I wanted to take some time and share with everyone my experiences of going to theme parks (or anywhere rather) with your service dog. Some ins and outs and basic manners that need to be in place.
As some of you know, I am a former Disneyland/Store Cast Member. I worked for the mouse for 3 years before moving out of state and ending my tenure with the mouse. Disney is a fantastic company to work for, regardless of what a lot of people say. I had a lot of fun, made new friends, and have a lifetime of magical memories I've helped create that will be with me forever.
On that note, Rüger and I have braved the theme park often and when we are in facebook or instagram groups and people ask about Disneyland, we are usually the go to for answers, so I thought I'd start with a write up of everything you need to know about Disneyland and your Service Dog.
Only Service Dogs are welcome in Disneyland.
So what does Disney say about service dogs?
Per Disneyland's website;
We value all our Guests with disabilities, and we welcome service animals at most locations throughout our theme parks and Resort hotels. At the Disneyland Resort, a service animal is defined as any dog or miniature horse trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.
Guests who use service animals must retain control of their animals at all times and should keep them on a leash or harness while visiting.
Cast Members are not permitted to take control of service animals. Guests with service animals should follow the same attraction entrance guidelines as Guests who use wheelchairs.
Due to the nature of some attractions, service animals may not be permitted to ride. At these locations, please ask a Cast Member about available options, including Rider Switch with a member of your party or a portable kennel.
I'll just say my dog is a service dog to get into the park!
1. It is ILLEGAL to pretend your dog is a service dog. You can actually go to jail and pay fines related to commiting this felony.
2. Your untrained dog is not going to enjoy Disneyland.
I want to tell you about an incident that recently took place inside the happiest place on earth and exactly why bringing your untrained pet into the parks is NOT something you should do.
Our friend Loki and his mom went to Disneyland. Loki is a handsome boy and a fantastic service dog. They had just finished up a ride and as they were exiting a dog in a therapy vest charged and bit Loki- puncturing his leg. The owner of the vested "Therapy Dog" denied this. Loki did not even react at this other vicious dogs actions. The poor guy just stood there and took it. Loki and his mom contacted security and the PD but because of the woman claiming her dog was "also a service dog" they would not do anything.
When things like this happens it puts not only our dogs in danger, but us as handlers as well! Attacks from other dogs have been known to cause PTSD in dogs and because of that they are retired from service work. Service dogs aren't just something you can go and replace easily... they take the right dog, years of training and a lot of money.
A little about dogs and their titles....
Service Dogs are the ONLY dogs able to go anywhere in a public place. They are medical equipment and the ADA grants their handler (yes, the person, not the dog. People often get this confused.) the right to take them with them.
Therapy Dogs are granted access ONLY when invited to places like schools or hospitals. They do not have any other public access rights- meaning they can't be in Disneyland, Target, the local burger place, anywhere public that isn't pet friendly.
Emotional Support Animals Comfort Animals or Emotional "Service" Animals do not have ANY public access rights. ESAs are prescribed by a doctor and the only rights their handlers have is access to in cabin flights and no pet housing. They cannot go to public places. An "Emotional Service Animal" does not exist. There are Service dogs for Psychiatric needs, but that is a service dog trained to mitigate its handler's disability.
Disneyland Kennel Club
I always, always recommend getting a room at the Disneyland Kennel Club. There are days that it gets too hot or if your dog is not quite ready to tackle a mass scale like Disneyland, the kennels are a good spot to go and relax for your pup.
There are 5 large dog and about 30 smaller dog kennels. You will need to bring records of your current up to date shots, as well as check back in with your dog every 4 hours if you're leaving them there. The kennels are open to regular pets with the same rules. We get a kennel for Rüger during fireworks, they are a good way for him to relax and sleep. There is also a yard where your dog can play or relieve themselves while you're there. This is part of that "come back every 4 hours to check your dog" thing. They do not have a handling license so you are responsible for all interactions with your dog.
The club opens up an hour before the park is scheduled to open. I recommend if you have a large dog, get there when they open to secure yourself a spot. Even if you don't think you'll need it that much, it's always nice to have a plan B in case it's needed. Kennel rates are $20 per dog, per day. You cannot make advance reservations and they charge for Service Dogs as well. With SDs we let them know 90% of our day will be spent in the park and we will return for breaks. They give you a yellow carbon copy of your dog's info and whoever is listed on that paper must be there each time the dog is being checked in or out with that paper in hand.
What should I bring for my Service Dog?
Boots, yep you read that right boots. I prefer RuffWear Griptex but any boot will do. The pavement is hot in Anaheim... you wear shoes, they should too. While they also protect their feet from the heat, it also protects them from getting their paws stepped on or hit by a stroller- it does happen.
Cooling vests are always nice to have for the heat as well. RuffWear has a fantastic swamp cooler vest that fits under most SD vests and helps keep your pup cool. Rüger has worn his in 100* weather and had no panting, he was cool as a cucumber! If you don't want to put it on under your SDs vest, you could also attach your patches directly onto the cooler vest. The only thing I dislike about it is the color. It's light grey with no option to choose a different color so it gets dirty fast.
