Frequently asked questions

Where can I get a vest like that?

During my two years as a puppy raiser, I have been asked a lot of questions. How old is he? (10 months old, and he’s a her.) Can I pet your dog? (No honey. Not when she’s working.) Why is your dog wearing that thing? (Would your mom let you go to the grocery store NAKED?!) Would you like some help finding your seat? (Thank you for offering, but no. I can see just fine.) You don’t look blind; what’s your disability? (I am training this dog to help someone else. But now I feel compelled to let you know that your question was inappropriate. Would you like to talk about a kinder way to ask about a service dog and his partner?)

Believe it or not, this last question, even when asked in as condescending a tone as humanly possible, has not been the most offensive or upsetting or misinformed. No, I am most bothered by the many adults and teenagers who have asked, “Where can I get a vest like that?”

In all honesty, you can Google shopping results for “Service dog vest” and find more than 10 pages of results. In many places, you can even go to PetSmart and buy any ol’ outfit (the one on the link is a cow Halloween costume for your dog) and slap these letters on the back. A woman here in Sacramento has used this method and now takes her yappy, “ADA CERTIFIED” dog everywhere. It works. Especially if you are overweight. Or look funny. Or wear your sunglasses inside.

Here’s why it works: It is illegal and inappropriate to ask a person about his/her disability. It is uncomfortable, too. So able-bodied people keep their mouths shut. Even when they think a fast one is being pulled. I am ashamed to count myself among the able-bodied who have treated those with disabilities differently than I would treat other able-bodied people. I have held them to lower, and I realize, insulting, standards. After all, who wants to be the 24-year-old, (cute) young woman calling out the lady in the electric cart at Ikea for bringing her (poorly behaved) pet into the store. No one. That’s who.

So, yes, you can dress your pup in whatever clothing you like. Print out an ID or a letter from a “service organization” and carry it in your pocket. Voila. Your dog can go anywhere.

You can. But should you?

The easy answer is, “No.” But this issue isn’t easy, because Americans want what they want and often see no harm in taking their dogs to Ikea, the grocery store, a coffee shop, etc.

When you take your pet in public illegally, you are doing harm.

You hurt me, a puppy-raiser, by making my job much harder. It is difficult enough to teach a puppy (a four-month-old black lab, for example) to pay attention to her handler in public without dog distractions. But when your dog is there, pulling on his leash, barking at my dog or being pet by every passerby, my dog doesn’t understand why she should behave, remain quiet and be content with being ignored.

And your dog smells. I’m sorry, but he does. Even if your dog just came from the groomers, my dog can smell the dogginess on him. She will sniff the places your dog has been days later. She can’t help it. Your dog smells.

When I first moved to California, I loved that so many places allowed all dogs in. I loved going to The Naked Lounge at 15th and R streets downtown. Then my dog started sniffing the floor, the chairs, the table. She didn’t understand why the place smelled like a dog park. So she didn’t want to work. Of course, we have worked on her ability to stay focused around these dog smells, but all of us struggle with ignoring distractions and practice just isn’t enough. In our work environments, we often have the option of removing distractions altogether (turning off the TV, for example.) Our pups, and the working dogs they grow into, never have that option. It is up to humans to respect the work environment of these service animals. We do this and minimize distractions by leaving our pets at home and only taking them on trips to dog places (the pet store, the vet, the dog park).

Do I need to say that I stopped frequenting The Naked Lounge? My pups were just too young for me to compete with the dog smells they could detect (note: The Naked Lounge doesn’t smell like dog to me, but it does to my dog. Same with the poodle in your purse. This isn’t about my nose, it’s about Beale’s nose, and the noses of every working dog out there.)

And your dog acts like a dog. I have worked very hard to teach Beale that when her vest is on, she needs to behave. Your dog doesn’t know the rules.

I take my service-pup-in-training in public to teach her how to act like a human. I want her to walk quietly. In straight lines. And to follow directions given in English. I do not want her to ask for pets or to lick knees or to eat things off of the floor. Your dog does all of these things. How do I know your corgi hasn’t been trained to be in public? He strains at his leash. He jumps up on strangers. He licks the floor. He howls. These things are dog things. I leave Beale’s dog traits at home. Please leave your dog at home, too.

Passing your dog as a service dog harms legitimate service dogs and their partners.

I have heard that distracting a guide dog feels the same to its partner as grabbing the wheel while you’re driving would feel to you. Is having your dog with you at the grocery store worth the risk of making a person whose life is already a bit more difficult than yours feel this out of control? If you have answered yes, I urge you to talk to your best friends, your mother, your pastor or your parole officer. See if everyone in your life feels the same way. Discuss it in the comments section here. Because I truly can’t imagine a scenario in which this would be OK.

