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7 Tips on Flying with a Small Dog

Traveling can be a stressful experience - you’re out of your comfort zone, you have to deal with being crammed in tight quarters with a variety of strangers, and you have to worry about whether or not you remembered to pack everything. If you’re traveling with a dog on top of that, it’s just one more thing you have to micromanage!

Fortunately, if you’ve prepared yourself and your dog for the upcoming flight, it doesn’t have to be as stressful or scary as you might imagine.

Here are a couple of tips that will help turn your next flight with your small dog into a smooth ride:

1. Acquire Vaccines and Documentation

Be aware of any special vaccine requirements or documentation that you may need while boarding with your dog or arriving at your destination.

Some airlines may require special documentation prior to boarding with your dog. For example, United’s PetSafe program requires a health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian within 10 days of both the outbound and inbound flight.

Some destinations, like Hawai’i, require extensive testing and documentation prior to departure and arrival. If you want to travel to Hawai’i with your dog and avoid the 6-month quarantine procedure, you’ll need to prepare at least four months beforehand (including receiving a passing rabies titre 120 days prior to departing to Hawai’i) - for more information on traveling with dogs to rabies-free destinations such as Hawai’i, click here.

2. Use a Kennel

Pick an appropriate kennel for traveling with your dog by air.

If your dog is small enough, you’ll be able to fly with them in-cabin, rather than having them sent to cargo. If that’s the case, you’ll have the option of picking between a hard kennel or a soft kennel. Soft kennels have the benefit of being slightly collapsible as you’re storing it under your side. Hard kennels offer a little more protection in case there is a significant amount of turbulence on the plane.

Size requirements vary among different airlines, so double check with the airline of your choice prior to purchasing a travel kennel for your dog. Most airlines will not allow you to remove your dog from the kennel after boarding the plane, so pick a kennel that will be comfortable for your dog. Be sure to line the kennel with soft, absorbable bedding. Include your empty, unwashed pillowcase or some other article of clothing with your dog. Having your scent close by will be comforting to your dog.

3. Train Your Dog in Their Kennel

Train your dog to relax in their kennel prior to your travel date. You can do this by providing your dog with many positive experiences while they are in the kennel. Rather than purchase a kennel for your dog the day before your flight and hope for the best, there are some small steps you can take which will teach your dog to relax in their kennel, even while traveling.

When you first bring the kennel home, start feeding your dog’s meals out of it. At this stage, don’t lock your dog in the kennel, just leave the bowl of food in the back of the kennel and allow your dog to make the choice to go in on their own.

Buy a bag of your favorite treats for small dogs. Toss a treat into the kennel and praise your dog warmly when they go in on their own. If at this point your dog has no fear while going in and out of the kennel, provide a tasty long lasting chew, such as a bully stick. While your dog is in the kennel chewing on it, close the kennel door. Stay next to your dog as they work on their chew (you can even do this while watching TV or working at your computer). As soon as your dog completes the chew, praise them and let them out!

If your dog enjoys riding in the car with you while you run errands or go to the park, bring your kennel and have your dog sit in the kennel. You may want to slip a piece of a jerky treat into their kennel every time you stop at a red light. Take your dog to a fun destination, such as the dog park or pet store, and give them lots of treats as a reward! Whatever you do, do NOT take your dog to visit the veterinarian while in their travel crate!

4. Be Careful with Medications

Dog owners often wonder, “should I ‘give something’ to my dog to help them calm down during the flight?”

Consult your veterinarian! You may read about other people’s experiences with giving their dogs a variety of drugs or supplements online (anything from Benadryl, CBD oil, to extract of root of valeria), but there is no substitution for seeking medical advice from a medical professional. Some sedatives may actually be harmful rather than helpful, especially at high altitudes. Please check with your veterinarian before giving your dog anything extra prior to the flight.

5. Exercise Your Dog Beforehand

If possible, on the day of the flight, try to plan on exercising your dog or doing something mentally stimulating prior to arriving at the airport. If your dog is already tired upon arriving at the airport, they will less likely to be overstimulated by all of the different sights, sounds, and smells of a new place.

If your dog already has experience with nosework, parkour, or other types of dog sport training, we highly recommend doing a few training sessions with your dog immediately prior to boarding your flight. Since dogs are usually allowed to walk on leash in the main part of the airport, you may consider showing up extra early so that you can conduct your training sessions in the middle of the busy airport.

6. Time Your Dog's Meal

Try to time it so that your dog’s most recent meal is at least four hours prior to the flight. It can take about that long for a dog’s stomach to empty, and it’s preferable for a dog to fly on an empty stomach. You can provide water for your dog up until boarding the plane, however.

7. Create a Checklist

Create a checklist for the big day! Here is an example of a checklist of all the items you will need for your travel date:
    • Collars, ID tags, leash
    • A veterinarian issued health certificate for your dog, dated within 10 days of travel date
    • Any other documentation as required by your particular airline
    • Airline approved kennel, with your contact information clearly written on the kennel
    • Soft, absorbable bedding for the kennel
    • An unwashed article of your clothing to place in the kennel, or a favorite toy
    • Poop bags
    • Pet wipes/grooming wipes
    • Paper towels / disinfectant (in case of potty accidents)
    • Bottled water and a collapsible travel bowl
    • A recent photograph of your dog
    • Enough dog food/treats to last the entire trip

    Have you ever traveled with your dog? What type of travel was it and what did you do to prepare your dog for travel? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!

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