International Travel With Your Dog & 8 Tips To Get It Right!

January 31, 2022
January 31, 2022

Flying International with your dog, a modern convenience of international travel! No more is your pet bound to kennels or boarding facilities, oh no!

Well, that’s not strictly true.

You’ve likely found this because you’re looking to fly somewhere with your dog, to take them on vacation, go visit family or move abroad. It’s potentially a great thing to do with them too!

For me, it was the latter.

I was moving to the US, and Indie’s coming with us? Was non-negotiable.

So, naturally, I began looking into it too. Having completed the process, I’ve learned a few things, and wanted to give you guys some good steps into how to do this with your dog, what to consider, and what to look out for.

What Are My Options When I Want To Fly With My Dog?

The options are:

1 – Fly with them in the cabin.

2 – Fly with them in cargo

This varies airline to airline and heavily depends on what your dog is travelling for – aka, is it business? Or pleasure?

Service dogs are allowed on all flights, but not all pets are. This is dictated by your specific airline. So please do check with them! It is a bit of a pain to figure out, but it does need to be done and sadly they change it all the time.

When I flew, Indie was allowed in the cabin. I was very grateful for that.

Indie at the airport ready for our international flight together
I’d always recommend that you check out your airport before the flight, this was one of mine and Indie’s trips to the airport, which allowed us to test whether he’d succeed on the day.

What Are Some Requirements To Be Aware Of When Traveling Internationally With A Dog?

This depends wholly on your destination, and what sort of dog you have.

And by sort, I don’t really mean chihuahua or cane corso, I mean whether your dog is a pet or a service dog – which will determine where your dog can go on the plane.

Pets are (typically) only allowed in the hold, whilst service dogs are allowed in the cabin for international flights. Some internal flights may allow a dog into the cabin, but this is rarely so with international.

This classification also changes what you need to bring. 

For all dogs: Proof of current vaccination is required, worming medication has to have been given within the last 30 days, and a rabies vaccination for most countries will be required (e.g. US to UK, despite the UK not having rabies, they also don’t want it, so proof of vaccination is required).

For a service dog, proper documentation is required and will be checked to validate that this is a given service dog. 

For all animals, a pet passport from your vet is required.

Indie at our former local airport practicing for our international travel
Listening to an airplane take off was as close as I could get to the vibration, the noise, the volume as best as physically possible.

How Should You Prepare For An International Flight With Your Dog? 

As always we have to consider our baseline and the environment that you’re going to be heading into.

Your Dogs Baseline.

What issues does your dog already have? Are they okay with floor surfaces? Have they tried an elevator? What about an escalator? Do they chase objects that pass too close to them? Are they sensitive to noises?

Try to think critically about your dogs fortes and failures. Be practical.

The Environment (Aka, The Airport, The Plane & Customs)

Now, the environment your dog is going into is going to be the biggest hurdle. Not only do airports tend to be busy places, but they are full of tired people, stressed people, and kids who aren’t necessarily under control – which differs in the general vibe from a shopping centre or similar.

Then there’s the weirdness of stuff for your dog.

Unless your dog is doing a lot of service work in busy environments, this one? Is a pickle.

This is a high distraction, highly unusual environment to which you can only get limited exposure before ploughing ahead.

Try and mock up as many of the situations as you possibly can.

Indie at Heathrow international airport
Indie at Heathrow international airport, you can see he’s not necessarily that comfortable, but that’s why we do the exercises!

My Training Process For My Dog At The Airport

A lot of this is stuff your dog will already have, but I find this is a great opportunity for a tune-up of skills.

At home/local practice

  • Prep Airplane noises (Thank you youtube!)
  • Practice loose leash walking with suitcase/luggage
  • Practice on tiled floors, elevators/lifts, and escalators if possible.
  • Practice settle cues in unusual locations
  • Practice in busier locations
  • Practice focus around all sorts of people

At Airport

  • Practice walking with suitcase at airport,
  • Practice settle cues in the airport.
  • Practice focus
  • Listen to a plane take off from the outside (as close as possible!)

These then should be pieced together.

We went to a small local airport where we got some great exposure, it was quieter (we looked up the flights ahead of time and picked a very quiet day to attend), there were minimal people there which took out one thing we were practising for and created a nice intermediatory effect.

bark day air travel with your dog plane airport training

Want A Trainer To
Help You Plan This?

This trip can be pretty stressful,
If you want to set up for success?

You need a bark day!

What Kennel Or Crate Can You Use For International Travel? 

Typically, they make custom made wooden crates for your dog, this way they take up the minimal size (which is both space-saving for them, and for safety reasons for your dog). Though some airlines may be flexible, if you do opt for this? Check with your individual airline, especially if you have something like an impact crate already.

What About The Going To Doggy Bathroom?

I took my boy off food for 12hrs before and then minimised water intake for a few hours prior. We ensured all bathroom opportunities were offered, but it didn’t stop him from being absolutely desperate for the bathroom when we got out the other side.

For dogs travelling in cargo – they’re going to have to hold it for quite a while depending on when the flight is, where you’re going and how they load up/unload the cargo hold. Usually, the crate will be lined with puppy pads, but it doesn’t make it a pleasant thing. Expect them to come out smelling a little….

What’s it like for a pet flying in cargo for a long flight? 

Indie flew in the cabin, but the staff on the plane said that sometimes you can hear the dog howling from the hold… which means it must be very stressful and confusing.

Consequently, it’s something I wouldn’t advise unless necessary. It also depends on whether your dog is confident or not, building their confidence in their crate is really essential if this is something you will be doing.

