How To Travel With Your Dog (Car, Airplane, Ship, Train) – Top Safety Tips

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These days, many people enjoy taking their dogs on vacation with them. Dogs can enjoy traveling on airplanes, ships, trains, or even just for a day trip in the family SUV.

So, how do you ensure that your faithful furry friend travels safely, whatever mode of transport you choose to use for your journey?

Read this guide to learn how to travel with a dog, by air, sea, train, or road.

Before You Go …

There are a few health and safety items to address before you set off on your vacation with Fido and your family.

Health Checks

close up of vet making vaccine to dog at clinic

Not every dog enjoys traveling, and the experience can be stressful for your pet. The last thing you want is to arrive at your destination country with a sick, miserable dog. So, take your furry friend to your vet for a full health check before you set off on your extended trip. 

All your dog’s vaccinations must be up-to-date, and you’ll need to take his records with you. Health certificates are required for airline and some ship travel. 

It’s also good to have your dog’s nails trimmed a week or so before you travel so that the claws don’t get caught in the crate.

Take Your Dog’s Regular Food With Your

To avoid stomach upsets, be sure to pack a supply of your dog’s regular diet for your trip. Bring plenty of bottled water and any medication that your dog needs.

We recommend taking a collapsible water bowl with you for your journey. Offer your dog small amounts of water throughout the trip so that he doesn’t get dehydrated.

Emergency Services

Pet travel can be worrying for owners, so it’s vital that you know who to contact in the event of an emergency situation. 

So, do some research and find the contact information for the closest 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic to your destination. Program the numbers into your cell phone together with the number of your regular vet. If the veterinarians need to speak with each other, you have both the numbers on hand.

Potty Training

Miniature Golden Doodle Puppy and Potty Training

Although it might sound funny, it’s essential that your dog is happy to relieve himself on multiple services rather than only on grass. 

You might not know when and where you’ll be able to provide your dog with a potty stop, so he must be happy to go on concrete, gravel, mulch, and grass. Using different surfaces for toileting will save accidents when you’re in transit, so it’s well worth taking the time to train your dog.

Remember to take plenty of poop bags with you, as well as your dog’s harness and leash.

Take Toys And Games

A long journey can be boring and tedious, especially for a lively, bright dog. To keep your dog from becoming bored, take some games and interactive toys that your dog can play with within his crate.

How To Transport Your Dog

The safest and most comfortable way to transport your dog is in a cage.

Crates are essential for airline travel and are the best way to keep your dog safe in the car. You can also use the crate to house your dog once you arrive at your destination hotel or campground.

Whatever type of carrier you choose to purchase, look out for the following features:

  • The crate must be large enough to allow your dog to stand up, sit up, lie down, and turn around.
  • The crate must be of sturdy construction with handles for easy portability, and it should be free from any interior protrusions that could harm your dog.
  • The bottom of the crate must not leak and should be lined with paper or something absorbent in case of accidents.
  • The crate should have good airflow on either side to allow good ventilation through the crate.
  • If you’re traveling by air, and if the crate is likely to be out of your sight at any time, you need to fix “Live Animal” labels with arrows showing the upright position. Your name, address, and contact telephone numbers should also be clearly displayed.
  • The crate should be stocked with a comfortable crate mat or pad, a crate water bottle or bowl, and an interactive toy to keep your dog amused during his journey.

You can read more about choosing a suitable crate for your dog in the article at this link.

Identification

Microchip scanning a young French Bulldog

If your dog escapes from you during your trip, you’ll be much more likely to be reunited with your pet if he can be easily and quickly identified.  

Collar

Your dog should wear a collar bearing your dog’s ID tags with his name, your name, contact information, and proof that your pet has had his rabies shots. If you’re likely to be away for any length of time, we recommend that you buy a second ID tag that provides the location and contact information of your vacation destination.

Microchip

As a responsible pet owner, it’s good to have your dog microchipped

A microchip doesn’t hurt your dog, and chipping your pet is not expensive. The dog’s details will be entered into a national database. If your dog runs away and is found, a vet can scan your pet for the chip. The chip’s number is then run against the database to bring up your dog’s details. You’ll then be contacted and reunited with your runaway pet.