And one more thing. Your lies make me look like a liar, too.

At least once a month, I am forced to explain myself. I have to produce copies of Beale’s paperwork for the manager or owner of an establishment. I have to explain why I want to bring Beale into a new place. I have to explain why she should be allowed. This process wastes my time, wastes the time Beale would otherwise have for learning how to be a better assistance dog. And it’s annoying. Because I follow the rules. I have the papers. I know my rights and responsibilities and I work hard to make sure Beale is not causing a ruckus. But others, and their lies, have made some people suspicious of any able-bodied person bringing a dog into an establishment, even if the dog is wearing clothes.

It only takes one bad experience to make a person suspicious of all dogs. Your dog, dressed in a vest bought from Amazon.com, might plant that suspicion… cause that first bad experience.

Passing your pet as a service animal is illegal and it does harm. It harms me, it harms my dog. It harms everyone like me and my dog. And it adds further burden to the lives of people who rely on animals for support in their lives. Please, please. Leave your pet at home and stop asking me where you can get a vest like Beale’s. Unless, of course, you want a puppy like Beale (and the immense responsibility) to go with it. Then we can talk. Because you, you, I like.

Please ask yourself what lies you have told to get your way today, this week, this month, this year. Could you be hurting someone unknowingly, unintentionally and indirectly? Are you willing to take the risk that you are?
Some links for you:





I have been accepted as a puppy raiser. When will I find out about my new puppy?

You will find out that you are getting a puppy through a letter that says “We have a puppy for you!” When you receive that letter depends on many factors, including how many puppies are born at KSDS and how many former puppy raisers have applied for a new puppy to raise. I wish I could be more specific, but truly, the stars must align for you to get a puppy.

But someday, you will get a letter in the mail from KSDS. The letter will tell you the breed and gender of your pup and ask that you be at KSDS for a four-hour class on a Friday or a Saturday (I think it’s usually Saturday, but I could be wrong) about a month from the day you receive the letter.

Be sure to take a collar for a 2-month old lab or golden retriever and a leash with you. When you get to the KSDS training building, a table will be set up with binders for each of the pups on it. The binders have the pups’ names on the front, so the puppy raisers usually try to figure out which pup will be theirs and what the theme of the litter will be. Members of the puppy raiser board will take you through the binder, explaining the commands KSDS wants the dogs to know and answering questions. This part is excruciating! The pups are in another building, getting washed and waiting to meet you, but you have to listen to all of this information first.

Then the pups come out and are doled out to the raisers. You’ll get some time to cuddle your pup. Then your puppy will inevitably pee on the floor. You’ll clean it up. Depending on how many new raisers there are in the group, you’ll have more instruction while you have the pup. You’ll be asked to massage the puppy and they’ll show you how to put on the cape, etc. You’ll forget everything you learned while your pup was with you and will have to ask a lot of questions later. Your focus will be on the fuzz ball in your arms.

Then you’ll get in your car to go home. This will either be easy-peasy and your pup will sleep the whole time or it will be a nightmare with hours of crying. : )

Be sure to bring a small kennel for your car or to put your new pup on the floorboards of the passenger side of your car. I made the mistake of letting Trego ride on the seat of the car in the beginning and had trouble training it out of her. Beale loves the floorboards!

It looks like you travel a lot with your puppy-in-training. How does that work?

I’m so glad you asked! I’ve put together this handy guide with information gleaned from two years, two PITs, 17 states and countless airplanes and trains as well as from the KSDS Puppy Raiser Yahoo Group.

I am going to approach this with air travel in mind, but much of the information applies for train, bus and car travel as well. See the end of this document for some specific pointers for train and car travel. Don’t forget that flying with these pups is optional for puppy raisers and sometimes it’s not worth the added stress on you or the pup!


Southwest Airlines does not allow puppies in training on their flights.

American Airlines requires that puppies in training travel as a checked or cabin pet. Fees may apply.

US Airways, Continental and Delta* are accommodating. I believe these airlines appreciate advance notice for traveling with a PIT.

On 12/4/10, a Delta representative told me that Delta does not allow puppies in training to travel as service dogs.

United is my airline of choice. The first time I flew with Trego, I called ahead, showed everyone her papers, etc. Then someone told me their policy was that PITs were service dogs and service dogs were body parts. They told me they didn’t require any papers or any advance notice. Now, we just show up and get on the plane. I don’t even let them put me in the special “problems” line at the airport. It takes too long and I see it as discrimination. As a special education teacher and puppy raiser, I am pretty sensitive to that stuff!

