As humans we are often very nervous about flying, even if we read all the statistics and understand that the chance of having any sort of problem when flying is very, very small. Dogs, luckily, don't have this additional anxiety however traveling by air can be stressful on dogs for other reasons. Small and toy dogs may be able to travel in the cabin with their owners, but medium and large breed dogs will have to be crated and transported in the cargo area, meaning they will be alone and away from their owners during the flight.
There are several different things that people can do to help prepare their dog for travel by plane. Regardless of the size of the dog the first step is getting your pooch used to being in a crate or carrier and having them find the crate a relaxing and safe place to be.
Many people use crate training as a way to housetrain their dog, however it is also a great place for your dog to learn to go and relax and be safe. In essence the crate replaces a den that a dog in the wild would use as a safe place to sleep and stay. Making your dog's crate a comfortable spot and rewarding him or her for sleeping in it several weeks before your scheduled plane trip is one of the most important things you can do.
Use a crate or carrier that is approved by the airline on which you are traveling. Calling ahead and finding out exactly what size the carrier can be and what it has to be constructed of will help you train your dog in the carrier they will actually use on the flight. If you have a toy or small breed and are planning to bring the dog into the cabin, you will also have to train them to relax in that carrier, as they will be required to stay safely in the carrier during the flight. They are not allowed to walk around in the plane, so they have to learn to relax and just rest and enjoy the trip.
Make the crate as appealing as possible. Add a rubberized mat into the bottom to provide traction, plus a soft sheepskin or fleece type bedding that will absorb moisture, just in case the dog has an accident. Get the dog used to being in the crate or carrier on this material; it will help keep them calm in familiar surroundings. When at the house feed a few treats or even provide a toy or two in the carrier. They can have the toys in the carrier on the flight as well, just put one or two favorites in however, not the whole selection.
Before The Trip
Feed and water the dog normally until about 6 hours before the flight. Remove food and water at this time as this will allow the dog to clear out their digestive system and empty his or her bladder before travel. This will not only help prevent accidents but will also avoid the dog from becoming airsick and vomiting in the carrier.
Provide a good, stimulating walk just before putting the dog into the carrier with a favorite toy. Don't excessively run the dog, especially in hot conditions, since you will not be providing water, or perhaps just a few licks to quench the dog's immediate thirst.
If the dog is being checked through with baggage into the cargo hold, be sure to speak calmly to the dog and then walk away, don't keep coming back to the carrier even if the dog is upset and barking or whining. Typically dogs will calm down once the owner is out of sight. A dog that does have some anxiety will only become more anxious if the owner keeps coming and going.
Have bright, identifying features on your carrier and make sure that you confirm with the baggage people where the dog is headed. Reflective tape and neon tape is a great way to make your carrier stand out so you can verify it is being loaded on the plane. Also, add bungee cords from both sides of the crate to the front door. This will double protect the dog from somehow managing to spring loose the door or having the door pop open when the carrier is being moved about either on the runway or in the cargo area.
Keep in mind that the cargo area is not temperature regulated, so airlines reserve the right to refuse to transport animals in the cargo hold in very hot and very cold weather. Since this is for the safety of your pet plan your flights during early mornings and late evenings in the summer and in the mid-day times in fall and spring. In most cold climates winter travel may not be an option.
Bringing A Toy Or Small Breed Onboard
Small and toy breeds in soft-sided carriers may be brought into the plane's cabin but have to be stowed under the seat during take off and landing. Not all airlines, however, allow pets in the cabin unless there are guide dogs or assistance dogs, and even they have to lie down under the seat. Your dog will have to remain in the carrier at all times during the flight. Some airlines require a specific brand name of soft-sided carriers so always double check with at least one or two different people so you don't have a problem going through security.
Different airlines that allow small dogs on board also have different rules for how many dogs can be in the cabin on a flight. Some have a limit of two dogs per flight, while others have higher limits and different numbers between first class and coach. Always phone ahead and confirm that you can bring your dog on the flight, get names, record times and information from the ticketing agent. Ideally ask for a written confirmation via email so you won't have any problems at check-in.
As soon as you arrive at your destination notify the baggage check area that you are waiting for a live animal to be unloaded from the plane. Get your dog before worrying about your own luggage. Don't open the door of the crate until you have a leash on the dog and are in control, you don't want him or her panicking and running through the terminal.
Usually after one or two flights your dog will adjust to the procedure, provided they are positive and as stress free as possible.
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