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

Help Keep Your Dog Safe During Air Travel

If the factors add up right for you, and you’ve checked your airline’s requirements as well as those of your destination if you’re traveling abroad, the following tips can help keep your dog safe and make her trip more pleasant.

First and foremost, book a nonstop flight. Every stop increases the chance that you’ll be delayed, and every transfer increases the chance that your dog will be lost. I also advise strongly that you travel with your dog, not ship her as unaccompanied cargo.

Choose a Strong, Comfortable Crate

Get a crate big enough for your dog to stand up, lie down, and turn around. No matter what it says on the label, there is no such thing as a travel kennel “pre-approved” by any airline or by the International Air Transport Association, although most airlines do bar crates with wheels. The U.S. Department of Agriculture website offers a terrific explanation of how to evaluate a crate. Do you know how to judge the strength of the door? I didn’t! It should be metal, and it should attach with four metal rods to the body of the crate.

Label and Personalize Your Dog’s Crate

Attach “Live Animal” stickers to the crate--they probably came with, but if not you can find them at pet supply stores. Use indelible marker to draw arrows labeled “This Side Up” on the sides and back. Also write your dog’s name and your contact information on the crate. Attach a clear plastic bag with a color photo of your dog, and it can’t hurt to decorate with colorful stickers and hand-drawn hearts. Baggage handling is a monotonous job--let your dog’s crate catch the workers’ eyes and draw out that extra little bit of TLC. While you’re at it, tell every single airline employee you have contact with that you are traveling with your dog. There will be animal lovers among them. The more friendly eyes on your dog’s itinerary, the better.

Make Sure Your Dog Has Plenty of ID

Your dog should be microchipped and wearing a flat buckle collar with her tags. I hope you never use a choke chain or prong collar on your dog, anyway, but certainly she should not be wearing one while crated. Check that the tag info is up-to-date and add an instant make-it-yourself tag with info specific to the trip.  Provide comfortable bedding. The airline may require you to provide water, in which case freeze it in the dish overnight so your dog doesn’t wind up in a puddle. The American Veterinary Medical Association advises that most dogs feel more comfortable traveling on a nearly empty stomach. The airline may also want you to provide food, but try to get away with just taping a token bag of food to the top of the crate. If the plane trip is so long that you’re looking at more than one somewhat delayed meal, your dog should stay 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).