One caveat: Some airlines have rules about traveling with multiple service animals on the same flight. If you don’t call ahead and there are other animals on that flight, you could be bumped. They’ve bent the rules for me (when a girl showed up with a service cat with no papers), but you should know you’re taking a risk.


Choose a window seat! I know it seems counterintuitive, but trust me! The window seats have more room under them than the aisle or the middle seats. Also, choosing a window seat keeps your pup’s feet and tail out of the aisle. You don’t want a drink cart hitting your pup’s tail. Don’t choose a bulkhead seat, either. These seats have very little room for your pup and don’t provide containment at all. Riding in the space under the seat in front of you is like being in a tiny kennel, your pup will LIKE it. (I promise.) You aren’t allowed in exit rows, no matter what a kind stewardess says. You’ll get kicked out eventually, so don’t even try it.

If you fly United, it might be a good idea to pay for the five extra inches of room. However, I never opt for this. Instead, I choose a regular window seat and board with my regular boarding group. On nearly every flight there is an extra seat with extra room and we get moved. The pup couldn’t care less about the extra space, but it’s nice for you!

What to pack


I travel with:

KSDS brochures

KSDS business cards

A health certificate

Beale’s “fake ID” (It looks like a drivers’ license and explains who Beale is and looks official!)

A letter from KSDS that includes my name and a description of Beale and describes what we’re doing with Beale

A note in Beale’s vest with her vet information and the phone numbers of everyone involved in her travel (contact info for people at home and the people we are visiting, as well as Mom and Dad’s phone numbers)

Beale also wears her KSDS dog tag, her regular dog tag (which includes her address) and a dog tag that has Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa’s phone numbers. (Chances are we are visiting Grandpa in D.C. or Grandma in Kansas!)

We put all of this stuff in a plastic bag in Beale’s vest.


We don’t give our KSDS puppies treats, but my vet suggested I take some high-value treats with us on Trego’s first flight. The treats help you gage your pup’s stress level. If a pup won’t accept a piece of Pupperoni in an airport, he is probably scared out of his mind and could use a break.

Poop bags and a clean-up kit

I travel with a more extensive clean-up kit than I usually carry. I include hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, a bunch of paper towels, poop bags and a little spray bottle of carpet cleaner. A young pup that has been on a four-hour flight will likely think the ramp off of the airplane is “outside.” Be prepared.

A fun, quiet toy

I like Nylabones for this! They can keep a pup busy for a very long time.


I think this item is optional. Both of my pups have slept in kennels at home each night, but both of them have also spent the night in hotels without the kennel. With Beale, I just put down her baby blanket or a towel and told her that that was her kennel. We used the same commands for getting “in” and “out” of the kennel. She did a pretty good job.

If you do decide to take your kennel, be sure to check on the airline’s rules for traveling with such a large item. We use zip-ties to keep the kennel folded up and check it. Our large wire kennel counts as a regular checked bag on United Airlines. I am not sure about the rules on other airlines.


If your pup is very good at sit-stay and come, security will be a breeze. I keep Beale on-lead, in-vest while I am getting my shoes and belt off and putting my own stuff through the metal detector. Then, I get a separate bin for her stuff and ask her to sit-stay. I take off her vest, collar, leash, everything. Then I walk through the metal detector alone. When I have been cleared, I call my naked pup to me. At the other side, I ask the pup to sit-stay and get my stuff off the metal detector. Then I usually walk with the pup off-lead and naked to a quiet spot where I can get us both fully dressed again.

Alternative method: Trego was not as trustworthy as Beale. The one time I tried the above method, she sat long enough for me to get through the metal detector, then darted through and onto the plane. No one was happy. So instead, Trego was patted down by security guys.

The key point here? Know your pup. If your pup can’t handle a sit-stay in a crowded airport, don’t ask that of her. If your pup can’t handle a stranger patting her down, consider leaving her at home. Both of these methods are things you can work on at home before you leave. Ask a police officer to be buddy buddy with your pup. Ask friends to pat your dog down while your dog stays calm. These are good things to work on regardless of your travel plans!

On the plane

Ask your pup to down and under into the space in front of your seat. I like my pup to have her head facing me so she doesn’t lick the ankles of the person in front of me. This can take some maneuvering, especially with a larger pup.

