Service dogs at Disneylandnotes from a puppy
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
by Adam Stone, contributing writer
Dogs at Disneyland? Ruff. Ruff.
Besides Pongo, Pluto and, well, let's just group Goofy in the same category,
it's relatively rare to see dogs at Disneyland. But for a substantial
number of people with disabilities, working dogs are an integral part
of how they live their lives; and that means you often see working dogs
at Disneyland. It wasn't so long ago that only guide dogs (those who help
the blind) were common, but now, assistance dogs of all kinds help people
with many different kinds of disabilities, from deafness to mobility impairments.
Members of the East Bay Guide Dog Raisers take their dogs to Disneyland
for the day. From left to right are puppies C, Chita, Vinita,
Fajita, Pachita, and Elita. Photo courtesy of EBGDR.
The Disney parks are very good about accommodating these working dogs,
but the parks themselves can be stressful and dangerous places for even
the most well-adjusted working dog.
Encountering a service dog in the park
Do you know how to behave around service dogs as a park visitor? Service
dogs are working to keep their partners safe, and while they are trained
to avoid distraction, they aren't immune to it. The best thing you can
do for working dogs is to not distract them from their work. Usually,
that means ignoring them the best you can. Even raising your voice to
say, Oh, look at the good puppy can be a distraction for both
the dog and the handler. And while many of us find it hard not to fawn
over dogs (and hug them and squeeze them 'til they're all gone
it's the best thing you can do for a working dog.
Keeping little ones in line is even more important. The breeds used for
guide dogsGerman shepherds, labrador retrievers, and golden retrieverscan
get particularly excited by small children. Use it as an opportunity to
teach your children about proper etiquette around service animals, instead
of an opportunity to run up an grab the dog around the neckwhich
one did to my dog at Disneyland last October, while her parents were saying,
Don't worry she has one at home. You can learn more about
etiquette and access at the Guide Dogs of America Web site (link).
Packing for your Dog
Packing for your dog for Disneyland isn't very different from packing
for them for a regular trip, but there are a couple of things to keep
Water and food
The kennels will feed your dog (but not relieve them) on any schedule
you request and with any food you provide.
You might wish to pack a mister bottle to fill with water to cool off
your dog on hot days.
An expanded clean-up kit. Tons of stimulation + 1 designated relieving
area for both parks = potential for an accident. You should plan for the
ability to pick up not only poop, but also pee. Bring a large diaper or
paper towels and a cleaner or cleaner cloths. [In a pinch, you can use
the large changing table liners available in Disneyland restrooms.]
If you are going to have your dog in the park on a crowded night, I would
suggest something that lights up so that people can see your dog. This
is especially important if you are there during a busy Fantasmic
evening or fireworks. The park sells lots of light up toys that could
easily be adapted to your dog, or you can buy a specially designed light
up collar. Be sure to turn it off during performances, shows, and rides.
At the resort
Parking: If you are not traveling with a Handicapped sticker, note the
If Timon is operating, you can usually ask to park there because of the
dog. You may be eligible for an A (priority parking) pass as wellask
at the Parking booth. Timon is a better choice if available, not only
because of the decreased walk if you choose not to tram, but also because
both the walk and the tram let you out on the Kennel side of the Esplanade.
There seems to be some disagreement on this point, but I would encourage
you to put the dog in harness or uniform (if applicable) at this point,
as tram drivers may ask you to walk otherwise. Parking in Mickey and Friends
for most guests involves the use of escalators. These escalators (at least
the ones beyond the third floor) are really really big and even dogs trained
for escalator usage may be uncomfortable on them. Elevators are a better
bet, though they tend to get quite crowded at Park closing time.
Since the parking trams are essentially open-air, you may find it easier
to take a normal (thin) row and place the dog in a down facing your legs
(which protect the dog from the outside). The larger rows, including the
wheelchair accessible rows, provide more room to move, which, depending
on the personality of the dog, might not be a good thing.
At the Kennels
The Disneyland kennels, located to the right of the Disneyland Park gates
(when facing the park) provide non-overnight accommodations. Service dogs
pay like everyone else, $10 per day as of writing. You can take the dog
out to walk, or work any number of times. The Disneyland kennels will
also hold your dog/harness bag for you while your dog is in the Kennel.
The Kennel run, which is essentially a small well-fenced dog park covered
in pea gravel, is available to all service dog users, even if you have
not paid for Kennel accommodations. This is the only approved
relieving spot in the entire Disneyland resort. If you decide to moderate
your dog's water intake to prevent accidents at Disneyland, make this
very clear to the Kennel staff. They will water your dog by default.
You might consider bringing a blanket and favorite toy for your dog if
they are going to spend time in the Kennel. Most of the large dog kennels
are crate sized, however, there are also several runs in the back which
provide more room. In my opinion, the point of letting the dog spend some
time in the Kennel is to give them a break from their workI chose
the smaller crate-sized kennels to make sure our puppy rested.
