Traveling with a Service Dog: Airline Travel Part 2

With a service dog in tow, Mary McNeight, CPDT-KA has traveled to dog training conferences and seminars around the country because of her commitment to continuing her education as a professionally certified dog trainer at Service Dog Academy’s West Seattle dog training studio. This is the second in a series of videos sharing tips on making airline travel with a service dog as comfortable and stress-free as possible. While these videos focus on traveling with a service dog, a lot of this information can apply to pet dog travel, too!

1. Exercise, exercise, and more exercise. Flying can stress out a dog, but and exhausted dog is much calmer. Give your dog at least 45-minutes of heart-pumping exercise before leaving for the airport. This doesn’t mean a walk – this means jogging, running, playing fetch, swimming, ball chasing, or any other high energy activities your dog likes to do.

2. Empty Stomach. Withhold food and water at least four hours before your flight. This will prevent nausea and ensure your dog doesn’t need to go to the bathroom during the entire length of your flight or layover. Should your assistance dog need to go outside during a layover, the two of you will be going all the way back through security a second time.

3. Empty the Tank. If the dog is scared on the airplane, this will prevent him from having any accidents. You’ve withheld food and water, but to make sure your dog is totally empty, be sure your dog empties both bowels and bladder right before your flight. Learn how to train your dog to go on command using positive reinforcement, and be the envy of everyone in the cabin by having the best behaved, accident-free service dog.

4. Anxiety relief solution/Benadryl. Homeopathic remedies can help with relieving anxiety for your dog. There are several varieties on the market, including HomeoPet Solutions, developed to naturally relieve anxiety for your dog. Benadryl is a safe alternative to sedatives that will make your dog tired.

Test them on your dog a few weeks before your flight to make sure the homeopathic remedies and the Benadryl don’t have any adverse effects. In some cases, Benadryl can make a dog hyper. Take note that we do not advise, and most veterinarians will not prescribe a sedative for your dog for air travel because the pressure in the cabin and the altitude can have negative effects on a sedated dog.

5. Practice TTouch Therapy. This is a therapeutic massage that will help reduce anxiety levels. Massage the ears and chest before you board so your dog is relaxed and ready for take-off.

6. Do a Test Run. Especially if you are traveling far, buy a ticket to an airport closer to your location as a test run before your main flight to see that everything will go smoothly. For example, if you live in Seattle, a ticket to Portland might cost $75-$100, but worth it to know exactly what to expect with a typical flight. Test-flying to a closer airport enables you to take a train or alternative mode of transportation should your dog not be comfortable with flying.

The Service Dog Academy provides low cost, do-it-yourself training to all types of training needs. Funding from our basic obedience for puppies and adult dogs goes toward funding our low-cost service dog and diabetic alert dog training for people with disabilities. Have fun traveling with your service dog, and always be prepared.

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  1. A suggestion you could add: Look into the Anxiety Wrap or Thundershirt. Anxiety Wrap is the original version and from what I was able to find in reviews, people tend to say either that the Anxiety Wrap worked better for them, or that neither worked for them. Thundershirt is a later brand, but seems to be better known these days. Both cost about the same (around $40).

    The concept is that the wrap/shirt feels like a hug — it helps them feel secure. It’s similar in concept to the “hug mats” that autistic kids sometimes use and the “squeeze chutes” designed by Temple Grandin for farm animals to keep them calm and comfortable. I understand you can get a similar effect with Ace Bandages, and you can try those if you want to test out the idea before buying one, just be careful about tightness.

    We have an Anxiety Wrap and it works very well for my greyhound’s separation anxiety. We call it his “muscle shirt”, since it looks like he’s wearing a muscle shirt and jock strap! I put it on him about 20 minutes before we leave, any time we’re going to leave him home without humans for a while. When we come home, we find him calm and relaxed, and no “stress messes” like before we had this.

    I would suggest (to anyone planning on flying with a dog) getting one of these wraps a few weeks before flying and trying it on your dog a few times, building up the time he wears it, so he’s used to it before you fly. Then just put it on before you go to the airport. He should be fine wearing it for the entire flight.

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