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

Can Your Dog Relax During the Trip?

As for the flight itself, several hours in a Sherpa bag underneath an airplane seat is really not any dog’s idea of a good time. Maybe, given some advance exercise to tire him out, and a discreet hand slipped into the bag to scratch his cheek from time to time, he’ll sack out quietly. But if you know in your heart of hearts that he’ll spend the entire flight scratching at the zipper and whining, or huddled in a small, fearful ball, then the trip isn’t going to be fun for anybody.

If your dog is too big for the passenger cabin and must travel as accompanied baggage, how will he handle hours of being crated, separated from you, moved here and there by strangers, and plunked down in the strange, loud, vibrating environment that is the baggage hold? A friendly, unflappable dog who loves his crate may take the experience in stride, but for many others, it’s a recipe for misery.

Should You Sedate Your Dog on a Plane?

If your Dogalini is the anxious type, you may be tempted to sedate her. Don’t. The American Veterinary Medical Association advises that tranquilizers can increase the risk of respiratory and cardiac distress.

Is Your Dog Healthy Enough for Air Travel?

Speaking of respiratory and cardiac distress, consider whether your dog can physically tolerate air travel. The airline will require a certificate of health anyway, so inquire about their specifics. But again, apply your intimate knowledge of your own dog. How often does she need to pee in a normal day, for instance? If you’re checking in an hour and a half early for a five-hour flight, that’s six and a half hours right there, and you haven’t factored in the half-hour waiting for takeoff, or the interval between touchdown and baggage claim when you arrive. Even if your dog can go seven and a half or eight hours without a toilet break, there’s a level of discomfort that makes me wince. A long delay can turn discomfort into agony.

Temperature Restrictions on Travel

By federal law, animals may not be kept for more than 45 minutes, either in the hold or on the tarmac, when temperatures are below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The limit on these temperature extremes runs to four hours in a holding facility. Four hours in a crate at 85 degrees. Lovely. Some airlines won’t fly flat-faced dogs if the external temperature is over 70 or 75, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that I think the risks of air travel outside the passenger cabin are too high for English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs, and other flat-faced dogs. Their malformed airway makes it impossible for them to cool themselves effectively, and many individuals of these breeds suffer respiratory distress even under everyday conditions. Leave them home.


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).