While some pampered pooches nowadays have more frequent flyer points than the average businessperson, many dogs remain fearful flyers. There are many natural approaches you can take to make Scruffy a calmer passenger -- no need to pop harmful pills or do a session of doggie Zen.
The Amazing Crate
It's perhaps every dog owner's dream to have their canine companion buckle up and curl up in a passenger's seat, but until that day, dogs will have to be crated during the flight. It helps a lot to make that crate a great place to be several weeks prior to your travel date. Keep that crate door open and make it very inviting by filling it up with some soft blankets and randomly placing some treats, toys or stuffed Kongs inside. You want to create as many positive experiences with the crate so that the day your dog must travel, he will feel calmer since he is already accustomed to it and it smells like home.
As your dog gets used to his crate, you may want to get him used to traveling in it. The more you practice, the better. Try to mimic what will happen on the day of the flight. Most likely, your dog will first go on a car ride to the airport. Have a helper drive your car while you sit next to the carrier and keep an eye on your pet. As your dog gets used to traveling in it, you can add some challenges. Keeping the windows of the car rolled down while driving on a highway or driving through an old-fashioned car wash may simulate the loud noises on a flight. Make sure you are there to reassure your pet as needed and provide treats.
If you live nearby an airport, take your dog there on a frequent basis. This will get him used to airport noises, sights and smells and the place will appear less intimidating. The more you take him, the less likely he is to panic on departure day. Remember to bring along some high-value treats you can feed your dog every now and then so he learns that airports are great places. Don't have an airport nearby? You can recreate airport noises by using recordings of airplanes and airports. If your dog responds anxiously, go slower and gradually increase the volume, Vet Centers of America recommend.
While you may have practiced a lot, there are many things that are impossible to rehearse, so it's normal for your dog to be a bit on edge on the real day of the flight. If you are tense too, most likely your dog will feel that things are a bit different that day. Giving dogs sedatives or tranquilizers prior to flying impairs the dog's natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium and may increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. However, a natural calming aid such as a pheromone spray may be helpful. Whether your dog is traveling in the plane's belly or in the main cabin, it may help to spray the carrier with a pheromone spray, suggests celebrity dog trainer Tamar Geller on Oprah.com.
Tired Dogs Are Good Dogs
Exercising your dog before boarding the plane is a natural way to calm your pet and make him a better flyer. Plan some time to take him on a nice long walk before heading to the airport. This will help release some pent-up tension. Also, another brief walk at the airport just before checking him in will allow him the opportunity to relieve himself and take the edge off.
By Adrienne Farricelli
American Veterinary Medical Association: Traveling with Your Pet
Vet Centers of America Animal Hospitals: Air and Car Travel in Dogs – Behavior and Training
Oprah: Tips for Flying with Your Pet
Bring Fido: U.S. Pet Air Travel Regulations
VetInfo: Airline Travel with Dog
Dry Fur: Acclimating Your Pet Cat or Dog to Airline Crate
About the Author
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.