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Dog Travel Tools

Jet-Set Pups: Entertaining Your Dog in Airports and In-Flight

Air travel can be as boring for dogs as it is for humans. Check out our tips on keeping your furry buddy entertained and exercised while in the air or in the terminal.

By Krista Halling DVM CCRP DACVS and River

Air travel can feel long and tedious, especially if delays occur. At least we humans have colouring books and can stream movies on our devices. Our furry friends on the other hand can easily get bored and restless. Here are some tips from River and myself to help keep your dog entertained and exercised while travelling together by plane with a pet in-cabin.


A restless, energetic dog won’t enjoy a long flight under the seat in their carrier. I try to exercise River the day before and/or morning of our flight. We also make a point of continuously walking around in the terminal as much as possible before a flight and during layovers. This exercise benefits both of us, and makes her much less restless while she is in her backpack during the flight.

If you or your dog are unable to walk to that extent, an alternative could be to let them play with a toy or a mentally stimulating game at the airport while on a leash. This should help to stimulate their body and their mind.

Since I allow River to say hi to people in the terminal when she is not in her backpack, the walking around also provides her with some social engagement, which she loves.

Airports sometimes play overhead announcements stating that travelling pets – with the exclusion of service dogs – must be in their carrier at all times; but I have not yet had anyone ask me to put her back in her carrier while we have been walking in the terminal.

Our standard procedure when we arrive in a terminal involves:

  • walking to our gate, so that we know where it is
  • going to the nearest pet relief area
  • filling in the rest of the time by walking around in the terminal
  • a final stop at the pet relief area shortly before boarding the plane

Delays and long layovers

No one loves delays. If River and I have a long layover, or if our flight gets delayed, continuous walking can end up being a bit too tiring. So I always bring a couple of her favourite small toys for her to play with.

We find a quiet unoccupied area of the airport such as an empty gate, and while keeping her on her leash, I let her play with her ball and toss it for her from a few feet away. This gives her some mental engagement, helps to pass the time and gives us a break from walking.

I follow the ball playing with another 15-20 minutes of walking, then a potty break before boarding the flight, so that when we board River will be tired and ready for quiet time in her backpack. If there is not enough time for walking and ball playing, I favour walking. She can always play quietly with her rubber ball (it’s not a squeaky ball) on the plane.

Bathroom breaks

We visit the pet relief area as follows:

  • When we first arrive in the terminal (after clearing security)
  • 5-10 minutes before boarding a flight
  • Upon deplaning from a flight

If we have a long layover, we will visit the pet relief area a couple more times. This also helps get River used to using these facilities which, to be honest, despite their clean appearance are often foul-smelling and the astroturf urine-soaked.

Doggy in-flight entertainment

I have trained River to expect that when she goes in her travel backpack, it is quiet time. Therefore, when she is in there, I don’t allow people to engage with her or to say hello. She’s only allowed to engage with fellow travellers when she is out of the backpack and on her leash.

Although she is used to being quiet and resting when she is in her backpack, that can get a bit boring for her on a long flight. So here are our tips for in-flight entertainment:

I reward my dog for being quiet

If River is sleeping, I leave her alone, but if she is lying quietly and looking around, I intermittently reward her by unzipping the mesh flap, patting her and/or giving her a ball with a bit of cheese. Conversely, she has learned that if she whines, she does not get attention or the treat. So being quiet pays off and she likes that.

Toys and treats

After experimenting with various in-flight toys, treats and spreads, I have found that a rubber treat-dispensing ball with a little bit of cheese pressed into the grooves works the best to keep River occupied the longest. Additionally, dogs derive inherent comfort from the action of licking something, so this activity doubles as a pleasurable experience which reinforces her backpack as an enjoyable place to be.

I also offer River a small amount of water mid flight and near the end of the flight.

Other balls with grooves would likely work well too. Just be mindful that if your dog is an aggressive chewer you will need to supervise their time with the ball and remove the ball any signs of tearing develop (to prevent accidental ingestion).

Flying with a dog in-cabin can be an immensely rewarding and bonding experience for both you and your furry friend. We hope these tips give you ideas of how to prepare for your next airplane trip together.

About the authors

Krista Halling is a veterinarian board-certified with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and co-founder of Dogpacking.com.

River is a female spayed mini goldendoodle and Chief Treat Tester at Dogpacking.com.

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