Flying with a dog seems like an easy task but it requires a whole lot! I’ve been traveling regularly with Bella for 5 years now, and there is just so much that I have learned through trial, error, and suggestions from other animal travelers.
To save you and your dog a bunch of time, errors, and comfortability, I am going to let you know everything you need to know to make traveling with a small dog enjoyable and easy because it can surely become very overwhelming
Necessities For Your Trip
Let’s start from the beginning. In order to have a successful & easy trip, you will need to pack all of the necessities. When I first started traveling I really didn’t know what to bring Bella besides a blanket, and food/water. Now that I am a pro, let us make sure you don’t forget some very important items on your next trip.
Animal Carrier: The criteria are different for each airline, but you MUST make sure the dimensions fit the requirements for each airline. I personally use this carrier which I got from amazon, and it fits the criteria for all airlines. It is soft-sided, small yet big enough for Bella to move comfortably. It has an outside pocket, has plenty of ventilation, and comes in a variety of colors!
Be sure to put a blanket in the bottom of your pets carrier to make it fluffy and comfortable for them. If I didn’t make Bella’s carrier inviting and comfortable, she would dislike the carrier which would make traveling a lot more difficult. With that being said, also be mindful of your dog overheating on a hot flight. Chances are if you are hot, so is your animal laying on a blanket.
Also note that when traveling with an animal, the carrier usually counts as your personal item so you will want to get a carrier with extra pockets for your smaller items. I always put a book, my jacket, and a few odds and ends in Bella’s carrier and I just hold her through the airport.
All Documents: I always keep a folder under the blanket in the bottom of Bella’s carrier. She doesn’t even know it is there, and it is always handy and easy to pull out. In this folder, I always keep Bella’s veterinarian records proving that her shots are up to date. I also keep her documentation for being an emotional support animal. This will all be needed at the counter when checking into the airport. I keep it in this folder in her carrier throughout the trip to ensure I do not lose it for our flight back home.
If you are going on a long flight and your dog will be in the carrier for a long time, there is a good chance he will pee. If this is the case, you should probably put the documents in your carry on bag or laptop bag.
Leash/collar/harness: Personally, I always use a harness for Bella. I don’t like things pulling on her neck for any reason. She doesn’t pull a leash, and she stays right by my feet whether she’s on the leash or not. Luckily, she is very well trained and calm. I would definitely recommend a harness for dogs with more energy that may want to run around and greet people, so you are pulling your dog’s body and not his neck. I would recommend a retractable leash as well because you can control the length that you keep your dog at. Sometimes you will need your dog closer, and sometimes you will be able to let your dog explore a bit more. This is easily controlled by a retractable leash.
I also ALWAYS keep little poopy bags tied on the handle of Bella’s leash, or one of these attachable bag holders. These are perfect because even if you know your dog very well, they may surprise you and you may have to pick up his poo. It is super embarrassing to be caught without a bag handy.
Special gear/identification: Bella is an emotional support animal, so she wears a special harness to let people know that she is not just a pet. Although this special harness is not a necessity for an emotional support animal, it makes traveling easier. I have also noticed that it significantly helped with random people swarming us to constantly pet Bella. When she wears her harness, people still ask to pet her which is fine, but its far less than when she doesn’t have on her harness.
This really helps with limiting a bunch of random people just reaching at her, which can become overwhelming for both of us. With Bella’s E.S.A patch, people also know that Bella is friendly and trained because she just looks like a puppy.
Blanket: We don’t go anywhere without a blanket on the bottom of her crate. The bottom is not comfortable or warm without one. Your dog will hate being in it’s carrier if you don’t make it comfortable and appealing. We always make it nice and cozy in there for her, although she usually sits in my lap anyway. In that case, I keep the blanket on my lap to make a cozy bed for her and some warmth for me!
Favorite Toys & Bones: Bella isn’t too interested in toys for the most part, and she isn’t an orally motivated dog. She doesn’t care much to chew on bones for toys for enjoyment. She is a spoiled brat that would rather have somebody petting her at all times. If your dog is nothing like Bella, don’t forget to bring a few of it’s favorite toys and treats. Chew toys and bones make great for distracting your dog during the flight.
Of course, I recommend all-natural bones, treats, and chew things. I NEVER EVER EVER give Bella rawhide and when I see other people looking through rawhide bones at the store I always direct them to the other bones and show them what to look for. Usually, they are newer doggie-parents and appreciate the help. If you want to know why rawhide is bad, ask your veterinarian or just Google it.
I especially love giving Bella dehydrated jerky to chew. Usually, I make it for her, but you can get some here. I would choose chicken, beef, or turkey when traveling. Bella loves fish skin but I don’t bring that on the plane with us.
