Flying With An Anxious Dog – What To Know Before You Go

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Flying with your canine companion can be a daunting prospect, even under the best of circumstances. But when you have an anxious dog that doesn’t like unfamiliar situations, it’s even more stressful for both of you.

If you’ve never done it before, taking an anxious dog on a flight can present some unique challenges.

This article provides tips and strategies for flying with a nervous dog that will help make the experience less stressful.

We’ll look at:

  • How to prepare your pup for flying.
  • What documents are required
  • Safety considerations during the flight
  • How to care for them once they reach their destination.

With a little preparation and planning, flying with an anxious pup doesn’t have to be overwhelming or scary.

We hope these tips will help make your journey easier!

Understanding Your Dogs Anxiety

Dog anxiety is defined as “the condition in which a dog experiences fear or discomfort due to certain situations or environments.”

Anxious dog worried about flying

Dogs suffer from various types of anxiety. These include, separation anxiety, or types of travel anxiety, noise phobia, and so on.

Common causes of dog anxiety:

  • changes in environment or routine
  • being left alone for extended periods of time
  • loud noises such as thunderstorms or fireworks
  • unfamiliar people or animals
  • certain medical conditions

Signs Your Dog is Anxious When Flying 

It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms that indicate your dog is under stress during the flight.

These signs may include:

  • panting and drooling excessively
  • trembling or shaking
  • attempts to flee
  • whining and crying
  • hiding and seeking comfort
  • restlessness
  • reduction in appetite
  • self-harm, such as licking and chewing fur
  • excessive barking
  • accidents in the crate
  • vomiting or diarrhea

All dogs display their anxieties differently. Just because your pup isn’t exhibiting any physical behaviors doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling anxious! 

Consulting With A Veterinarian Or Professional Trainer Before Flying 

If your dog’s anxiety is an issue while traveling, speak to a veterinarian or professional trainer before you go.

Consulting a vet before flying - Flying With An Anxious Dog

Consulting with a professional is a good idea for several reasons. It allows you to gain insight into your pup’s individual needs and develop strategies to help them cope with flying.

A vet can also provide medications if necessary. These will help reduce your pup’s stress levels during flights, but allows them to enjoy their travels safely and comfortably.

Working with a professional trainer can allow you to learn techniques such as desensitization training that will help teach your pup how to manage their anxieties over time without relying on medication long-term.

Preparing for the Flight

Here are a few vital steps to consider to ensure a smooth and stress-free journey.

Fly with Fido, Choosing the Right Airline

When selecting who to fly with, it’s important to research and understand the airline’s pet rules, regulations, and policies regarding pets on flights.

Woman choosing the right airline

Most airlines will have a section on their website dedicated specifically to pet travel, so this is a great starting point.

The first thing to look for is whether or not the airline allows pets at all.

Some specific airline’s don’t!

If airlines permit your dog to fly, your furry friend might be able to join you in-cabin, providing comfort and reducing their anxiety. This privilege, however, usually applies only to smaller dogs.

If your dog is too large for in-cabin travel, they’ll probably fly in cargo or directly. While cargo flights tend to be cheaper and slightly more complex than direct flights, thorough research on the airline’s specific pet travel regulations is crucial before booking.

It’s crucial to double-check their policy regarding traveling with an emotional support animal versus a regular pet since the requirements might be different.  

Crate Requirements for Air Travel

If your dog will be traveling as checked baggage or travelling in the cargo hold, then it’s essentail that their crate meets certain size and strength requirements that are compulsary with most airlines.

Dog lying next to a travel carrier - Flying With An Anxious Dog

The crate should be large enough for them to stand up without hitting their head and turn around comfortably, and let your dog lie down without touching either side of the crate.

However, it shouldn’t be so huge that your dog can move around too much or become injured during turbulence or rough handling by the ever-friendly airport staff.

The travel crate needs to have proper ventilation holes on at least three sides of the container as well as absorbent bedding material inside to keep your dog comfortable during their journey.

Familiarizing Yourself with Airline Regulations

Most airlines require that all pets need to be in a crate or a carrier, regardless of size, when traveling in the cabin of an aircraft.

woman on a laptop with two dogs - Flying With An Anxious Dog

This helps ensure that your furry friend remains safe and secure during takeoff, turbulence, and touchdown.

Should your dog harbor significant anxiety about a new carrier, you must prepare certain precautions and secure written permission from the airline before flying.

Reach out to the airline in advance to inform them about your dog’s fear of travel in a carrier or kennel.

In some cases, you might need to present documents from a veterinarian or other specialist about your dog’s anxiety level before the airline agrees to any special accommodations.

Even if the size of your pup qualifies them as a “carry-on pet,” they will still undergo security screenings like everyone else.

It’s probable that security personnel will require your dog to leave their carrier for scanning. In this scenario, stay calm and let the security personnel carry out their task while keeping your furry friend relaxed with soft, reassuring words.