Most of the service dog users I spoke to let their dogs rest for at least
some time at the Kennels. Since the dog cannot accompany you on many attractions,
this might work out well for both you and the dog.
Although the dog park at the kennels is secure, you probably
should keep your dog on leash at all timesthe entrance to the park
is not a double door.
The only official relieving spot in the entire resort is the Kennels.
For well-trained dogs on moderated water, this won't be a problem. We
recently spent five days at the resort and never had an accident anywhere
in the parks, however, younger puppies in training and stressed dogs may
not be so lucky. Although these are not approved locations, let me suggest
the following as alternate relieving areas located within the parks and
Downtown Disney, if you found your dog in a situation where it needed
to relieve and could not reach the Kennels.
In Disney's California Adventure (DCA) park, there is a smoking section
located in the old exit of now-defunct Superstar Limo attraction. This
area provides a semi-private, kid-free area with sandy beds or cement
as a relieving surface. Also in DCA, you might be able to use the Grand
Californian Hotel entrance to reach a grassy area.
Disneyland itself is more difficult; you might need to ask a cast member
for assistance. The only obvious place I saw was on Tom Sawyer Island.
If your dog is comfortable relieving on cement, entrances to shuttered
attractions would be the obvious choice. Easy to find right now.
In Downtown Disney, you'll find a gate between Häagen-Dazs and the
Wetzel's Pretzels that leads to an accessway near the trams. This was
a designated relieving area during a recent guide dog outing; it would
probably be safe to use this at any time. Farther up, you'll find grass
at the Disneyland Hotel side of Downtown Disney and at the entrance to
the parking lot between ESPN Zone and Rainforest Cafe.
The walkways to and from both parking lots provide additional relieving
opportunities. No grass is available on the Timon walkway.
Remember to be prepared. Always carry the ability to fully clean up after
your service dog.
In my experience, wheelchair-accessible seating was often the wrong place
for us to sit. Our puppy is happier in standard seatingthe more
restrictive environment is more calming, and frankly, as cute as it is
to watch her get introduced to strange stuff, her job is not to enjoy
the attractions, but to sit or down quietly until she is needed again.
Many cast members will try to place you in wheelchair accessible seating,
meaning that the dog ends up in the open space where the wheelchair would
have been. I found these times more stressful for the dog, and more risky
as well since these seats often present the possibility of being stepped
on or otherwise trampled. Personally, I would ask for standard seating
at the aisle, giving you an easy escape if for any reason your dog is
not dealing well with the experience (in a theatre-style attraction).
Feet and Pads
The walkways at Disneyland get very hot during the summer and on sunny
days. Exercise care when you have your dog working during the middle of
the day. Use a spray bottle to provide relief and look for shady areas
to walk in. Consider letting your dog break during the hottest times of
It's a good thing Elita isn't a DalmatianCruella meets Adam and
Elita. Photo courtesy of EBGDR.
You can use the baby switch system if you are traveling with
another person who can watch the dog while you ride and then switch places
with you. This allows you to wait in line together. Some cast members
may be willing to look after your dog when you ride as well, but I understand
that this is not the norm.
Cast members and park visitors
Cast members are almost always well trained about service dogs. However,
you may often come across cast members who treat you normally,
which can sometimes mean that you aren't offered any additional
assistance. This is a good thing, but you should always feel free to ask
for additional assistance if you need itwhether it's entering a
ride, finding a safe place for your dog, or just navigating the park.
Guests, on the whole, are very knowledgeable about service dogs. You'll
be amazed how many times you'll hear, There's a dog in Disneyland!
immediately followed by, That dog is working; don't distract him.
It's nice to see so many families and individuals who are knowledgeable
about service dogs.
You will also, of course, be asked many times for permission to pet your
dog, by kids, adults, and cast members. What was interesting to me was
that the requests were no more frequent than they are out in the real
worldI sort of expected to spend entire days dealing with
You will, of course, find guests who will not control their children
or themselves, and run up and distract, pet, or accost you and your dog.
This is inevitable, but I was pleasantly surprised that, given the numbers
of concentrated children and adults, it didn't happen very often at all.
Perhaps service dog users are less of an attraction when you're surrounded
by Disney magic.
Your working dog may already be slightly stressed about the whole experience,
and for some dogs, extra petting by unknown people wouldn't be helpful.
You should monitor the signs your dog is giving off, and feel comfortable
saying no to petting requests, just as you would out in the real world.
Disneyland Resort guidebook
Guest Services at the entrances to both parks provide a guidebook for
guests with disabilities. This includes a list of attractions where service
dogs are not allowed, and a list of attractions where they are not recommended.
Since this book is designed for users with a wide range of needs, I thought
there was info that would be useful to service dog users as a supplement.
Basically, what follows is a list of things to note of special interest
to service dog users.
