How to Prepare for Air Travel With Your Dog

How to Prepare for Air Travel With Your Dog

New year, new adventures! Are you planning a big trip in 2017? And are you thinking about bringing your dog along for the ride (or flight)?

Besides working out where to stay and what to eat, there are many things to consider when flying with a pet. Here is how you can prepare yourself, and your dog, for air travel.

As soon as you have decided on a destination, it is crucial to start planning your trip at least a month ahead of time. There is a lot to do!

1. Plan Your Trip

You will have to decide whether to bring your dog in the cabin with you – an option if your dog weighs less than 20 Lbs.- or check in your dog as luggage. In both instances, there is an additional fee for your dog (the price depends on your destination), unless your companion is a service dog or emotional support animal.

If you have the choice, always go with in-cabin travel. There have been many incidents with animals traveling as cargo, including shock, injury and even death –a pet owner’s nightmare to be avoided at all costs.

Give the airlines a call, before you book your flight, to reserve a spot on the plane for your dog. Do this sooner rather than later, because most airlines have a maximum number of dogs allowed on board. While you are on the phone, make sure to ask about airline-specific rules for travelling with your dog. The most important thing to know is the acceptable carrier measurements. The under-seat dimensions, where your dog will be “stowed”, differ per airline and airplane; so don’t forget to double check with them.

2. Buy an Airline-Approved Carrier

When you know how large your carrier can be, start shopping! But appropriate size is not the only airline requirement, the carrier should also adhere to other rules: your dog needs to be able to stand up and turn around, there needs to be enough ventilation and it has to be leak proof. Keep in mind that your dog will remain in this carrier during the entire flight (unless it is a service animal).

There are a lot of options out there, but generally you can pick between a soft-sided or hard-sided carrier. For in-cabin travels, I suggest a soft carrier. Even if it is a little oversized, a soft carrier allows you to push down the top in order to fit under the seat.

3. Train Your Dog

Once you get a hold of the right carrier, you will need to train your dog to be comfortable in it starting four weeks in advance. It should feel like a safe space, similar to their crate, as they will be spending quite some time in it. The training process is exactly the same as crate training: a lot of positive reinforcement and treats. You can even add a cue, like “In your bag”, to make the journey easier.

4. Do Research

Depending on your destination, you might need to schedule a visit to the vet. For certain countries, you need a special health certificate for your dog from a certified vet. Also ask your veterinarian for recommendations about flying with your dog. For instance, my vet vetoed the use of any type of sedation during the flight, as it could do more harm than good to my small dog.

5. Pack Your Bags

It’s time to pack all the canine essentials: treats, food, a water bowl (collapsible ones are very convenient), poop bags and all the necessary documents. If you have a longer flight with layovers, I suggest packing pee-pads as well. This way, your dog can relieve him or herself anywhere in the airport when there is no other option.

6. Have a Safe Trip!

Now that the planning phase is over, relax and enjoy your travels! Dogs can sense when their owners are anxious and you don’t want to make your dog nervous too. Trust that your preparation will pay off.

Even though it takes a lot of organizing, it will all be worth it once you arrive at your destination. After all, a vacation with your dog is the best kind of vacation.

Kimberly de SilvaKimberly de Silva

Kimberly de Silva is the author and creator of Her blog shares tidbits of the life of Bagel, a 10-month-old rescue puppy, in California. As a new dog mom herself, she offers advice (and blunders) to first-time dog owners. Kimberly moved from Belgium to California three years ago, after falling in love with San Diego. She recently graduated with her Master’s in Communication, after which she fulfilled her life long dream of adopting a dog.

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