Going to college is stressful in its own right and taking your service dog with you brings up a whole new set of questions. Do you have to tell your university about your service dog? What about your roommate? Where’s the nearest vet?
But even though it takes extra effort, having your service dog with you at college can be a very rewarding and healthy experience. Here are the ten things you need to know before you bring your service dog with you to college.
Know Your Rights
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, people can ask only two questions about a service animal: Is the service animal required because of a disability? What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? They can’t ask what your disability is, require medical documentation for you or a special ID card for your dog, or make you prove your dog’s ability to perform a task. If anyone seems skeptical—whether that’s a professor, a resident assistant (RA) or someone else—and prods you for more details, explain that your privacy is protected by the law and that you don’t have to disclose that information.
You also have a right to have your service dog live with you, whether it’s in a campus dorm or an off-campus apartment, because the ADA extends to public accommodations, including housing at public and private universities. Furthermore, under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords must make “reasonable accommodations” for assistance animals, which includes service dogs as well as emotional support animals. This is true even if the dorm or apartment doesn’t otherwise allow pets.
Let the School Know
While you’re under no legal obligation to register your service dog with any organization, it is legal under ADA for colleges to offer voluntary registration programs for service dogs. Many schools also have strict policies prohibiting pets on campus, so you may need to voluntarily register your service dog through the Office of Disabilities/Accommodations in order for her to stay in a campus dorm or accompany you to class.
Consider Mentioning it to Professors
If you plan on bringing your service dog to class, you might want to broach the subject with your professors beforehand. Again, this isn’t required by law, so it’s entirely your choice whether or not you want to discuss it with them. However, proactively bringing up the subject with your professors can be helpful, as they can assist you in finding a seat where your service dog won’t be in the way or instruct classmates not to pet your service dog while he is on duty.
Notify Your Roommate and/or Resident Assistant
Again, this is completely voluntary but it can be helpful in making the transition to college as smooth as possible. If you can choose your roommate(s), be sure that they’re comfortable with the idea of having a service dog around and that they aren’t allergic. If they’re not okay with having a dog around, let the housing administration know and see if they can arrange a roommate switch for you before the school year starts. Your resident assistant can help you figure out the best spots to take your dog out and keep an eye out for any hallmates who pet your service dog, try to feed her dog treats or otherwise interfere while she’s on duty.
Train for College-Specific Situations
Obviously, your service dog is already highly trained, but it’s a good idea to refresh certain commands that pertain to college-specific situations before move-in day. Your service dog will need to tuck under desks and down-stay for long periods of time while you’re in class and he’ll need to navigate major crowds like the lunch rush with ease. Your service dog will also need to respond quickly to a “leave it” command, whether it’s ignoring dropped food in the dining hall or distracting people on your walk to class.
Schedule Your Classes Accordingly
Speaking of long classes, when choosing your schedule, you’ll need to think about your service dog as well as yourself and your class requirements. Service dogs need to use the restroom just like you, so you’ll have to factor in time for a bio break as well as walking to and from class. Before classes start, it can be helpful to walk your daily route to time the distance and scope out potty spots.
It’s also difficult for a dog to lie down in class for more than three to four hours straight without getting restless, so you’ll need to schedule in longer breaks so both of you can get outside and stretch your legs (which will give you a much-needed rest as well). A few classes spread out throughout the day are ideal, as are classes distributed evenly throughout the week–as opposed to loading up on certain days and having others completely free. Look out especially for labs and once-a-week classes, which often run for several hours. Bringing along a travel mat or pop-up crate can make waiting out those long classes more comfortable for your dog.
Choose Your Seat Strategically
Especially if you have a larger service dog, you’ll want to carefully choose your seat in each class. While it’s not always feasible depending on the classroom layout, ideally, you’ll be able to pick a seat where your service dog can tuck under the desk and stay out of the walkway so he doesn’t get stepped on accidentally. If possible, you may want to choose a seat that’s also close to the door, so you can slip out without much disturbance if you or your service dog needs to step out.
Be Prepared to Educate Others
Believe it or not, many of your classmates and professors may be totally unaware of the proper way to react around a service dog. They may try to pet or feed her while she’s working or otherwise distract her, even if she’s clearly wearing a service dog harness. They may also be overly nosy and start asking questions about why you have a service dog. Be ready to politely but firmly draw your boundaries and advocate for yourself and your service dog.
Find a Vet Nearby
If you’re going to college further away from home, it’s a good idea to do some research ahead of time and identify a vet close to campus that you can take your dog to if anything goes wrong. While you can, of course, take care of vaccinations and other preventative appointments at your regular vet while you’re home on break, you want to be prepared in case you do need to take your service dog to an expert while you’re on campus. If your pup gets stressed out by going to the vet, especially an unfamiliar one, you might also want to pack some calming treats for dogs to help ease the transition.
Think Before You Bring Your Dog to Events
If you’re in a situation where you don’t need to have your service dog with you every time you go out, consider both your health and her needs before you bring her to an event. A crowded house party with a lot of people and loud music can be very overwhelming for your dog and a long lab class without a break can be very taxing. You can absolutely still have a social life in college but make sure to always put your health as well as your dog’s first—that’s the whole point of having a service dog!
Your service dog can help ease your transition to college, so return the favor and follow these ten tips to help make your pup’s move to campus as smooth as possible.