I have been flying with my pup, Gudger, since I adopted him at 4 months (almost 9 years now), including international travel, so he is very accustomed to it. However, I learned the hard way that not every dog likes to travel by air after enthusiastically telling a woman to take her dog on a flight only to have her call me, screaming that her dog got terrified, defecated on the plane and in baggage claim several times and also vomited. Ummm. Oops? My friends who have seen my dog travel always ask me how to get their dogs comfortable with it and, since lots of folks are traveling for the holidays and lots of folks have pups they’d love to travel with, I figured I’d go ahead and put all the advice I have in one blog post:
1. CALL YOUR AIRLINE WELL IN ADVANCE AND CHECK THE REQUIREMENTS OF BOTH YOUR AIRLINE AND YOUR DESTINATION
Do not wait until the last minute. Call your airline well in advance of your travel to confirm all their requirements for travel with a pup (or whatever non-human animal). If you’re traveling outside the continental United States, you need to also research your destination’s requirements for pups – vaccines and so forth. For example, In Hawaii, you will need to arrange for a vet to meet you at the gate to do a health check, as well as provide specific evidence showing your pup does not have rabies and is vaccinated against rabies. Hawaii is the only state in the United States that is free of rabies and they’re not keen on changing that, for obvious reasons, so all dogs and cats entering the state must follow import rabies quarantine requirements. It should go without saying, but do not be an entitled jerk when you make these calls. Traveling with your pup is an awesome privilege and a little courtesy goes a long way.
2. PLAN FOR YOUR PUP’S SIZE
Pups under 25 lbs are generally permitted on board for most airlines, however, as per #1, above, always check with your airline - because the rules keep changing - to be sure what their specifications are. In general, as long as the pup has a soft carrying case that can squeeze under the seat in front of you, life is good. I’ve never heard of any airline requiring a special or certified carrier unless the dog is going in cargo, however, again, ask the airline.
3. PLAN FOR YOUR PUP’S INDIVIDUAL TEMPERAMENT (AND BLADDER CAPACITY)
Save yourself a lot of woe by being prepared to address issues before they arise. Questions you need to be able to answer and know how to deal with:
How old is your pup and has she ever flown before?
Is the pup used to carriers?
How is the pup in the car? Any upset tummy issues?
How long can the pup hold her bladder? A six-hour flight plus wait time and security can be a lot. It’s definitely do-able but you want to know how long she can comfortably hold it (emphasis on “comfortably”). LAX, LaGuardia and JFK all have doggie bathrooms. Check the terminal map beforehand so you know where they are in relation to your gate. More important for departure than arrival city. Worst case scenario, you can pop a doggie diaper on the pup.
4. PUPS WHO ARE NEW TO TRAVEL – PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
For those pups who are new to travel, I highly recommend practicing a LOT beforehand. Unless you have a private plane (in which case you don’t even need to read this blog post), practice flights are not likely to happen but take him on a drive to your closest airport (yes, I’m serious) with a friend and have one person circle the airport while the other person takes him for a walk in the terminal. Is he ok with the crowds and the bags? Comfort him if not and give him treats so he sees the airport as a fun experience. See if you can get him to use the airport’s doggie restroom. Gudger doesn’t like to pee inside so it took a lot of time before he agreed to pee in a doggie bathroom.
Also try taking your pup on a bus if you can. Any access to a subway would also be helpful. You could try a long car ride with him in a carrier on the floor in the back seat to simulate the experience a little and see how he does. Ditto for a train ride.
You basically want the pup to feel safe and ok in frenetic, crowded places with lots of strangers and big bags being wheeled all over the place. The practice beforehand is well worth the time so there are no surprises on the actual travel day and so you are calm and know what to expect and the pup has fun and feels safe and happy. If his first experience is a happy one, he will be easy to travel with going forward. If he is calm and well behaved, everyone will love him and that will make everyone’s travel happier!
5. BE NICE AND HAVE EMPATHY FOR THOSE WHO ARE SCARED OF OR ALLERGIC TO DOGS
Be prepared for fellow travelers who are allergic to dogs (or scared of them) and aggravated that you have one on the plane. I always Allerpet-D Gudger before any flight and I bring the bottle of Allerpet with me, both to reapply if necessary and to show people who see my dog and then speak up and tell me they have allergies. If anyone says anything to me, I am always nice and I (truthfully) say I have allergies too and I understand, which is why I always make sure to neutralize his dander before a flight. I show them the Allerpet and explain how it works and we usually become BFFs after that. Keep in mind that some people are allergic to a dog's saliva so do NOT let your dog lick anyone. Allerpet can only help with allergies to dander, not saliva.
If anyone is frightened, do not shove your pup in their face and say, “Why are you freaked out?! My dog is great!” You could ask to switch seats if you're seated next to someone afraid of your pup, and, if that’s not possible, say you understand and not to worry and then put your pup safely under the seat and keep him or her out of sight. We all have our fears, whether rational or not, and it's not cool (or helpful) to tell someone else their terror is illegitimate, even if you think it is.
Again, it should go without saying, but traveling with your pup is a privilege and it’s important to keep everyone’s happiness in mind - fellow passengers, flight staff, you, and of course the pup him or herself.
6. A NOTE ABOUT SERVICE DOGS AND COSTS
Last but not least, some airlines charge a pet fee but generally still require the dog go under the seat in front of you. Check with your airline and pay the fee in advance so there are no problems on the day of travel.
If your dog is an ESA, most airlines have stopped offering any special treatment. Ask them and see.
If your dog is an actual service animal (and DOT will check and verify it’s legit - do not fake it) he travels for free. Gudger got certified and it took well over a year of intense training and testing. It is well worth it to do this legitimately. The dog will need to show he provides an actual service to an actual person who needs the service. A lot of people try to fake or short cut this and that’s a terrible idea for everyone.
I hope this helps! It can feel overwhelming but it’s really worth it to get your pup to a place where s/he is a good little traveler because it is super fun to travel with your dog as long as they’re used to it.