Dog Travel Tips: By Plane, Train or Automobile!

Dog Travel Tips: By Plane, Train or Automobile!

Your dog is your best friend, and ideally, also a great travel companion! Whether you’re heading out for the holidays or setting off on an adventure of hiking and outdoor exploration, ten times out of ten, your dog would rather come with you than be left at home with the pet sitter. And hopefully, you'd rather have your beloved canine by your side as well.

However, traveling with a dog is more complex than traveling alone – and your success will often depend on the size, health, and temperament of the dog in question.

Smaller dogs travel more easily, but also tend to be more nervous. Larger dogs on the other hand can be difficult to book, but tend to handle travel better. Today, we're diving into the world of all modes of canine transportation, be it by plane, train, or automobile. 

two dogs travelling in a car

Planning Ahead: Get Your Dog Ready to Travel

  • Prepare Your Dog

dog at vet
    • Vet trip
    • Updated tags and microchip data
    • Limit food before the trip & pack poop bags
    • Exercise before the trip for a tired, easygoing doggo
  • Prepare Your Trip

dog laying next to carrier
    • The right carrier or crate
    • Book a pet-friendly hotel
    • Balance transfers and potty stops
    • Pack your dog's favorite things and essentials

The first step, no matter what kind of trip you're taking, is to make sure that your dog and your travel plans are prepped and coordinated. Your dog should get an extra trip to the vet to make sure they’re healthy – especially if they'll be at high altitudes on a plane – and to update their tags and microchip information to minimize risk if (dog forbid) your pup temporarily escapes on the road. Also, make sure you have a pet-friendly hotel and that your dog is sleepy with a mostly empty stomach when it's time to load up.

pet friendly hotel

Can You Fly With Your Dog in the Cabin?

Can you fly with your dog? Can your dog sit with you in the plane cabin? Good questions, but the answer depends both on the airline and the breed/size of your dog. You will also need to book passage for your dog early, as only five or six pets are allowed per flight.

Small Dogs in Under-the-Seat Carriers

small dog in carrier at airport

The dogs most likely to fly in the cabin are small dogs whose carriers can fit under your airplane seat. Carry-on dogs take up no more space than your carry-on bag and if they remain quiet, your dog might even go unnoticed by most of the passengers and crew. However, approval for carry-on dogs depends on the airline, so be sure to double-check with them ahead of time. 

Large Dogs Must Travel as Cargo

husky in crate being loaded onto airplane

Larger dogs typically must travel as cargo. You will want to prepare a very safe and padded crate, and it can help to pin a laminated note to the crate's front sharing your pet's name and thanking baggage handlers for their special care. You will need to decide whether your dog's health and temperament can handle traveling as cargo. Also, it’s never advisable to "ship" your dog, especially if the temperatures are too high or too low at your starting point or destination.

Some Dogs Simply Cannot Fly

brown french bulldog

There are some dogs who simply cannot fly. Dogs that are too sick may not be advised to fly, as well as snub-nosed dogs like bulldogs and pugs that may have breathing problems at high altitudes. Some airlines also ban all "bully" breeds.

Can You Take Your Dog on Train Rides?

It is sometimes possible to take your dog with you on train rides. Outside of service dogs, only some trains and lines allow pets onboard, and there are often very specific restrictions.

beagle riding on train

Know Your Pet-Friendly Train Lines

Amtrak, the most common train line in the US, allows pets on 40 of its lines, and only in pet-friendly cars. Your pet will not be able to join you in sleeping cars or first-class/business-class cars. There are also local train lines within cities and large venues that will have their own pet passenger rules.

Small Pets and Train Approval

Small pets are the most likely to be approved, either on a leash or inside a carrier. The rules vary depending on the train company and the specific line. Amtrak allows for dogs and cats up to 20 lbs. on pet-friendly lines. There may be other limitations as well, like breed and behavior.

Trip Duration Limitations

Amtrak also limits pet train tickets to less than 7 hours including transfers. This can be seen as a humane decision to ensure pets have time to be cared for in between train rides, but means you will need to plan for daily pet-friendly lodgings for multi-day train trips.

Road Trips: The Favored Method for Dog Travel

golden retriever riding in car

If you have a large or medically sensitive dog, road trips are sometimes the only way to travel happily together. It's not considered a good idea to sedate dogs for car trips, but with a little preparation, most dogs will love to share a road trip experience with you.

Get Used to the Car Before Heading Out

If you have a road trip with your dog on the calendar, get them used to the car before your big trip. Start taking car rides to the park and around the block. Get your dog familiar with the idea of car rides, and train them to believe there are usually good things like treats, parks, and play on the other side of a trip. Give them treats for calm behavior and, if possible, bring along a travel partner to comfort your dog while you drive.

Cabin Space, Stops, and Companionship

The best thing about road trips with your dog is that they can always stay in the cabin, you can make plenty of fun potty stops, and you keep each other company on the road. Dogs and children can help keep each other calm and entertained on the trip, or your dog may be your cool, calm one-on-one road trip buddy.

No Size or Breed Limitations

You also don't have to worry about travel limitations. Big dogs, snub-nosed dogs, and nervous dogs can all travel by road trip and have a great time without the worry of airline or train regulations.

Enjoy the Freedom & Responsibility of Road-Tripping with Your Dog

Lastly, you will need to take extra responsibility when road-tripping with your dog. Harness and leash training can help, as can good behavior training to help your dog stay calm inside the car. You will need to plan pit stops, pack your dog's food and water bowls with plenty of kibble, and take time to play along the way. You also have complete freedom to stop and take a walk up along any picturesque hill or trail along the way, which your dog will love! 

Here’s to Happy Trails & Wagging Tails 

Traveling or moving with your dog doesn't have to be difficult if you plan ahead and make sure everything is ready for travel. Whether you’re flying, taking the train, or driving your dog on a memorable road trip, traveling with your pet is always rewarding when you get to explore new places and, of course, enjoy a long snuggle at your destination.

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