Photo ID

It’s also a good idea to bring along a recent photograph of your dog and his health certificates, health records, and vaccination records.

Trains, Planes, and Automobiles …

Now you’re all set to go; let’s find out more about traveling with your dog on different forms of transport.

Car Travel

Dog In Car Seat With Safe Belt

Most dog owners travel with their pets by car. That sounds routine enough, but there are some crucial factors to bear in mind before you hit the road with your canine companion:

Practice Makes Perfect

A week or two before you set off on your road trip, get your dog accustomed to the idea of riding in your car by loading him into his crate and just sitting on your driveway with you for a few minutes. 

You can take your dog for short rides when you know your dog is happy with that.

Prevent Car Sickness

Some dogs get car sick, so make sure your pet is well-hydrated and don’t feed him for a few hours before your travel.

Ensure Good Airflow

Your dog won’t be comfortable if it’s too hot, so make sure that the car is well ventilated and that your dog’s crate has good airflow.

Safe Travel

Never let your dog ride loose in your car or with his head stuck out of an open window. A loose dog becomes a deadly projectile in a crash, and many eye injuries are sustained by dogs riding with their heads outside the vehicle.

Similarly, do not allow your dog to ride in the back of an open pickup. That can lead to your dog falling or jumping from the vehicle and potentially being killed.

If you have kids in the car with you, instruct them not to torment or annoy the dog during the journey.

Potty Breaks

Potty training for puppy

Remember that your dog will need regular comfort breaks throughout your journey. Plan rest stops for your pet and pack plenty of poop bags so that you can clean up after your dog. 

Summer Safety

Never leave your dog unattended in your vehicle in hot weather.

Even if you leave a window cracked open, the temperature inside the car will quickly soar, and many dogs have died from overheating in hot cars.

If you have to leave your pet in the car, ensure that someone stays with him and keep the time short.

Air Travel

If you’re traveling long distances interstate or out of the country, you’ll most likely need to fly. Many airlines allow dogs to travel on their airplanes, either as cabin “luggage” or in the cargo hold.

Pre-flight Vet Check

Your dog won’t be allowed to travel unless you can provide health certification to the airline no more than ten days before travel. You’ll also need to produce rabies and vaccination certificates, and your dog must be at least eight weeks of age and weaned.

Note that it’s your responsibility to ensure your dog is fit and healthy to fly. If you think your dog might become stressed or anxious during the flight, ask your veterinarian if your dog should be tranquilized for the journey.

Temperature Check

Vet Checking Temperature of Dog

Ask the airline what the temperature will be at the flight’s starting point and on arrival. There’s a chance it could be too cold or hot to be safe for your furry friend.

Airline travel federal regulations prohibit travel for animals in the cargo hold if the animal is exposed to air temperatures of over 85 degrees or less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit for over four hours. That rule applies to departure, arrival, or picking up connections between airports.

Whenever possible, choose flights that accommodate extremes of temperature. For example, late evening or early morning flights are best for summer journeys, and afternoon flights are better in wintertime.

Crate Requirements

Each airline has its own rules on what crates are acceptable for dogs traveling. You don’t want to arrive at the check-in desk with your dog in a soft-sided carrier that’s not permitted on the airplane cargo hold.

Some airlines may permit your dog to travel in the passenger cabin in a soft-sided carrier, provided that the page fits under the seat in front of you.

Generally, airlines require small and medium-sized dogs to travel in an approved plastic carrier. Large breeds can usually ride in a solid, metal crate. The carrier doors must be securely locked so your dog can’t escape mid-flight.

Food And Water

dog drinking from a water bottle
Image Source: Instagram.com

It’s best not to feed your dog for a couple of hours before your flight so that your pup doesn’t get sick in his crate. However, drinking water should always be available for your pet. A water bottle that attaches to the crate is best, as it won’t spill, making the crate uncomfortable for your dog.

Make A Reservation

When traveling by air, you’ll need to make a reservation for your dog. Airlines have restrictions on the number of dogs and other animals that can board each flight, and reservations are accepted on a first-come, first-served premise.

Ask if your dog can fly with you in the cabin. That’s a safer option for your dog than riding in the cargo hold.