The airline may also want you to purchase extra space on board so that they can provide additional room for your dog if necessary.  

Be sure to have a clear understanding of the rules regarding sedatives or other medications for pets who suffer from severe anxiety while flying.

Many airlines don’t allow sedatives due to safety concerns, so check with them first before you give your dog any type of medication prior to the flight. Some airlines need additional paperwork that is signed by a vet to certify the medication won’t affect the animal’s ability to fly safely.  

Do a Price Comparison

Once you’ve done some research into different airline companies, compare prices between them based on the length and destination of your flight.

While cost is always a factor when traveling, remember that cheaper isn’t always better, especially when you have to fly with a dog that suffers with anxiety.

Plan an Itinerary Ahead of Time 

When flying with an anxious dog, it’s essential to plan ahead and create an itinerary for the entire trip. This will allow you to anticipate any potential issues that may arise during the flight or layovers, such as barking or whining in the airport or at security checkpoints.

Flight itinerary and other important documents and tickets

Booking a direct flight for your dog can be an invaluable way to ensure their comfort. Direct flights eliminate the need for layovers, which can be even more stressful for an already nervous dog. This can be due to changes in the environment and extended periods of confinement.

Flying with one company means fewer chances of delays or cancellations that might add more stress to your pup’s journey. With direct flights, you also have access to more carriers who specialize in pet travel, like Pet Airways or Jetblue.

Direct flights also decrease the risk of lost luggage since there are fewer transfers involved in the process – making it a much safer option when traveling with an anxious pup, especially if they are traveling in the cargo area.

When planning your itinerary, you could try companies like, Animal Airways, which make the process much easier.

Getting the Necessary Documents and Certifications

When preparing for a flight with a extremely nervous dog is making sure they have all the necessary health certificates and vaccinations. Most airlines require animals to have their current rabies vaccination certificate signed by a certified veterinarian before they board.

Important documents

Depending on where you’re flying, there may also be other ,requirements such as additional vaccinations or testing for certain contagious diseases like distemper or parvovirus. It’s important to check the airline’s regulations and destination country before booking your flight in order to make sure all the paperwork is up-to-date and valid. 

Obtaining Certifications Before Your Flight 

If you don’t already have the necessary documents on hand, don’t worry, it isn’t difficult to get them.

Most veterinarians are familiar with the paperwork required for flying with an animal and should be able to provide you with what you need in no time.

Many countries offer pet passports that contain all of the relevant information in one place, including vaccination records and other pertinent details, making it easy if you’re travelling internationally.

Familiarize Your Dog With Their Crate

If you plan on bringing your pet’s crate or carrier onto the plane with you, make sure your dog is familiar with it beforehand so that they feel as comfortable as possible when placed in a strange place like an airplane cabin.

dog getting used to a new travel crate - Flying With An Anxious Dog

Letting them sleep in it at home before the flight will give them time to get used to its size and shape, which will help reduce stress levels while travelling with your dog.  

Training and Desensitizing Your Dog Before Your Flight

It is important to start training your dog weeks before they are scheduled to fly.

Establishing a strong bond between you two is essential to helping them feel comfortable around you in any given situation, especially when confined in strange unfamiliar place like an airplane cabin.

Start by introducing them to the idea of being confined in a dog carrier. Make sure that this introduction is both positive and relaxed. Reassure your dog and provide rewards and treats if necessary.

If your furry friend begins to get agitated and, slowly step out of the situation until they are calm again before continuing. 

Noise desensitization is also an important factor when prepping your dog, you want to expose them to limited, controlled noise that they will eventually experience for real, such as airplanes taking off and landing,

Begin this training slowly by playing recorded sounds of airplane engines at low volumes while also giving positive reinforcement with treats, or engage in playtime when they remain calm during the noise session.

Plane taking off

Increase the volume gradually over time until they can tolerate louder noises without becoming stressed out. This will do wonders for their mental state when take-off day arrives. Try taking your new travel companion for trips in the car to get them used to movement as well as the noise. If your dog is also anxious in the car, start with short trips and gradually increase the length of the journey.

Practical Tips to Get your Dog Comfortable and Calm During the Flight

Don’t get caught out mid-flight wishing you’d thought of this before. Check out our handy travel tips to help keep your dog stress free when flying.

Thundershirts

Your first line of defense against anxiety when bringing your pet on a plane, is to use calming aids such as a Thundershirt or other similar products designed specifically for dogs.

Using a tight dog vest or shirt will provide gentle, continuous pressure, which has been shown to considerably reduce anxiety and calm your dog or puppy.

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Created with patented technology, Thundershirt’s soft and comfortable fabric applies gentle pressure that has been scientifically proven to lower stress levels in dogs. It does not restrict movement or cause discomfort, but instead provides calming reassurance similar to being hugged. This hug-like pressure on the body is known as Deep Touch Pressure (DTP), and calms dogs who suffering from all types of anxieties such as separation anxiety, travel, noise, general phobias, panic attacks and more. 

