How to Become a Registered Service Dog: Requirements & Tips
If you are interested in registering your dog to becoming a Registered Service Dog, then you have come to the right place. I'll share a little secret with you. If you have previously gone thru the process of the ESA Registry, then it is only a few extra steps if you want to be able to travel freely with little to no travel restrictions.
Back in 2021 we were living on the incredible island of Isla Mujeres, Mexico for a couple of months when the United States Department of Transportation announced that the laws had changed and that only Registered Service Dogs were permitted to fly in cabin. Isla Mujeres was our last stop before returning to Miami to visit my parents after 3.5 years of being away, so figuring out a way we would be able to return back was a major concern of ours. I mean don't get me wrong, there are worse things I could think of then being stuck living on an incredible island with my Vizsla indefinitely. My other concern was that if I returned then how would I be able to leave and start traveling again.
I franticly began looking into private charter flights and pet relocation services, which are all very costly, but at that time I thought it was most likely going to be my only solution. I contacted a good friend of mine that works at the Department of Homeland Security, and she advised that I do everything in my power to not put Sophie below in cargo, because although people do with success, there are a lot of unreported cases where people's pets are either greatly injured, traumatized, or even die. If something where to happen to Sophie then I would not be able to live with myself, and at that time I could not afford a private charter flight or pet relocation service. This forced me to continue doing more research, and while doing so, I came to the realization that this new law only pertains to U.S carrier flights and not flights to or from Mexico, Colombia, or Brazil. Luckily, I was in Mexico at that time, and I was able to book a flight using AeroMexico back to Miami.
After a few months of visiting my parents and family, it was time to start researching flights so that we could start traveling again. I decided that our first destination would be back to Mexico since Sophie's happy place is at the beach. This is when I realized that at the time of booking my flight to return to the United States AeroMexico had no restrictions with ESA pets, but since they have changed and now there is a size restriction, of which a Vizsla would not qualify. Instead of taking the chance of being in a foreign country with more ESA friendly airlines possibily adopting similar size restrictions, I began looking into the process needed to finally have Sophie registered as a Service Dog. This is when I realized that the process was not nearly as daunting or as expensive as I first thought. To my surprise, it was actually quite simple.
There are two types of Service Dogs:
The first one is for people with Physical Disabilities that need the assistance of their dog, and the second is a Psychiatric Service Dog that assist owners with a mental health disability. After years of traveling with Sophie and having her next to me almost every second of the day, plus having gone thru a few situations would have been much worse if she were not with me, it became clear to me that she could most likely qualify as a Psychiatric Service Dog. Let's be honest, with the last few years of the pandemic and countless lockdowns, most of us would qualify with having some level of PTSD.
Letter from Therapist or Psychiatrist
As I mentioned in our guide, Traveling with your Dog in the Cabin, the registry service we used to obtain Sophie's Emotional Support Dog Certificate offers these letters as a service, but they lack credibility in my opinion. Since I had previously gone thru the process with a therapist to obtain the ESA letter, I went back to her, did a 30 minute phone consultation, and within a few hours she sent me an updated letter via email.
Now comes to the training. I have heard from numerous sources that the cost to train a Service Dog can be extremely expensive, which is true depending on the type of service the dog needs to be trained for. To start, Sophie is extremely intelligent and responds great to training. Vizsla's in general are known to be extremely intelligent. She graduated as #1 in her basic obedience class when she was a puppy, so I was not concerned with if she trainable. I was one proud parent! I was now more concerned with the cost and how much time it would delay our traveling to go thru the training. As I continued to do my research about training, something stood out to me, and it was in the fine print stating that a self-trained dog also qualifies. This dramatically reduces the cost and time for her to become a Registered Service Dog. I immediately started my search on YouTube and found a variety of videos on how to self-train your dog for a particular task(s) to become a Service Dog. The training process only took a few days!
PSDP Public Access Test (PAT)
The question I had for myself was how I would I be able to prove that she has been properly trained for a specific task? To answer this question, I had to do more research and after making a couple of phone calls, I was able to find local PSDP Public Access Testing (PAT) facilities that offer training and testing. I mentioned to them that I had read that I could self-train my dog and asked if they offfered testing, of which they said they did once every 3 months. We scheduled the soonest testing appointment and she passed without any issues, and it only cost us $250. I immediately registered her using Service Dog Certifications, filled out and submitted the required U.S. Department of Transportation Service Form (DOT), made the appointment with my veterinarian to obtain her International Health Certificate, and booked my flight. The DOT approved our submitted form within a few hours and now Sophie was officially a Registered Service Dog that was free to travel on any airline without restrictions. Mission complete!
A few weeks later, we landed at our first destination on the white sand beaches of Mexico, enjoying life, and where we have been ever since! We also no longer need to return to Mexico, Colombia, or Brazil in order to visit another country. We are free to travel where we want and when we want!
If this helped you, it would mean a lot to us if you would share this with your friends and family that are also interested in doing this. I have also seen many people in social media groups inquire about this. Instead of trying to explain it to them each time, you could easily post a link to this guide for them to refer to. That would also help us out a lot.