How to Fly with a Dog

Should you fly with your dog? If so, how can you make the trip as safe as possible?

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
7-minute read
Episode #60

Spring has sprung, at least in my quadrant of the globe, and with spring come vacation travel plans. If you’re traveling by plane to someplace where a dog might have a good time, you might be wondering whether you should bring Dogalini.

Is It Safe for Pets to Fly?

The Air Transport Association website reassures us that “pets can and do travel safely aboard commercial aircraft.” The ASPCA’s website less cheerfully suggests that people “think twice about flying their pets on commercial airlines,” while the Humane Society of the United States urges you not to fly pets unless “absolutely necessary.”  Statistics on hurt, lost, and dead animals appear on the U.S. Department of Transportation website but are hard to interpret; suppose a given airline loses twice as many animals as the others, are they more careless, or are they flying 10 times as many animals and thus actually more careful? 

According to the website ThirdAmendment.com, 227 animals were reported to have died or were lost or injured during air transport between May 2005 and February 2010. However, the website argues that that figure may be too low. In any case, airlines have developed procedures that enable them to avoid losing or killing unaccompanied children. It’s a little hard to see why they can’t improve their record with companion animals, especially when you consider that, unlike children, animals are obliged to travel in closed containers.

How to Decide Whether to Bring Your Dog on an Airplane

If you want to fly with your dog, consider her behavioral health, her physical health, and her comfort.

So there are risks in bringing your dog with you on a plane trip. On the other hand, there is no such thing as risk-free living, and maybe that early-June hike you’re planning for the Rockies would make your dog’s year as well. If you’re not ruling out air travel altogether, take the following into account.

Is Your Dog Comfortable in Crowds?

Your dog should be comfortable in human crowds and behaviorally flexible enough to get through the trip without freaking out or freezing up. Is the stranger who bends to pet Zippy in the check-in line risking a snap or a bite? Or will Zippy spend the entire wait cowering behind your legs? If so, leave Zippy home with a pet sitter he knows and likes.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).