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Behaviour Training Tips for Successful Air Travel with Your Dog

by Ryan Brown, aka the Dog Philosofur

Travelling with your furry companion can be a wonderful experience for both dog and owner. Dogs that have never experienced air travel or even the busy and sometimes chaotic environment of an airport may find this experience very stressful. There are, however plenty of things you can do to get your dog ready for the experience and adventure that lies ahead!

First you’ll need to decide how your dog is going to travel whether in the cabin with you if they are a small enough breed and the airline allows it or whether they will be transported in cargo. The latter will mean travelling in a crate whereas some airlines will allow a soft travel bag for the dog to be in when travelling in the cabin. You’ll want to reach out to the airline ahead of time so that you’re well-versed in their policies and what to expect when you arrive at the airport. Make sure you pack all of the key items including; food and water, anything for in their crate, toys, treats and a kit of any medications you’ll be bringing or other miscellaneous items for your dog. Sometimes packing a small bag just for your dogs items will help to keep things organized. Make a packing list ahead of time to ensure that you don’t forget anything!

Crate training

If your dog has never been crate trained or hasn’t been crated in some time, you’ll want to reintroduce it. At first simply leave the door open. You can begin simply by tossing some high value food rewards into the crate and allowing the dog to go in and take them and come back out. Also begin feeding meals inside of the crate to build a positive association. The next step is to close the door for a few seconds and then open it again. After this you’ll simply begin increasing the amount of time that the door stays closed. You can keep the crate within eyesight as your dog may feel more comfortable. Over time you’ll need to leave your dog in the crate for increasingly longer durations until they are comfortable in the crate for the same time they will need to be in the crate during the trip or even a little longer just in case of delays. Be sure to practice leaving them alone in the crate as part of the training as this will undoubtedly be the case when travelling and your dog should be comfortable being away from you for periods of time. Every dog is different so depending on how your dog is acclimatising to the crate you may have to increase the duration they’re in the crate slowly but for some dogs that take to the crate immediately you’ll be fine with longer durations right away. Watch for any stress signs on your dog such as panting, yawning or lip licking. As the crate will be moved around at the airport with your dog in it it might also be beneficial to move the crate around in your home with your dog inside so they also have a chance to experience what this will be like in preparation for the day of your trip.

Mira in the airport as a puppy with her hard-sided travel crate

Soft carrier

If you’re looking to take your small breed dog in the cabin with you you’ll have to check with the airline to see their requirements. Often a soft carrier with mesh sides or front and back is appropriate. You’ll need to help get your dog familiar with this. The process is the same as crate training.

Spend time getting your dog used to their carrier well before the day of travel

Desensitization to the airport

Even if your dog does well in busy areas it may be prudent to work on some desensitisation to busy, noisy environments. If the airport allows it and it’s within reason to do so, you may choose to take your dog to the airport approximately one week before your trip. Walk them

around the airport grounds and through the concourse if it’s allowed. Find out what the process will be when you arrive at the airport and take your dog through a dry run of this process. Try to pair it with lots of positive reinforcement. Try to be as nonchalant about the experiences you can. It’s best if your dog sees this as a neutral experience, we certainly don’t want them to be fearful of the experience but also creating over-excitement can contribute to the issue of being unable to settle down for the flight, same as anxiety can. Keep calm and make the entire experience routine or even somewhat boring. If you are unable to get to the airport ahead of time, find a few busy stores in your area that allow dogs and take a few trips there. Busy stores can help provide a similar environment as to what will be experienced at the airport. You can also practice waiting in line at stores with your dog as this will be part of the process of travelling. If your dog struggles with remaining calm in these situations you may want to reach out to a trainer for some basic obedience which can help make the day of the trip go smoothly. Building your dog’s tolerance to stressful situations is one of the best things you’ll do to help your dog move forward not only in travel but in all areas of their life! You can find some video clips of airplanes taking off and landing. Play these clips, increasing the volume a little each day, until your dog seems tolerant of the sounds. This certainly isn’t a replacement for the exposure to the real thing but it can definitely assist in preparing the dog for the types of noises they will hear at the airport.

Your dog should be comfortable in a busy, novel, noisy environment


You should consult with your veterinarian if you feel your dog is anxious or will struggle to cope with the noise and sensations of the flight. You will also want to consult your vet if your dog has a history of motion sickness. While there are a few medications for anxiety and/or motion sickness that can be considered for the night before or the day of the trip to help your furry friend through the flight, this should only be done with veterinary guidance. Furthermore, some airlines will refuse to accept a pet who has received any medication having a sedative effect. Training your dog to be relaxed and accustomized to all aspects of travel is likely the best solution for all parties involved.

Preparing for travel day

You want to tire your dog out. A dog that’s fatigued may be able to handle the stress of the arrival at the airport better and may even be able to fall asleep in their crate prior to being loaded into cargo.

Take your dog out for a long walk, hike, run or even play fetch. If you have time before your departure it’s good to do this several times throughout the day instead of trying to fatigue them in one long physical event. There may be temporary medications that you’ll need to administer. Plan enough time to walk your dog around an area near the airport so they receive some last-minute exercise before it’s time to go on to the crate. This will give them a bit more time to both urinate and defecate, making it an easier journey. Make sure you monitor when the last food and water intake is. You’ll want to make sure there is no water approximately 2 hours before your flight so your dog has a chance to empty their bladder before takeoff.

Pet relief area at Houston International Airport

Best to first reach out to the airline and find their policies to learn how your dog will be travelling. Then develop a plan to not only desensitise but build confidence in these environments. All of this will lead to a better start to your dogpacking journey together

Additional resources

Dog Philosofur YouTube channel

About the author

Ryan Brown, aka the Dog Philosofur, is a professional dog trainer from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

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