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Can My Dog Fly With His Favorite Toy?

Published on: August 3, 2016  |  Author: Starwood Animal Transport


Just as­ Linus, the famous Peanuts comic strip character, loves his blanket, many dogs have a favorite toy. It brings them both joy and comfort. If you and your dog are about to embark on an airplane trip, making your dog comfortable in his air crate is an obvious concern. So how ‘bout that favorite toy? Can he take it with him in his kennel?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Loose objects, even a soft toy, can become hazards in the confined space. But there are other steps you can take toward making your dog more comfortable in his air crate.

First and foremost: get that crate, so he can get used to it

Any dog traveling by air must be in a carrier approved by the International Air Transport Association, or IATA. All airlines subscribe to this same rule. IATA specifications ensure the kennel is sturdy, well-ventilated and secure enough to protect your dog throughout his journey. That includes transport to and from the plane as well as on board.

You must purchase the correct size kennel for your dog. Don’t guess, measure him. The kennel must be tall enough inside for him to sit or stand without his head (or his ears, if they are erect) touching the ceiling of the carrier. United Airlines requires there be a 3” gap if your dog is flying outside the US or Puerto Rico. Overall dimensions must be roomy enough so he can easily turn around and lie down.

If your pooch is tiny, and your airline allows him to travel in the cabin with you, you have a little more choice. You can use a hard-sided carrier or a soft, shoulder-bag style. (Hint: the latter will be more comfortable for you, too, as you carry your pup around the airport.) Just be sure to find out the dimensions of the under-seat space on your flight(s) – different makes and models of aircraft have different size spaces.

Make acquisition of your dog’s travel carrier a top priority. That way, he will have the most time to get familiar with it. This is fundamental to making your dog more comfortable in his air crate.

Familiarization tricks: the kennel

Every dog is different, and you know your pup best. Even if he is crate-trained and doesn’t mind confined spaces, his travel kennel will be a new confined space. And some dogs are afraid of being closed-in. Either way, your guy will be least stressed if it smells like home to him. So, buy it early and start the introduction process. Leave the door open, and invite him to explore the carrier. You can motivate him with snacks, his regular feeding or toys. Sit next to the crate with him, so he associates it with you.

If your dog is leery of confined spaces to begin with, this process is all the more critical. Start with the top half of the kennel removed, so it seems more like a bed than a box. At first, you may have to sit in it yourself while handing out treats to reassure him it’s an OK place. Encourage him to sit and snooze in it, then introduce the cover later on.

A soft bed

Even though loose objects are not allowed, there is one thing you are required to put in your dog’s carrier. You’ll need to line the floor with something absorbent. That’s in case of an accident, but softer flooring will make your dog’s carrier feel less like a carton and more like a bed. This is your big opportunity to give him something that complies with the rules and gives him a sense of home.

You may have read that shredded newspaper is a good choice. Maybe for hamsters, but your dog deserves better. Besides, here at Starwood Animal Transport, we’ve seen first-hand the chagrin of pet parents who used newspaper only to have their dear white dog arrive a depressing shade of gray. So we recommend against newspaper.

On the other hand, a towel or small blanket that belongs to your dog is ideal. It’s soft and absorbent, and it is undeniably his. Brilliant.

Familiarization tricks: sights and sounds

It’s not just the kennel that will be new to your dog. His trip will include signs, sounds and people he has probably never encountered. That can be scary, but you can help him “encounter” these environmental issues beforehand, too. Take him for rides in the car in his kennel. Walk him around areas where there are loud noises and confusion or other animals.

The more things you do to show your pooch that his new kennel and environmental changes are perfectly normal, the more successful you’ll be at making your dog comfortable in his air crate. 

Flying with your pet