Is Air Travel Safe For Dogs?

Air travel can be potentially risky for dogs, especially brachycephalic breeds, such as Bulldogs and Pugs. Thanks to their short nasal passages, these breeds can be especially susceptible to heat stroke and oxygen deprivation.

Never fly flat-faced dog breeds in the cargo hold of an airplane.

Security screening

Your dog will have to pass through the airport security screening desk with you. 

Here, you can either hold your pet outside his crate, provided that he’s securely harnessed, or ask for a secondary screening that doesn’t require you to take your dog out of his carrier.

Cargo Hold Dangers

Can You Rent Crates

Although most people who travel with dogs in the cargo hold don’t experience any problems, you should know that some animals are lost or even die while on commercial flights every year.

The usual cause of pet loss is either rough handling, excessively cold or hot temperatures, or inadequate ventilation. You can avoid handling issues by flying during peak holiday periods and other busy travel times. 

Most American airlines and European travel companies report all pet travel incidents that take place in the cargo hold, and we advise that you study the performance record and travel history of the airline you’re planning to use before you decide to fly with your pet in the cargo hold. 

Fly Direct

If possible, book direct flights. Flying direct removes the likelihood of errors occurring during airport transfers and potential delays in taking your furry friend off the plane.

Travel Together

If possible, travel on the same flight as your dog. Tell the airline staff that you want to watch your pet while he’s being loaded and unloaded into and from the cargo hold.

When you have boarded the plane and taken your seat, ask at least one flight attendant to notify the captain that your dog is traveling in the cargo hold.

ID Precautions

Labrador Retriever with red collar

Ensure that your dog’s collar carries two forms of ID; your home address and telephone number and your temporary travel and accommodation details.

Also, attach a travel label to your dog’s crate that bears the same information as detailed above. You’ll also need to include the details of a contact person who can be contacted on the flight’s arrival.

Check Your Dog On Arrival

When you arrive at your vacation destination, open your dog’s crate or carrier as soon as you’re in a safe place and check that your pet has traveled safely.

If anything appears to be wrong with your dog or you have any concerns, seek veterinary advice right away. Be sure to get a written report from the vet of his findings, including dates and times.

Make A Complaint!

If you’re unhappy with the handling of your dog or anyone else’s, raise your concerns immediately with the manager of the airport section where the incident occurred, and report the incident in writing.

Traveling by Train or Bus

Young Woman And Her Dog In City Bus

If your travel plans include traveling by train or bus, you need to know a few essential details.

If you want to travel on a train or bus, there are some rules to be aware of:

  • Amtrak trains only allow dogs weighing under 20 pounds, and you’ll have to pay a $25 fee.
  • Greyhound and other interstate bus companies do not permit dogs to travel, except for service dogs. However, local bus and rail firms may have their own policies, so check before leaving home.

Generally, pets are permitted to ride on most trains in European countries. However, check with your proposed carrier before you finalize your travel plans.

Boat Travel

Generally, with a few exceptions, cruise lines do not permit travel for animals. Usually, only assistance dogs and service animals can travel on cruise ships, and that’s generally on ocean crossings only. That said, some lines will allow pets to travel in private cabins, although most insist that pets are confined to kennels.

We advise that you contact your cruise company well in advance to find out what its policies are regarding travel for animals. Some ships have kennel facilities, but if you’re using that, check that your dog’s kennel is sheltered from the elements, and be sure to check your pet frequently.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed our guide to traveling with your dog. If you found the information helpful, please take a moment to share the article.

Traveling with your dog can be a happy, safe experience for both of you if you take a few simple precautions before you set off. Ensure that your dog is fit to travel, that his vaccinations are up to date, and that your pet is in good health. Invest in a sturdy, comfortable crate for your pet to ride in, and take time to crate train your dog before you embark on your journey.

Do you take your dog on vacation? Why not share your top dog travel tips in the comments box below!

Meet our writer

Alison Page was brought up with dogs and various other pets! For a few years, Alison worked as a Practice Manager in a small animal veterinary clinic. Alison is now a full-time writer, specializing in creating articles on the care and training of dogs, cats, and fish.

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