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For maximum effectiveness, you can use them along with other the other suggestions listed below.  

Bring Familiar Items 

Changes in the environment cause stress in dogs. This often happens when confined in a small space, such as an airplane cabin!

If you don’t have immediate access to food and water, bringing some of your dog’s favorite chew toys or well used blanket that smells like home or them can really help. Using these handy items allows dogs to keep occupied with something comforting while they acclimate to the new situation.  

Calming Scents & Treats 

Certain essential oils can reduce anxiety in dogs. Lavender oil is one of the most popular choices; simply apply a few drops on the inside of the Thundershirt or directly onto your dog’s fur (only if your vet approves). You can also put lavender oil on your hands and let your dog smell the scent, it’ll soothe their nerves.

Another useful item your can try, is a pheromone collar. Pheromone collars help dogs cope during stressful situations, such as flying. They contain a synthetic form of a pheromone produced by mother dogs to calm their puppies and make them feel safe.

There are also calming dog treats designed specifically for your little hairy sidekick. These treats contain ingredients such as chamomile and L-theanine, which promote relaxation. Dogs love to chew things, just the simple act of giving your dog something to chew can also help keep them distracted and calm.

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What to Do In Case of an Emergency

No one likes thinking about emergencies while traveling, but it’s important to be prepared just in case something unexpected happens.

Emergency plan

Before getting on the plane, make sure that you have all of the necessary documents, like health records and vaccination certificates readily available in case of an emergency.

Ask the airline staff if there are any special instructions or protocols they want passengers to follow when flying with dogs. This helps to ensure that everyone knows exactly what has to be done if something goes wrong mid-flight. 

Handling Layovers and Connecting Flights With an Anxious Dog

It’s a good idea to plan ahead for layovers and connecting flights to minimize your dog’s anxiety.

Some airports have designated pet relief areas where your four legged travel companion can have some leash time, stretch those multiple legs, or take care of any unpleasant business when needed ( I think you know what we mean).

If there isn’t an area available, ask the gate attendant or another helpful member of staff if there’s a place nearby where you can allow your dog to go out for a few minutes before boarding your next flight.

Pet friendly hotel - Flying With An Anxious Dog

Should you need to have an overnight stay before the next leg of your journey, be sure to book a pet-friendly hotel in advance and make sure that your reservation includes all the necessary amenities for your dog.

After the Flight

After a long flight, dogs may suffer from post-flight anxiety that can make them scared and uneasy in their new environment. Fortunately, there are some helpful steps you can take to help your pup adjust the situation.

Let’s explore what those steps are:

Create a Calm Environment 

The first thing you should do when dealing with post-flight anxiety in your dog is to create a calm, safe ares for them.

Dog being calm

This could mean keeping them away from other people or animals until they have had time to adjust. Make sure you have plenty of treats on hand as rewards for good behavior, as this will help the transition process go much smoother.

We’ve mentioned this before, but it’s just as important in this situation, provide plenty of toys and blankets. Again, this will promote feelings of comfort in your dog when surrounded by their familiar things. 

Take Your Time 

Don’t rush these things! When it comes to helping your dog adjust after a flight, don’t force your pup into situations that make them uncomfortable.

It’s much better for your furry best friend to take your time and allow them the space they need to feel safe and secure.

This means being patient when introducing them to other people or animals, allowing them the chance to sniff around and explore their new environment at their own pace. If your pup seems overwhelmed by any situation, take a step back and allow them more time before trying again. 

Stay Positive 

Perhaps the most useful, and easiest things you can do is to stay positive when dealing with post-flight anxiety in your dog.

Thumbs up - positive

Speak gently and calmly around them, give lots of praise for good behavior, and never use negative reinforcement such as scolding or punishment if they act out or display anxious behavior.

You want your furry friend to associate positive feelings with their new accommodation, so focus on building trust between the two of you rather than punishing any negative behaviors during this sensitive time.

Final Thoughts on Air Travel and Keeping your Anxious Dog Calm

The thought of boarding a plane with an extremely nervous dog may send shivers down your spin, but there are ways to make flying a hassle-free experience.

Dog on a plane looking happy - Flying With An Anxious Dog

Taking the time to prepare thoroughly , you can ensure that flying with your dog is comfortable, and enjoyable experience for both you and your pet.

  • Having the correct documents before flying
  • Making sure your dog has everything they need during the flight
  • Planning ahead for layovers or connecting flights
  • Creating a calm environment after arrival
  • Taking your time during transitions
  • Staying positive throughout the process

Following these simple steps will help reduce anxiety levels many dogs when flying, and you’ll give yourself peace of mind whatever airline you fly.

Disclaimer

All information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarian's advice.
Jen Smart

Transforming anxious pups with her wealth of hands-on practical experience, and qualified in the following disciplines: Holistic Healing, Canine Anxiety & Therapy, Zoopharmacognosy, and CBD Oil for Animals

Founder of Anxious Canine and proud member of the Complementary Medical Association.

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