When I started to research getting a dog, I spent a lot of time looking up just about everything: different breeds, their temperaments, their sizes, their coats, their lifespans…and on and on and on! One non-negotiable from the beginning was that I wanted a small dog. Why? For two main reasons: because I live in an apartment and because I wanted to be able to take my pup on trips with me.
Let’s talk about that second piece: taking my pup on trips with me.
If you don’t know, I live in Austin, Texas, while my immediate family and a lot of other people I love live in Baltimore, Maryland (more information here), and in other places on the East coast. It is really important to me to be able to take Charley with me when I go home to visit–he’s a huge part of my life, and I want him to be around for special events and holidays when I’m home!
Last year, just a couple of weeks after I picked up my long-prayed for puppy, I flew home with Charley in tow. I was a nervous wreck heading to the airport, but I had done ample research (huge surprise, right?), so I was actually very well prepared and the entire process was perfectly smooth. I fly with Charley for a second time tomorrow, so I thought I’d share my experience and what I’ve learned.
STEP 1: Go to the vet and get a check-up (and possibly a prescription)
Clearly, you want to make sure that it’s safe for your fur baby to fly at all. Charley is young and very healthy, but nothing is worth the risk–to the vet I went! Both times, I simply explained that we were going to be traveling, and I wanted to make sure he’d be okay. Both times he got a clean bill of health.
Speaking of bills of health, the first time I flew with him I spent about $40 for a health certificate from the vet, which was wholly unnecessary for Southwest Airlines, the airline I flew. Make sure to check with your airline on this.
The first time I flew with Charley, he was only three months old. A tiny puppy, he was floppy and tired 90 percent of the time. Still, I was nervous about his energy level on a three hour flight plus time in the airport. The vet recommended an amino acid complex that was natural but helped to relax puppies. I took it and gave it to Charley, who easily slept for the duration of the flight both ways.
This time, Charley is an active one year old–a far cry from the sleepy baby he was this time last year. When I went to the vet a few weeks ago, I explained that we would be traveling and asked if she had any recommendations. She told me to have liquid Benadryl ready to administer if necessary (3mg) and prescribed me Xanax (0.5mg) as well. She advised I only use one at a time.
STEP 2: Book your flight (and your pet’s flight!)
To do this, you’ll want to look into different airlines and their pet policies. Speaking from experience (albeit only one experience), I had great luck traveling on Southwest Airlines. Everything was super simple and streamlined–I would highly recommend flying SWA with your pet if it makes sense for you.
After you decide on your flight, you’ll want to call the airline’s customer service and ask them to make a note on your ticket that a pet will be accompanying you. Apparently, there are times when an airline would hit the maximum number of pets on a flight, so you want to “reserve” your pet’s spot ahead of time. This is also a great time to ask any questions you may have about traveling with a fur baby on that airline.
STEP 3: Buy an airline-approved petcarrier
You can find all kinds of carriers on Amazon, through various airlines, and in your local pet store. I bought this one, and it’s great.
Before your buy anything, check with the airline you’re flying on dimensions. (Or search Amazon reviews for your airline name and see what others are saying!)
STEP 4: Let your pet get comfortable with the carrier
There are about 500 tutorials on how exactly you should do this on the internet. Personally, I feel that putting the carrier in a main room in your house for a few weeks before the flight so that it will smell like home and your pet will have the chance to explore it is enough. Then again, every dog is different, so do whatever seems right for your baby! Here’s a link to some of those tutorials if you’re interested.
It’s also a good idea to have a couple of puppy pads at the bottom of your carrier ready in case your pet has an accident…you may want to put those in during this “get comfortable” stage so there’s nothing new on travel day.
STEP 5: Load up on treats and things to chew for your dog
You can skip this step if you’d like to, but I do recommend buying at least a few extra things for your pet before travel day. Because you’ll be waiting in potentially long security lines, sitting through a long flight, and then getting in car or bus before getting to your final destination, your dog will be in his carrier for anywhere between four and eight hours. You want to be prepared!
Just a few days ago, I went to the pet store and picked up various bones, treats, doggie bagels, etc. I want to make sure I can keep my little one occupied in the event that he becomes anxious or restless. (Although I’m hoping his prescribed meds will eradicate/curb that!) I put all of my treats into a gallon-sized plastic bag that I’ll take with me through security…and keep with me at all times!
It’s also a good plan to grab a travel water bowl for your dog as well! Gotta keep him hydrated!
STEP 6: Tire your dog out before the day of travel
The only thing worse than your pup in his carrier for hours on end is your overly energetic bouncing-off-the-walls pup in his carrier for hours on end! Three days before you fly out, start taking longer walks, schedule a day at doggy day care, take him to the groomer for the day–whatever wears him out! You will be so thankful when you’re heading to the airport if you know that your dog is worn out.
STEP 7: Relax & mentally prepare yourself
Your dog is now ready to go–he’s been cleared to travel, has meds on standby, has a carrier ready for flight, and is [hopefully] very tired. Now for you!
The reality is that even when you know that you’re totally prepared to travel with your dog, you still may be quite nervous and uneasy about the experience, especially if it’s your first time to fly with your baby. Heck! I’ve done it before and written this entire blog post on the subject, and I’m still nervous for flying out with Charley tomorrow!
Take a breather. What’s the worst that could happen? So your dog whines or cries on the flight? You have a bag of treats and things to give your dog to chew on. He accidentally goes potty in his carrier? You change his puppy pad. He suddenly gets hyper? You are prepared with medication (or a plan) to combat his energy.
See? You’re ready to fly! Best of luck to you–let me know if you have any travel tips you’d like to add!
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What amino acid complex did you give your pup before flying the first time? I just flew for the first time with my 5-month old maltipoo and he was terrified the whole entire time. Usually he is pretty calm, and he should have been exhausted (it was an early morning flight) but I couldn’t get him to relax. Thanks for the help!
Blair Menzel says
I was given Anxitane S and it worked great!
Thanks so much!!
Great to see you back and actively blogging. 🙂
Thanks for the post. You mentioned puppy pads in the carrier, but I am wondering about other bathroom issues or routines when you traveled with him. I haven’t flown with my dog (8 lbs) yet, but will potentially be flying with him from North Carolina to South America. I’m worried about bathroom logistics and wondering if you have any additional suggestions based on your experience? Here’s what a flight would look like:
3-4 hours in the airport (it takes additional time to check in per country laws where I’m flying to)
2 hour flight to connecting airport
2-3 hour (or more) layover
8 hour flight to arrive to South America
1-2 hours getting through customs and to finally arrive outdoors
So my dog WILL be pottying multiple times during this trip, but it’s a question of managing it the best way possible.
Thanks in advance for any advice!
Blair Menzel says
Wow, that is really going to be a long day for your puppy! I would make sure you take him out at least a few times (even if it means checking in and out of security), because I can’t imagine him staying in a carrier for nearly 19 hours! I don’t have a lot of insight into a trip this extreme, but I wish you the best of luck!
Love these tips, your pup is so cute!!
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Hello! I just wanted to add that it’s a good idea to limit food and water the day of the flight so that your dog doesn’t have to use the bathroom mid flight, and to take them for an extra long-walk that day if you can. A good dog is a tired dog!
Blair Lamb says
I am flying for the first time with my Border Terrier, Nugget, this coming weekend and have been so nervous about missing something. Your post made me feel so much better- its nice to hear from someone thats been through it before. Thanks for listing out your step by step process!
Perfect, This is my first time also and I am looking forward to it. I had everything covered except Amino Acid Complex- thanks for the tip.