Updated: Jan 11
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Traveling with animals (referred to as dogs in this post, if you're traveling with any other animal just mentally replace a dog with the pet of your choice!) can be extremely stressful and chaotic. Here we will discuss the tips and tricks I've learned after 15 years as an 'frequent flyer' Southwest Member, traveling to 8 states with my Service Dog. Including specific links and recommendations.
It will be broken up in 2 parts; flying and road tripping. Let's start with easier of the two!
You and your dogs' safety is something to definitely take in account with traveling by car, especially for long distances. Dog's are like kids, they get ansy. If your furry friend is constantly moving around and trying to kiss and cuddle you, it can be dangerous since you're driving! This is why we don't travel without a backseat cover. It doubles as a separation from him jumping in our lap and a fur blocker for the seat. That's not all, you're also missing a pet seat belt buckle. This clips onto any harness and it will not only keep them in place but will protect them if you end up in an accident.
Pets aren't in cars as often as we are and it can be extremely frightening for them. Something you can do to prepare them is to just hangout in the driveway with them in the backseat. Play with toys, feed them treats or just cuddle. Make it an inviting atmosphere and this will help them be more calm during your actual trip.
Fun fact is Hamilton wouldn't even get in car when he was a puppy! Part of his training was he had to get in and out on command as he would have to get in a car anytime his handler did. He obviously mastered it but you might have to be patient, each dog is different.
If your pup is extremely scared to even go in the car, then don’t push it. Start by having them walk around the car with the doors open, play and feed them treats. Encourage them to get in the car but don’t force it. Then work up to getting in the car over time.
Be extremely mindful of Service Animals (dogs & miniature horses) when you’re in an airport. Try to have your pet in a carrier or hold them. Remember Service Animals are trained for life saving tasks so if they are being distracted from a pulling and/or loud pet they might miss an alert and their handler could become hurt or worse. They might look like they are resting or sleeping but as soon as their handler needs assistance; glucose/blood sugar/heart rate rises, oncoming seizure, etc they will instantly react.
What to Pack
We fly with a backpack like this: Collapsible bowls for food and water, food, treats, gear, dog boots, tennis ball and any other toys, blanket (if you want to lay one down on the plane), medicine, shampoo! I always pack some dog shampoo so I can give him a bath before we fly back.
To prep your dog to tuck under the airplane seat, have them sit on the floorboard of the passenger seat of a car. Hamilton is 60 pounds and he can fit with spare room, it's about technique and training.
I prefer sitting in the window seat on the 2nd row and not the bulkhead (we only found this out after 6 flights!) I prefer the second row because it gives Hamilton a more structured space to stay. I also feel like I have more leg room since he can tuck under the seat in front of us. Since Hamilton is a Service Dog we pre-board so someone can assist me down to the plane. If you have a pet or ESA I would recommend anything past the 4th row.
I recommend fasting your pup from food and water one meal (12 hours) before the flight to avoid accidents. Even if your pup is good at holding it, it's possible because of nerves they might go when they shouldn’t. We prefer early morning flights, and before Hamilton was a frequent flyer I would fast him dinner before the flight and water was taken away at 6pm. When we arrive to our final destination, as long as it's before 12pm I will go ahead and feed him breakfast. Fasting doesn’t include treats!
Depending on your flight time you will want to build up your dog's ability to hold it. Take in account more than just flight time, you have to also think about the 2+ hours before the flight, de-boarding, baggage claim, etc. Estimate an additional 5 hours to your flight time. Hamilton will potty on turf but for some reason he won’t go in the airport relief areas. He hates even being in the room. So in case your pup feels the same way, be prepared and confident that they will make the flight with no accidents. Here are US airport animal relief areas.
As I mentioned, I only fly on early morning flights so I put Hamilton in Doggy Daycare the day before. He gets a bath before I pick him up. I do NOT recommend exercising your dog the day of. They will need more water and thus increasing the chances of an accident. If your dog is not a Service Dog, and small enough to carry in your arms, you might use benadryl or approved sedatives. Ask your vet!
Pets- you’ll be asking to walk through the older standard security scanner. Depending on your dog's gear you’ll set off the monitor. They are prepared and they will pat down you, your dog and gear, then swab your hands for chemicals and GSR.
Service Animals- You’ll also be walking through the older standard security scanner. I keep Hamilton in gear to make our lives easier. I have him sit before the scanner, I walk through, then I call him through. Only do this if your Service Dog is fully tasked-trained and has strong off leash control. They will ask to pat your Service Animal down and test your hands for chemicals and GSR. An easy way to train this is at doorways. Have your SD heel, sit and then wait. Walk through the doorway and then call them through.
Some teams prefer to remove all gear to walk through the detector together. It’s totally up to your preference! YOU get to decide, not the TSA agent.
For specifically dogs, pack some quiet and smell free toys. Hamilton loves durable chews by Sporn or Benebone; we order ours on Amazon. Though we don’t use them while he's working (including in flight) other teams or pets might want to. There’s nothing wrong with it, its up to you.
Now packing food can be difficult depending on how long you’re traveling and how much your dog eats. Hamilton is now on a raw diet so we buy food for him when we get there, always taking some emergency kebble in our checked luggage just in case.
I recommend packing food in your checked luggage. Sometimes security can be picky about food (that's not sealed) in your carry on. Portion out your dog’s food and include 2-3 extra meals just in case.
The other option is to pre-order it on Chewy.com and have it delivered to your final destination spot.
If you have a Service Dog you might (depending on the airline) be able to ask for an additional bag for your dog's gear and necessary because it is considered medical equipment. Call your airline before you fly and ask about it, if you feel like you need it. I personally have never needed to.
Blind, disassociating, etc.
If you have a Service Animal and are blind, dissociate often or something else that might limit your ability to get to the different checkpoints, I recommend asking for a wheelchair and an attendant. I first heard about this from Molly Burke! It’s a physical representation of your disability and people can't forget to assist you and guide you to where you need to go. Only ask for this, if you actually need it.