Your pup WILL fit under the seat. Trego weighed almost 80 pounds on her last flight and did just fine. I don’t let my pups leak out into the space under the middle seat. Even if our neighbor says it’s OK for the pup to stretch out, I want my pup to learn that she doesn’t always have that freedom. She can fit.

Don’t pay too much attention to your pup. Dogs are like kids. They can entertain themselves, but they won’t if you’ll do the work for them. I like to pretend like my pup isn’t even there. The result is that other passengers don’t know she’s there either. (Which is the best compliment ever!)

Potty problems

If we have a short layover, I don’t allow my pup time to rest at the layover airport. We walk the entire time, in a close heel and we work on sit-stay and down-stay and various other commands. This lets my pup know we are still working and that she can’t just go to the bathroom when she wants to.

If we have a long layover, I ask the nearest airport employee where the dog run is. In Denver (the airport we fly through most often), we have to take the shuttle to the baggage claim, walk past all of the baggage claim stuff and exit to the parking garage to get to the dog run. This is a scary walk with a young pup, but we usually make it!

Another option (and not my favorite, but Trego was a doll about it) is to find a handicapped restroom that is separate from the regular restrooms. Take your dog in, lock the door and ask her to “hurry up.” If your dog is a pro at the command, she will be confused and wonder why you are letting her potty inside, but she’ll do it. Trego did! Then do your best to clean it up… you should have all of the necessary supplies. Again, this is not ever the best option, but it beats having your dog poop on the carpet.

A pup that poops in an airport is embarrassing, disgusting and time consuming. Try to remember that it will be OK. Your first line of defense should be an incredibly embarrassed facial expression. I like to talk to my pup while I clean up after her. The dialogue goes something like this:

“Beale, sit.”

(Beale sits)


(I open her vest and grab everything in the clean-up kit described above.)

“This is so embarrassing, Beale. I know you tried really hard to make it outside, but I wish you could have waited a few more minutes. Now Mom is going to clean up as best she can. Then we will go find someone with the airlines to send a janitor over hear so we can be sure to clean everything up.”

(Beale looks remorseful… and is still sitting.)

“You are a good dog, Beale. I just wish you hadn’t done this. Let’s go find someone to clean it up all the way. I know, I know… we’re both sorry.”

(Grab leash.)

“OK, Beale. Let’s go. Good Beale.”

During the clean-up process, I make sure to be as conspicuous about using my carpet spray and/or disinfectant wipes. Afterward, I use the hand sanitizer and throw everything away in an extra plastic bag. I tell the dog everything I am doing. This helps minimize my embarrassment and keeps me from getting frustrated with the situation.

Feeding while traveling

I plan my trips so I leave early in the morning and either have very, very short layovers or very long layovers. I feed my pup as usual the night before we leave. She has access to water as normal until bedtime. When she wakes up, I make sure she gets a little bit of water, but I don’t give her free access to the bowl. I don’t feed her in the morning.

I make sure my pup pees and poops before we get to the airport.

On the plane, I do not let my pup eat unless we have a long layover. (Then I feed her about 1.5 hours before we land. You know your pup best, so adjust the time accordingly. Remember you will need time to get outside before your pup has an emergency.) I do give my pup ice throughout the flight. Every time my ears pop, I either give her a kibble or two or an ice cube. I figure it helps her to relieve the pressure in her ears just like it helps me.

I also give my pup a high-value treat whenever she seems stressed (see rationale above).

Train travel

The most important thing to remember when traveling by train (Amtrak, at least) is that you need train employees to be on your side. Make friends with anyone and everyone. The conductor, engineer, the girl who sells you a snack at the snack bar… everyone. These people travel these routes all the time. They will be the ones who will help you get off the train during short stops (There are periodic long stops for smoke breaks, etc., but your pup may need to hurry up more often than that!). Amtrak employees will also know where you can find grass to potty on (in case your pup is a picky pee-er). We were even allowed a potty break that required Trego to go down on the tracks during a maintenance stop in the desert, all because we had made friends with everyone on the train.

There is plenty of space to have a PIT in the regular passenger cars on an Amtrak car. You can take your pup for walks up and down the train for exercise and there is much more room here than on airplanes.

In the small sleeper car, we lifted Trego to the top bunk to rest so we’d have plenty of room to stretch out. I think she thought it was a kennel! In the larger sleeper car, there was plenty of room for her to sleep on the floor.

Be sure to ask about disability discounts when traveling Amtrak with a pup. We explained what we were doing, and that neither of us had a disability, but we still got a disability discount for me and a companion discount for my boyfriend.