Portable water bowl. We love the Kurgo collapsible bowls. We hook one onto our vest and we're good to go. Disneyland provides FREE cups of water to ANYONE who asks for a cup. No charge- this is one of my favorite "Disney CM secrets" that most people don't realize you can take advantage of.
Treats. Disneyland is a high stress environment. Not just for you but your pup as well. Your SD should be bomb proof and not bothered by it, but there are millions of people, smells, distractions, and let's be honest, they are still dogs. Treats help build positives and you want Disneyland to be a great, fun place for you and your pup to enjoy. Treats throughout the day for typical tasks and behaviors is a good way to encourage positive behavior in high stress locations. I like to take what we call a "high value" treat such as sliced hot dogs or cheese. Rüger typically doesn't take normal treats when in this environment, he loves his cheese!
Frequently Asked Questions
What do I need to do or can I do as a handler to make access easier?
You are able to use the ground floor parking in Mickey and Friends Parking Structure. Ask your CM attendant for accessible parking and they will give you a ticket, letting the directing CM know where to show you to park. This makes it easier, you do not have to go in the elevator or walk 2 miles to get to the closest escalator.
You can ride the Mickey van or the tram. If you are in a wheelchair or have a service dog, you can ride on the mickey van. This sits at the end of the tram pickup area and usually will have a sign. Wait for the bus to arrive and on you load!
City Hall (Disneyland) or Chamber of Commerce (California Adventure) can hook you up with the Disability Access System or as I'll refer to it- DAS. DAS is their new system put in place for access that helps us out. They will take your photo on the iPad and link your ticket and your parties ticket to their system. When you want to go on rides using the DAS system, you find the umbrella kiosks marked on the map (They are located in Fantasyland, Main Street,) and let them know which ride you would like. They will give you a time to return (like a fastpass) and when your time is available, they will let you and your party on the ride.
Does this mean I skip the line?
Yes and no. You do skip the waiting in the line portion (on rides that are accessible this doesn't apply, you will typically be told to stand in line unless your mobility is the issue such as mine) but you are spending the amount of time you would wait in line probably doing other things (we eat or take photos with characters).
When I'm on a ride, where does my dog go?!
This is where Disney and dogs get mixed together. If there is no height requirement, your dog can ride. Yep. Your dog can ride Pirates of the Caribbean, It's a Small World, Jungle Cruise, and just about anything else that a baby can ride. If your dog cannot hold a solid down stay however, I don't recommend taking your dog on rides.
For E Ticket rides (which is Disney lingo for the BIG stuff) or anything requiring a height you will have the option to Rider Swap with someone in your party (they will handle the dog when you are on the ride, CMs are not responsible for your dog, please don't hand them off like that.) OR a few have a pop up kennel provided (Space Mountain, Matterhorn, etc) so they can be kenneled while you ride. The kennels are your standard medium sized kennels, so Rüger sadly doesn't fit very well and we go the ride swap route. However, this option is nice for those of you with smaller SDs!
My dog needs to meet Mickey Mouse!! How do I do that?
Meeting the characters is lots of fun! My biggest suggestion on this is to have rules for both your dog and the characters!
We always let the attendants know that yes, it is okay for Mickey or whomever it is to say hello and give some loves- Positive controlled interactions at Disneyland are a great way to build your dog's confidence up around costumed characters as these really aren't come across elsewhere. It also is a nice break for them through the day to receive love!
We make sure that characters aren't jumping or acting TOO excited and approach us calmly! Watch your dog's body language. If they aren't happy, don't force it. Some dogs don't like that they can't see a persons eyes..... so they will be a bit leery. With treats (yes, we are armed with treats in Disneyland because it is constant training and new experiences there!) let your pup see that it's okay and maybe let that "scary" Kylo Ren guy give them a treat or two!
We all know about drive by petting and comments, but in Disneyland, you become an attraction. Remember that while you are on vacation and trying to enjoy your day, you represent the whole SD community when you are there. If you are able and have enough spoons, take time to educate.
In the photo below we were waiting in line to meet the princesses. As you may know this line can be hours long. It was nice and shady so we decided this was a good place to sit and relax while waiting to meet Cinderella (Rüger had to meet her you know, being a Bloodhound like Bruno and all) and of course, it's filled with lots of little princesses. They all were asking their parents about the "doggy" and I decided that while we were all sitting in line waiting, that we would take this time to share Rüger and his job and teach a bit about dogs in general to this group of kiddos. We allowed petting, but by the time we were talking (and waiting in line too) all the kids knew about the dogs with the clothes on and why you don't pet or talk to them. We had seen some of these kids later in the day and not one of them said anything to Rüger as we walked by! Education is key.... also using Disney magic to help teach is always a plus.
We hope this guide was useful to you! If you have any questions be sure to comment here or message us on instagram (@recycledruffs). We love going to the parks and sharing our stories and adventures there!
Don't forget to take a peek at our Etsy shop for some fun Disney themed bandanas for your pup to wear in the parks! All proceeds go to gear and maintaining our dogs!