Food/Water supplies: I always bring a little bit of food with me to get us through the flight in case Bella starts to get hungry, but she will rarely eat in a weird place like an airport or airplane anyway. Bring a small amount of food and keep it in your carrier through security. I usually just buy her new food when we get to our destination.
I also recommend a small travel water bowl and an empty water bottle. Once you pass through security, you can fill the water bottle at a water fountain for your dog to drink during the flight.
If your flight is not super long, I do not recommend giving our dog water until after you have landed. Chances are your dog will have to go to the bathroom and may start whining or barking. I avoid giving Bella water, so her bladder stays as empty as possible.
Calming medicine: Ask your veterinarian before giving your dog ANYTHING! Ask about dosages, different brands, how often, and any other question you can think of. I am not a veterinarian, I am NOT telling you what is good for your specific dog to ingest. I only know my own dog, which is a healthy 5 year old teacup Yorkshire Terrier.
Some dogs need to be calmed a bit when traveling. I did not crate train Bella so she was not used to being locked up in any crate or carrier. My veterinarian recommended children’s Benadryl to give Bella to help her sleep during our flight, and it works perfectly every time! I have a great routine down.
I always give Bella some children’s Benadryl about an hour before going to the airport (almost 3 hours before departure time), which means the medicine will kick in shortly before our flight. Also, I do not give Bella much Benadryl and I advise speaking to your veterinarian about dosages. My veterinarian told me I could not overdose on Bella, which leads me to believe it is very safe for dogs.
In The Airport
Plan to be at the airport about 3 hours before your departure time. They always advise extra time at the counter to show your papers and pay for your animal if you haven’t already. You can’t go through the pre-check even if you have the apps on your phone. Your animal will usually need a paper ticket that is printed and marked at the initial airline counter.
If you have an emotional support animal, you will need to bring a few other items to the airport & the rules are a bit different. I wrote a whole page on information about having an emotional support animal, and you can pretty much find all you need to know in there.
Always take your dog on a walk before going through security. DO NOT FORGET! Once you get through security, there is rarely anywhere for your dog to go to the bathroom. I have found one airport that had a small caged outside area for dogs after security. I hope more airports do that.
I hold Bella in my arms all the way through security and I let her walk on her leash we I am putting my shoes on and getting my bags back in order.
While waiting for our plane, I always make sure to tire her out. I like to sit and do work on the computer in the airport but when Bella is getting sleepy, I make her play with me and we go for walks. I can really tell that she starts fighting her sleep and she just wants to be left alone. By the time we are boarding our flight, she can barely keep her little eyes open.
On your flight
The dog’s carrier is supposed to remain under the seat in front of you, until you get off the plane. Because Bella is an emotional support animal, I can keep her on my lap the whole time. Instead of using medicine for my anxiety, I hug Bella. Before she was prescribed as my E.S.A, we have traveled quite a few times with her in the carrier, in front of me. I would always keep her out of the carrier until we are about to board our flight.
She’s pretty good at sleeping through the whole flight … until we start to descend. I am assuming it messes with her ears because she always wakes up when we are about to land. When she starts to whimper, I ball up our favorite blanket on my lap and make her a nice bed to cuddle on. Then I ease her back to sleep and pet her until we land.
Sometimes, you may be able to stick your hand in the carrier and soothe your dog for a few minutes. If your dog is more orally motivated than Bella, this is where a fun chew toy or bone would be great. Get your dog interested in that to distract him for a while.
Sometimes she likes to watch us take off!
On your trip, you will encounter so many different personality types, you might not know whether you are doing something right or wrong. It makes me laugh when we see how differently people respond to having an animal near them …. even when the animal is harmless, hypo-allogenic, and the cutest thing in the whole world.
The first personality type that you will encounter is a dog lover. Now if you already have a dog, you know how people respond to a cute dog with the high-pitched “awww a puppy” exclamation. This is always nice and Bella loves the attention, but in an environment such as an airport, this can be overwhelming. It can also considerably slow you down which isn’t very convenient if you do not have ample time to get through the airport.
Most times, I arrive early enough so it is not a problem. I also like when people pet and play with Bella to tire her out before our flight. I never let her relax or sleep in the airport. We play, walk around, and accept the most attention from others.
You will also encounter many haters. Bella is an emotional support animal, so we sometimes get mean looks or sayings from people who assume she is not really needed as my E.S.A or by people who don’t even know what that is. Unfortunately, many people are scamming the system right now so they cause much skepticism.
Traveling with a small dog is really what you make it. If you set yourself up for failure, the trip is going to be difficult. If you are prepared, you will make the trip east and enjoyable!