugar levels.
  • Providing stability while going up and down stairs or other hazardous areas.
  • Retrieving items.
  • Opening and closing doors and drawers.
  • Pressing buttons (such as in an elevator).
  • Carrying bags and other objects.

Service dogs perform a wide array of tasks and it would be impossible to present an exhaustive list

What kinds of tasks do service dogs and psychiatric service dogs perform?

For individuals with psychiatric disabilities, psychiatric service dogs are known to perform tasks such as:

  • Reminding the owner to take their medication.
  • Preventing behaviors like scratching.
  • Grounding and reorienting the handler during a panic or anxiety attack.
  • Acting as a physical buffer in crowded areas.
  • Waking up the handler to prevent oversleeping.
  • Interrupting repetitive behaviors.
Training…

A dog does not qualify as a service animal until it has fully completed its training. In addition, it’s important to keep in mind that a proper service animal should also be obedient and trained to be comfortable in public settings.

Airplanes and airports are crowded, hectic areas with a lot of potential distractions. A service dog should be able to focus on the handler and their duties even in potentially stressful environments. As we’ll discuss in detail later, an airline can reject a service dog if it is misbehaving or engaging in certain disruptive actions.

Let’s learn more about all the training now.

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