How to Prepare Your Dog for a Flight

Thursday, January 3, 2019


pets, dog care, booking flights with a dog, taking care of pets,

Don’t let flying with your dog stress you out: a smooth journey with a pup in tow is all about careful preparation. From booking on a dog-friendly airline to training your dog to behave well in the carrier, follow these tips for a stress-free journey with Fido. 

Before You Fly: Tips for Booking Flights with a Dog

Traveling with a dog can make booking tickets a little more complicated, but it is by no means impossible if you follow these simple steps:

Check which airlines fly to your destination, then take a look at their pet policies. These are usually easy to find on the airline’s website. You should be able to find the price of a pet ticket there too. 

Next, decide whether your dog will travel in the cabin with you, or whether you will ship it as cargo. There are a number of factors to think about while making this decision, including the size, weight, and breed of the dog, the length of the flight, weather conditions at your departure and destination airports, the dog’s temperament, and more. Many airlines will only accept pet dogs if they are small enough to travel in a carrier that fits under the seat in front. 

If possible, try to book your flight with as much notice as possible, and at a time that fits in with your daily routine with your dog. This will help to keep both of you calm. 

ESAs and Service Dogs

The rules for flying with service dogs and emotional support dogs are different from flying with pets, thanks to the Air Carrier Access Act (for example, see the Delta Pet Policy). Under this Act, people traveling with service dogs or emotional support animals may bring them with them into the cabin, free of charge, and regardless of any other pet regulations the airline may have. 

A quick reminder: service dogs must be specially trained to perform a specific task for a person with disabilities, such as helping wheelchair users with mobility-related tasks, guiding people with visual impairments, alerting people with epilepsy to oncoming seizures, and so on. 

Emotional support animals do not require special training, and help people with mental or emotional disabilities to cope with the symptoms of their condition by being a calm, loving, and stable presence. ESAs must be diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional, and many airlines require passengers to show a valid ESA letter to prove so. 

Breed Restrictions

Some airlines have restrictions on which breeds can travel where, or whether they can travel at all, due to concerns for the health of the dogs and the safety of other passengers. If you’re traveling with a snub-nosed dog like a Pug, or a broad-jawed, Mastiff-like breed, it’s best to check in advance whether the airline you’re traveling will accept your dog.

Getting Ready to Travel

Once you’ve booked tickets for you and your pooch, the next step is to get everything ready to make your journey together as smooth as possible. The further in advance you book your flights, the more time you’ll have for this step! 

Training and Socializing

The most important type of training that any kind of dog should have before it flies is potty training. All dogs should be completely and reliably housebroken before they fly, and airlines can refuse any animal (including ESAs) that messes indoors. 

In addition to toilet training, dogs that are traveling in the cabin of an aircraft, especially those that are not traveling in a carrier, should be able to behave well in public, including around people and other dogs. This may take some careful training with commands like “sit”, “stay”, “quiet” and “lie down”. Socializing dogs from a young age is also important to make sure they don’t become aggressive around strangers. 

If your dog hasn’t flown before, consider getting your dog used to traveling in the carrier by going for drives or even on dog-friendly trains and buses, all while reassuring your dog and giving it plenty of love! The more you do it, the easier it will become.  

Visit the Vet

It’s always a good idea to book your dog in for a general check-up before you travel with it, to make sure it’s in tip-top condition. This is also a good opportunity to talk to your veterinarian about sedatives or travel sickness medication, if necessary, and to stock up on any other medications your dog might need for the duration of your trip. Some airlines require vaccination records or veterinarian certificates too, so make sure to request these if you need them too. 

On the Day of Travel

The key to a stress-free journey with your dog is getting everything ready in advance, and this includes on the day of travel. Try to pack your bags—including your dog’s bag—before the day you set off. Some owners prefer not to let their dog see them packing, as some dogs can get worried when they see suitcases. Here are some essentials to pack when flying with a dog:

- Hard copies of all the dog’s necessary documentation, including its pet ticket, an ESA letter (if traveling with an ESA), veterinary certificates, etc.

- Plenty of treats for rewarding good behavior—but make sure only to bring treats that are guaranteed not to upset your pup’s stomach!

- Dog waste bags and a small packet of antiseptic wipes in case of accidents! 

- A bottle of water and a foldable dog bowl to keep your pup hydrated. 

Many airports have animal relief areas specially designed for pets to do their business. It can be a good idea to locate these in advance, as some airports only have them before security, while others only allow assistance animals to use the relief areas. If you’re on a short flight and your dog won’t be able to have a bathroom break in the airport, some owners choose not to feed their dog for at least 4 hours before the flight, to give them time to digest properly.