Three Taxi Traveling Tips For Service Dog Owners

If you identify as a person with a disability, and you travel with your service dog using public transportation, taxis can provide you with an invaluable way to get around safely. Although riding with your service dog is a protected right in most areas of the United States, it's important to understand that you do have responsibilities as a consumer during your ride. These three important tips will help to ensure that you get the most out of your taxi cab ride each time you venture out into the world.

Notify the Company Ahead of Time

Federal law protects your right to travel in a taxi with your registered service dog, but it's both courteous and recommended to give notice in advance. Taxi drivers are required by law to accept your fare, but you should consider that the ride isn't likely to be comfortable, safe, or relaxing for you or the driver if the driver isn't comfortable with dogs.

Whenever possible, call and schedule your taxi ahead of time. Notify them that you have a service dog with you before you call. This will ensure you the best chance of being assigned a driver who has experience or who is comfortable dealing with service animals.

A quick note: private companies are not allowed to ask the details of your medical condition, nor may they demand a certificate for your animal. They may ask only two questions:

  • Whether or not your dog is required due to disability
  • What type of tasks or training your dog has

That said, it's wisest to ensure that your service dog is wearing a service dog harness before your taxi arrives. This will make your dog's legitimacy well-known immediately.

In most cases, accepting you in spite of allergies or fear is also unnecessary; calling ahead allows the taxi house to provides the taxi company with the opportunity to reach out to specific drivers who may be more comfortable dealing with pets or service animals. It also ensures that, should you need wheelchair accommodation or space for a particularly large dog, your needs are accommodated.

If you are unable to call in advance, and you choose to hail a taxi, be clear about your needs when the driver pulls up. If a driver can't accommodate you for space reasons, he or she will be able to radio in to request a pick up for you.

Understand the Difference Between Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs

Although both animals certainly provide a valuable service, service dogs and therapy dogs are not the same and do not enjoy the same level of protection under American law. Unfortunately, many people--even, in some cases, people with disabilities themselves--misunderstand the difference. When it comes to taking a taxi, understanding the difference and being able to define your service dog as a service dog can be very helpful.

The Difference

Service dogs are trained individually to suit the needs of their handler and are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Therapy dogs may or may not be trained in any one specific area, and are often used by people with mental health concerns like anxiety, depression, or PTSD. The certification process for service dogs, including seeing eye dogs and guide dogs, is extensive and often begins when the dog is just a pup.

There is no specific government legislated requirement for certifying a therapy dog.

While both types of dogs are a valuable resource, taxi drivers are only required by law to admit service dogs. If you have a therapy dog and not a service dog, don't assume that the taxi driver will accept you in advance. Be clear and specific about the fact that you have a therapy dog or service dog when you call.

The good news is that most companies can accommodate either type of animal if given notice well in advance.

Consider Bringing a Crate for Safety

Most service dogs are trained to lay quietly and unobtrusively while in a vehicle, usually at the feet of their handler or on the seat beside them. However, this isn't always safe or wise. Bringing a crate along with you and/or crating your dog will ensure that your pet is secure at all times while in the vehicle, and can be particularly advantageous for longer excursions.

When choosing a crate, be sure to size it properly. The ideal crate should have a size rating that matches the size of your dog--small, medium, large, or extra-large. Resist the temptation to choose a crate that's extra-roomy inside; this isn't necessarily safer. Extra room means that, in the event of an accident, your dog is likely to bounce around inside of the crate--this can cause serious injury or harm. 

If you're still unsure about which crate is the right size for your dog, the American Association of Dog Trainers has a chart available that lists sizing based on both breed and the size of your dog.

Seatbelts and Harnesses: Not Necessarily Safer Than a Crate

Some people prefer to use harnesses and seatbelts; take extreme care if you choose this route. While a harness may help to protect your dog in the unfortunate event of an accident, research has shown that many of these harnesses are prone to outright failure and may be more harmful than good.

report in 2011 highlighted just how many of these seatbelts tend to fail when it matters most--only one brand actually met or exceeded the Center for Pet Safety's stringent requirements, with the rest either failing completely or failing to live up to their promises.

A crate is also preferable because it will act as a layer of protection for the taxi driver; should your dog urinate, defecate, or vomit, the mess will be contained within the crate where it is easier to clean. Otherwise, you may be held responsible for damage to the interior of the vehicle.

For many people, a service dog is quite literally a window to the outside world; it enables them to work, live, and travel just like any other person without restriction. If you've been hesitant to rely on taxi cabs because of concerns about your dog, have no fear: most taxi drivers are more than happy to accommodate and work with you to ensure that you get to your destination safely and on time. If you have questions about traveling in a taxi cab with a service dog, or you need to schedule a pickup, contact your local taxi company today.