Disneyland Park attractions
- Astro Orbitor
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- Gadget's Go Coaster
- Goofy's Bounce House
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Mad Tea Party
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Peter Pan's Flight
- Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Star Tours
- Alice in Wonderland
- Casey Jr. Circus Train
- Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes
- Haunted Mansion
- Honey, I Shrunk the Audience
- King Arthur Carrousel
- Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
- Pinocchio's Daring Journey
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Snow White's Scary Adventures
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Since the Kennels are located outside the entrance to the park, you may
wish to make use of the train when you need to take a relieving break.
It is the least-walking way out of the park from most places.
Parades and shows
Parade of the Stars Assuming your dog has no issues with
plush characters, there is nothing to consider here.
Fantasmic Many service dog users choose not to visit
Fantasmic because of the fireworks. I would note that the fireworks are
low level here and nearly silentnot like the big fireworks over
the castle. However, there are other things to consider, such as very
loud music, the canon blasts from the Sailing Ship Columbia during
the Peter Pan sequence, the fire on the river, and the possibly painful
If you choose to take your service dog to Fantasmic, use the Handicapped
seating area if possible so that you have some protection from the crowds.
If you don't, have an exit plan that involves getting your dog to a safe
waiting place until the crowds have gone down slightly. I would consider
a fantasmic exit to be ultra-dangerous for any service dog, even those
comfortable in crowds. Exiting here is where you'll also want some kind
of light on the dog. This said, ours attended the show twice and never
showed any interest except in the canon blast. However, she is unusually
nonplussed by fireworks. The two working guides I saw also showed no signs
of interest or stress in this show.
On rides not recommended by Disney for service animals
Pirates of the Caribbean Disney recommends againstbut
does not forbidthis ride for service animals. Consider the drops
and the canon blasts, both of which are at the beginning of the ride.
You will be seated in the first row of the boat because it contains an
area under the bow for your dog to lie down in. This is a safe place for
them to experience the drops, and they should remain in a down at all
times. Our puppy, who is not usually particularly stressed by motion,
definitely had some nervousness about the drops. Be sure to maintain control
over the dog's position at all times.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh Disney recommends
against this ride for service animals. I'm not quite sure why this is,
other than the relatively small seats. The ride vehicles move in a fluid,
bouncing motion. I don't think most dogs would care. However, if you are
concerned, you'll want to ask for a handicapped vehicle, which has no
I think an average-size person and medium-size dog are about as much
as a row in these vehicles will accommodate. The consideration for the
handicapped vehicle is that it has only one seating row, so only you and
the dog will be able to ride in this car (unless you are very small or
the dog is really good about a compressed space). Although the Pooh ride
is trippy, I doubt most well-trained service animals would
Haunted Mansion Another one recommended against by Disney
but frequented by some service animal users. I would be most concerned
about the tipping backwards during the transition out of the attic. Most
dogs in a down in the Doombuggy wouldn't see anything strange on this
ride. Note the moving walkway on both sidesyou can ask them to stop
the ride for boarding.
Alice, Snow White, Pinocchio, and Mr. Toad With the possible
exception of Mr. Toad, I doubt any of these experiences would be stressful
for the average working dog. The cars are tight though, so this is a consideration.
Canoes and Carrousel Both seem like a bad idea to me. I
would not suggest taking your working dog on either of these.
Mark Twain I would avoid the top level as the whistle
is unbelievably loud up there and is bound to freak out some dogs.
Elita sits on deck of the Mark Twain Riverboat during a trip to
Disneyland this fall. Photo by Adam Stone.
Disney's California Adventure attractions
- California Screamin'
- Flik's Flyers
- Francis' Ladybug Boogie
- Golden Zephyr
- Grizzly River Run
- Jumpin' Jellyfish
- Mulholland Madness
- Orange Stinger
- Soarin' Over California
- Sun Wheel (sliding gondolas only)
- Tuck and Roll's Drive 'Em Buggies
- It's Tough to be a Bug!
- King Triton's Carousel
- Superstar Limo
Since some of DCA is black asphalt, you'll want to stay on the sidewalks
in these places to avoid burning dog feet. See above
Electrical Parade The small, quick, moving bug-like things
that make noises and interact with guests are bound to set some dogs off.
Consider not sitting in the front row, and be prepared to maintain control
over the dog at all times. One loud noise to consider is the canon blast
from the Peter Pan floatnot super loud, but very close and plenty
of fog. Ours was quite surprised by this.
Aladdin Since some of this show takes place in the
audience, avoid Orchestra-level handicapped seating, or place your dog
in the row. Everywhere else is basically safe. As I said earlier, my preference
would always be to take a row instead of having the dog in a wheelchair
space because she sees less and is more under my control. Careful with
the front rows of the two balcony levels, too.
Muppet Vision and It's Tough to Be a Bug Loud explosions
and moving lighting were of interest to our puppy. While not super-stressful,
be aware of these. It's Tough to Be a Bug is more intense than
MuppetVision, but I still suspect that most calm dogs would have no problem
with this attraction.
Adam with Elita when she was a pup. Photo courtesy of East Bay Guide Dog