The logistics of flying with your puppy are stressful, to say the least.And that’s not even taking into the account the emotional toll it can take on you both. However, you can make the experience OK (if not enjoyable) with a couple of tips and tricks we’re sharing with you today.
There’s no reason you can’t travel with your best friend. However, you have to do it safely,and you need to be prepared.
Listen in to learn how to acclimate your puppy to the carrier he’ll be traveling in. There are some super important things you must do well before your departure date.
And, of course, there are also rules you need to follow while on board, for both yours and your puppy’s sake.
We also want you to know that cargo CAN be an option — as long as you get the aisle seat… Tune in to find out why!
Start With Acclimating Your Puppy to the Carrier
Our students are always asking: “How do I fly with my puppy? Can we even fly?”.
The answer is: Yes. But is it going to be easy? That depends on how prepared you are. Flying can be an anxiety-inducing experience for both you and your best friend, so preparation is key.
One of the first (and most important!) steps you can take, especially pre-flight, is to acclimate your puppy to the carrier you’ll be using.
Now, if this is a new puppy you’re bringing home from a breeder, you’re not going to have this option. However, if your breeder or rescue group knows that this is how your puppy is traveling to his home, they need to do this for you.
But if your puppy is already home, you can start the acclimation process well before the flight, beginning with “Love Thy Carrier Bag”!
Your goal is to make that space feel inviting and safe. Maybe you put his favorite toy in there; maybe one of your t-shirts or a blanket (something nice and fleecy). Keep focused on the goal: You want them to see the carrier as AWESOME!
Remember that puppies can get tired pretty easily. Before your flight, take him out for a long walk (the added bonus of needing plenty of potty breaks!). By the time you need to head to the airport, he’ll be happy to jump into his little carrier and rest. And if he has a something fun to chew on, even better!
Tips and Tricks When Flying
Now, we often get this question: “Should I put some food in the carrier with him when flying?”.
It might seem like something that will pacify your pup, but remember they can’t use the in-flight bathroom like you can. So, you want to make sure that you keep their stomach fairly empty.
When I’m flying with a puppy – especially if I’m going coast to coast – I’ll usually put a marrow bone or pre-boiled stew bone in the carrier with him (make sure it’s not too boiled, cooked bones can be splintery and aren’t good for dogs).
If my dog is in cargo, I also freeze a little bit of water in a plastic cup – I usually use the ones that come with crates – so my dog can have a little water during the flight. For in-cabin puppies or dogs in carriers, ask the flight attendants for a few ice cubes (TSA won’t let you bring liquids past certain checkpoints).
As a general rule of thumb though, you should try and limit your puppy’s food and water intake six to twelve hours before your flight. And like I said, if you can get him to go potty a couple of times beforehand his (and your!) experience on board will be much better.
But what if my puppy needs the bathroom during the flight or in the airport? Well, you’re in luck, because I have a trick for you!
I usually bring a Wee-Wee Pad to the airport with me (safely stored in a Ziploc bag). Before we go to the airport, I make sure the puppy has peed on it already. Just a little bit! If there’s no place to take the dog to potty, I go into the bathroom stall, put the pad down, put the puppy on it (on leash!). When the puppy smells it, he thinks: “This must be the bathroom!” and uses it. This trick has saved countless students of mine during an “I gotta go” moment (and it’s perfectly hygienic!).
Puppy Airport Etiquette
Everyone should follow airport etiquette, and puppies are no exception! When you’re at the airport, make sure your puppy isn’t loose or running around. Most airports(and airplanes) require them to stay in their carriers unless they’re service dogs.
If it’s not hot, you can also put a scarf or something lightweight over his carrier so no one can peek in. You don’t want people being too friendly, especially if your puppy is going through a fear period.
Something else you should keep in mind is getting the right paperwork. You need a Health Certificate issued by your vet so you can fly with your puppy. Check with your airline about their current regulations, because the lead times they need can vary. Know that a copy of your dog’s vaccinations is not enough, and you might even be turned away if you don’t have the right paperwork.
Is Cargo Really an Option?
Back in the days when I used to compete in dog obedience trials, my dogs were too large to fit in carrier bags, so they would fly in cargo. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty stressful experience, but there are some steps we took to make it as comfortable as possible.
My first priority was to choose the right type of crate. My preference was an airline-approved stainless steel crate instead of a plastic airline one. I’d also play with my dog before the flight to tire him out as much as possible.
To reduce the noise level that my dog was exposed to, I taught her to be cool with having cotton balls in her ears (and I made a note to remind me to take them OUT!). But nowadays I use beauty blenders instead of cotton balls, which are similar to what riders use for horses!
One thing I would never do is medicate a dog flying cargo. It’s a personal preference, but if they’re so stressed that you need to medicate them and they need to be flown,it's best to think of another option. These days, there are cargo planes just for dogs, or even pet transportation services.
And if you do decide to fly your dog in cargo, you can forget about being the first one on the plane because you need to see (or have gate agent confirmation) that your dog has been loaded!
And because live animals are unloaded before luggage, he’s going to be the first one off. That’s why I always book an aisle seat as close to the front of the plane as possible, so I can be off the plane fast. My goal is to arrive at the pet claim area before she does!
What About Emotional Support Animals?
The rules for emotional support animals and service dogs are ever-changing, so the best thing you can do is check with your airline and the TSA for current regulations. .
For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Transportation website and look for answers in their Service Animals section.
There’s no reason not to travel with your best friend, as long as you do it safely. These tips and tricks will help make flying with your puppy as easy as possible for the both of you!
Are you a pro at flying with your pup? Do you have more tips? Let us know in the comments below!