Car travel

Never. EVER. EVER let your pup ride on the front seat of your car. If you establish the passenger seat as your pup’s place, she will always fight you about other seats. I messed up with Trego on this issue. She convinced my friends that they should get in the back seat of my car. How ridiculous is that!? I would force her into the back and make them climb in front, but she was not happy.

Now I know that the right place for a pup in my car is on the floorboards in the front seat. In fact, Beale has never looked out the window of a car. She loves the floorboards (close to the air conditioning!) and she usually falls asleep even on short car rides.

On long car trips, make sure your pup is eating and drinking normally. Trego rode with me from Kansas to Moab, Utah, to Salt Lake City to Sacramento to Los Angeles and back to Sacramento. On that trip, she ate very little. I figured out that she was unsure of when her potty breaks would be, so I started stopping more frequently to show her she would get a chance to poop. This helped a lot. She started eating more normally.


I had the opportunity to camp with Trego in Laytonville, California, and Moab, Utah. She slept in the tent with me on both occasions. I was concerned about wildlife, so I was sure to check with local rangers and with vets from each area. It turns out we vaccinate pups for rattlesnake bites out here (something that is less common in Lawrence, Kansas).  The vaccinations take a while to become effective (it’s a series), so I did not vaccinate Trego against rattlesnake bites. However, it was good to know that that might be an issue so I knew to watch out for snakes and to keep Trego on-lead so she didn’t get into any trouble.

In Utah, water was a huge issue. It was the middle of the summer and we were all guzzling water. I had about 10 Nalgene water bottles that I filled every chance we got. We hiked Arches National Park, which was one of the most amazing places I have ever seen, but I had to be very careful about Trego in the heat. She was a black dog and needed frequent access to water, frequent breaks in the shade and I had to adjust my activity level to fit what she could handle. I soaked her down every chance we had, too. This seemed to help her deal with the heat.

For both car travel and camping, be sure your dog has access to water whenever she wants it. Remember that climate and altitude as well as your change in daily activity might change your dog’s water and food needs. Pay attention!


9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Larry  |  August 7, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Great Job! You have come a long way.

  • 2. Jean Frohling  |  August 8, 2010 at 10:50 am

    thanks for all this wonderful information. We are planning to fly with Porsche and while I’ve been putting some thought into it and realized we didnt want the bulkhead, I wouldnt have thought of the window seat until its too late. I plan to print this and have it handy
    Thanks again for taking the time to list all this great info

  • 3. Nancy  |  October 6, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    I just came back to this — on my 4th puppy and finally brave enough to fly. Thanks for the tips.

  • 4. 2010 in review « failures of a puppy raiser  |  January 2, 2011 at 10:02 am

    […] FAQ […]

  • 5. Jennifer B  |  May 6, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    I am raising a puppy to be my own service dog and am looking for a package of vests that includes the small to large vests, so he will have a vest for each stage of his growth. Do you know a good place to get them that has good customer service as well?

    • 6. Becka  |  May 6, 2012 at 5:56 pm

      As I mentioned in the FAQ, vests are pretty easy to find on the Internet. However, I would recommend finding a reputable service dog training program that is endorsed by Assistance Dogs International (http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/) over training a puppy yourself.

  • 7. Jennifer B  |  May 6, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Also, would you recommend taking along potty pads to the airport, that way the pup can do their business in the handicapped bathroom? Then its easy to pick up… I have a mobility handicap and often if the dog run is very far away it is extremely difficult for me to get there and back.

    • 8. Becka  |  May 6, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      My pups never used potty pads. I found it easier to just have them “hurry up” on the floor and clean it up with our clean up kit. If your pup goes on a pad at home, I’m sure that would be an OK idea.

  • 9. Patty Sue Cooper  |  March 8, 2013 at 4:25 am

    It is nice that there are organizations that train service dogs, but the ADA does not require them to be trained that way. Owner training is many times the only way a person will have one. What is needed is more organizations, people, volunteers that will help someone train their own. One thing that training their own service dog does, is to increase the bond between owner and dog. It also is a wonderful sense of achievement when one trains their own. I have never owned a dog trained by someone else and can only say this from over 40 years of having dogs.
    My dog Doggie is not working at this time due to injury at Petco. The bond was almost broken. No one else can train my dog to do for me though and we face months of retraining. I am at loss without him. His vet thinks he can be recovered but it will take time. We can do it only due to the tight bond we have. All I can say, is when needing an accommodation in a public place if it is refused and another accommodation is offered, think twice about IF that accommodation is safe for you or your service dog. Ours was not. Good service dogs are a blessing indeed and we need MORE of them!


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