Pet Friendly Travel – How to Prepare Your Dog for Flight

Travel is such an important step to take in life. Through exploring the wonders of the world around us, consequently, we learn more about other cultures, open our eyes to the realities of life that many face, and even discover more about ourselves.  

Others may need to travel for a multitude of reasons: work, family, medical treatments or other important things in their lives. 

While there are huge advantages to travel – there’s also a few glaring disadvantages. 

Pet Friendly Travel - How to Prepare Your Dog for Flight

One of the most obvious and crucial is that some of us have important people that rely on us at home – and for me that person is my dog! 

If you want to travel with your dog further than stateside, at some point you’ll have to get on a plane together. Now surprisingly, most dogs aren’t what you’d call ‘natural flyers’. Shocking, I know. For every dog that takes to flying like they’re some kind of sparrow Spaniel cross, there’s approximately 3,056 others that go absolutely borking mad. 

From personal experience and expert advice from doggy professionals, we’re here to share some tried and true techniques to preparing your dog for a flight. These will help get your pooch ready, so they don’t wizz all over the plane misbehave, stay safe and happy, and ensure that you (and Janet in the middle seat) have a smooth and pleasant flight! 

It’s All About the Pre-Game: Preparing in the Months Before Your Flight 

Preparation for getting your crazy Chihuahua or loco Labrador on a flight can be time-consuming, but is incredibly important and necessary – SO NECESSARY. 

Never rock up at the airport casually without thinking of your dog’s needs. Because dogs all have needs – and let me tell you, some of them are not cute, no matter how adorable Wally the Weiner dog looks in his leiderhausen.  

With adequate preparation you will be able to breeze through the airport like a certain Hilton heiress and her army of lap dogs, perhaps minus the matching Louis Vuitton luggage suite. 

Before You Book: Check the Policies and Get Your Documentation in Order 

Okay this one has nothing to do with preparing Fido – instead Fido’s parent have to do the leg work to get ready. It’s your responsibility to ensure you have checked your airlines pet policy before arriving at the airport to ensure that your beautiful sidekick can board alongside you. It’s also essential to have all the paperwork that your airline requires to sail smoothly onto the plane.  

In order to travel in the cabin alongside you, your dog must be classified as a service animal or an emotional support animal 

Service dogs do not require any documentation, but must be specifically trained in tasks to assist you. Traveling with an emotional support animal varies from airline to airline, but generally requires a letter from a psychiatrist or medical doctor and completed documentation specific to the airline in advance.  

Many airlines only allow emotional support dogs or cats. If your dog or ESA does not meet these requirements, they will need to fly in the cargo hold.  

If you show up with an emotional support donkey, no documents and no prior notification to the airline, expect to be (deservedly) laughed out of the place. 

Crate-Training Master 

A vet-approved way of making an airport and flight experience a lot less stressful, is a focus on crate training using your dog’s travel carrier. Training your dog to view their carrier as a safe-space is crazy helpful in getting your pet to fly successfully. Entice your dog into the carrier using treats and loads of positive reinforcement. Once your dog is comfortable entering the carrier, it’s time to train them to enjoy hanging out in there.  

Start off with short stints in the carrier, after lots of exercise and with lots of treats. Increase the time spent in the carrier slowly, with lots of treats before and after for incentive. Remember – try not to interact with your dog too much when it is in the carrier – the goal is for your dog to be happy and comfortable in the carrier without your attention. Aim to train your dog to stay happily in its carrier for your flight time plus 2 hours.  

For example: For a 4-hour flight, add 2 hours and your dog should be trained to be happily sitting in its carrier for 6 hours. 

Prepare the Pooch for the Scary World of Airports 

Airports can be scary places – even for us humans! Ear-splitting announcements, intimidating airport officials and thousands of strangers can heighten anxiety for dogs. A great way to prepare your dog for this is by socializing them as much as you possibly can. Exposure to strange sights, sounds, smell and people can make your dog more resilient in new situations, a plus it that this is totally beneficial to your dog’s development.  

To further up your dog’s travel game, turn your home into an airport! Now please don’t go off inviting random TSA officers to your house for hang-outs. Instead, find an airport background noise track (like this one) and play it at home. This can help to familiarize your dog with the new sounds they will encounter. 

Essentials: Things to do Before the Week Before the Flight 

The week of your flight is here, and you have an adorable pooch to share to ride with! Before you go though, you’ve got some important things to attend to.  

Work That Dog Out  

Your pup should be totally relaxed and essentially exhausted before they even step foot in the airport. In the week leading up to your flight try to exercise your pup as much as humanly possible. When adequately exercised, dogs are in their calmest, most zen-like state, which is exactly what we want. Ensure on the day of your flight that you give your dog plenty of exercise, so they are comfortable and relaxed, ready to fly.  

Potty Time 

One of the big benefits of exercising your pet thoroughly before arriving at the airport is that it encourages them to do their business in an appropriate place. This is vital to avoid unfortunate accidents! Even with plenty of exercise and ample bathroom breaks before arriving at the airport, it’s essential to know where the pet potty stops are located in the airport you are traveling to and from. Use them frequently and wisely. If you can train your dog to go potty on command, that’s next level – and extremely useful when traveling! 

Consult with Your Vet 

If you have a truly anxious doggo, it’s probably a good idea to visit your vet to feel out your options before flying. Your vet will be able to tell you exactly how to help Bruiser chill for the flight. Medications specifically for anxious dogs can help you and your canine companion feel comfortable flying together. 

Packing for the Flight 

Packing for a flight is really important and no, I’m not talking about how you’re going to fit your 37 outfit changes into your carry-on for a 3-day holiday. 

Packing adequately for your pet can make or break your flight together. Ensure you have the following pet travel essentials: 

  • Collar and leash 
  • Harness 
  • Poop bags (Take more than you’ll ever think you’ll need. Then add some more.) 
  • Paper towel 
  • Empty water bottle 
  • Pop-up water bowl 
  • Variety of treats 
  • Emergency First Aid kit 

Flight Day – Let’s Do This! 

Traveling to the Airport 

Most airlines will ask you to either keep your dog in its carrier or in your lap during your flight. That’s why it’s important to travel to the airport with your dog in the carrier you intend to use. If you can’t produce a carrier, or you try to sneak a banned animal onto a flight in one, you might be denied travel – and that’s not pretty situation for anyone involved (case in point: This is Squirrel Lady. Don’t be like Squirrel Lady.)  

At the Airport 

When you arrive at the airport, make sure you make a beeline for those pet potty stations mentioned earlier. The stressful environment of an airport can result in the most well-behaved of pets having an accident. Check-in as soon as possible so that if there are any issues you have plenty of time to resolve them.  

Getting on the Plane 

This can be the most difficult part of the whole process. Some airlines may let you board first so you can settle your pet under the seat in their carrier or in your lap before other passengers board. Try using positive reinforcement and treats to guide your dog to your seat. 

There, you made it! You and your dog are going to have the best time traveling together. Remember, the first flight is always the hardest, once you’ve made it through once, it gets easier. Happy travels with your best bud! 

About Marina Villatoro

Marina Kuperman Villatoro CEO of TravelExperta.com, a travel resource site to inspire families to travel with kids of all ages. Marina has been an expat 20+ years in Central America raising 2 boys in a multicultural, trilingual household. She travels all over the world with her family to give first hand experiences of where to eat, stay and play with kids. Needless to say, it’s never boring! Join Marina on Facebook and Twitter for more unique and boutique family travel!

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