What should you ask the airline before booking the trip? 

Everything! Ask as much as you need to be confident that this is the right decision.

For moving, like we did, this was a no-brainer. There was no other option. And I sked everything. From the temperature of the hold to whether he could be sedated (which they can’t by the way).

I also asked how many other dogs would be on the flight, because I’m always worried that another dog who is less confident could affect a dog who is more confident. (e.g. if one starts stressing out, it can affect your dog too).

indie the german shepherd on the plane to america, long haul flights are tough on dogs
Indie the german shepherd on the plane to America, long haul flights are tough on dogs – but sometimes it’s worth it. Flying in the cabin was the very best option for us. Also, notice the blanket?

Questions I Asked When Planning To Fly With My Dog (Cabin)

  • Do I need an extra seat?
  • Where is the best place to sit?

Questions I Asked When Planning To Fly With My Dog (Cargo)

  • What crate can I use?
  • How long do they have to be there before the flight?

How much does it cost to fly a dog internationally? 

This depends on size, a small dog doesn’t cost as much as a large dog – and strangely, it doesn’t depend on weight – just the dimensions of the crate in which your dog will be travelling. Our quotes varied (for a 90lbs GSD) from £900 to £5,000 (the latter was exceptionally high due to COVID!) but most averaged around £2,000.

What Is A Dog “Shipping” Service?

Some airlines (such as British Airways) don’t allow you to book your dog into the hold yourself and will only allow this through third-party services, their “Partners”. This way they control the quality of the crate and minimise the risks to all involved. Depending on the ‘service’ you buy, they’ll even cover the veterinary health checks, wormers and such before you fly.

Is There Any Benefit To A “Shipping” Service?

The difference between opting for a professional travel company, vs doing it yourself? Is pretty much stress and cost. You’ll need all the same stuff (eventually), but you may not have to take care of it. 

Do I need special Insurance to fly with my dog?

There isn’t any specific additional insurance that I can find.

There is some for shipping your dog, and it’s quite reasonable.

But, generally? Your public liability insurance covers the majority of what you will need for travelling through the airport.

Can Service Dogs Travel Internationally?

Absolutely they can! And they have the privilege of travelling in the cabin – because they will be needed there too.  They typically get a lot of fuss in the cabin too!

Indie relaxing in Heathrow airport before our flight
Indie relaxing in Heathrow airport before our flight

What Equipment Do I Need To Fly With My Dog In The Cabin?

Typically, your dog will need a harness, a secure leash that you can tether to a chair (there are no doggy seatbelts, and if you plan to take a nap, just make sure they don’t get teased over to someone for a cuddle.

I’d always recommend taking a comfortable muzzle just in case. Sometimes I put it on to deter people from approaching.

Any formal vest that your dog is allowed to wear, or some indication that your dog is a working dog.

In our pictures, you’ll see I opted for:

  • Ruffwear Palisades – This gave us some extra packing space for things like a toy, a spare collar etc
  • Patches reading “In Training” – I deliberately opted for vague so that I didn’t have to deal with questions? I was hoping Indie’s German Shepherd-ness would make people assume he was a police dog and not bother us.
  • Metal-free Collar – If you have a metal free one would be great, because I’ve heard stories where dogs are requested to walk through the metal detectors with no collar, no leash, no harness etc to eliminate the risk of the dog carrying something they shouldn’t on board the plane. To me? That’s astonishing. But when you’re faced with the option, I’d just butcher a cheap collar of it’s D-ring, and have something metal-free available.
  • Regular collar – Having their regular collar available for when the “Seatbelt sign is switched off” can be useful too, especially for long haul flights if we’re considering comfort levels.
  • Muzzle – I brought a comfortable, well fitting muzzle onto the plane with us, so that should we get into a situation, we could mitigate bite risks (thinking something serious like a broken bone) or we could be considerate passengers if there was someone nearby who was scared of dogs, for whome a muzzle may make a difference.
  • Training treats – nothing too big, and not too dry. You also need to make sure that these are not valuable because it’s very possible you’ll be asked to ditch them when you hit the other side to ensure that you’re not bringing meat products or food into a different country.

Tips For Flying With Your Dog

  1. It’s also recommended to look at the restrictions of the individual airport. For example, in the UK, Heathrow has a special Animal Reception Center (HARC), but the other airports in the region do not. Sometimes this can mean you need to allow more time, and they may require you keep certain paperwork on hand.
  2. You can’t sedate your dog whether they’re in the hold or on the plane because this actually affects how they respond to turbulence and makes it riskier to fly.
  3. If you’re on the plane, having a blanket for the floor is advisable because the floor can get pretty cold! 
  4. Make sure they have a solid harness, and a leash that has a variety of ways to attach it, this will give you flexibility. 
  5. Dogs are not allowed on the seats of the plane- toilet training will be needed, you’re responsible for any accidents and have to clean it up. So be prepared!
  6. If you are taking a dog on the plane, then allow plenty of time to access the ‘pet bathroom’ because a lot airport staff won’t know where this is, and if they do, it’s 30-40 mins of walk away. So it can take a lot of time. 
  7. Airlines will advise those sitting near you that there will be a dog, so that those with allergies or those who are uncomfortable with dogs can be re-seated. 
  8. Could be an idea to get them groomed before moving, this will mean that your dog won’t leave a trail of hair wherever they go…

If you want to talk through how to adjust your dog to air travel? The best thing I have for you? Is my Bark Days! Unlike a 1-to-1, we can have a full on discussion – all day upon exactly how to prep for you flight!

Author, Ali Smith

Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.

Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!

 

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