Flying With Dogs
We flew from London Heathrow to Vancouver in June 2020 (yes that 2020) with our German Shepherd x Husky, Akela. Although I had heard horror stories about flying with dogs, I spoke to professionals and people who had been through the experience to get a first hand account of what it would really be like. After all, there was no way we were leaving a member of the family behind.
Below are some tips, advise and reassurance for anyone thinking of making that same commitment and emigrating with their dog.
Being a larger dog, this advise is based on your dog being in the hold.
Start preparing your pet for travel well in advance.
Pick an airline with a good reputation for animal welfare- make sure you do your research.
Get your pet well accustomed to the crate they will be in.
Try and avoid any flight changes. Paying extra for a direct flight is worth your baby not getting lost!
Most flights have certain times of the year pets cannot fly due to weather. Check with each airline!
The key to Akela having a successful flight was in the preparation. We spent about a year crate training her, but if your dog is already crate trained this will be a quicker process for you!
First we bought the crate that she would be flying in. As of June 2020 when we flew with Air Canada the requirements were as follows:
Hard-sided. Most carriers are made of hard plastic with holes for ventilation.
Collapsible carriers are not accepted, nor are wire carriers as no part of your pet may extend outside the carrier.
Secure and leak proof. The door of the pet carrier must close securely and your pet must not be able to easily push the door open.
Large enough to allow your pet to stand, turn around and lie down comfortably, as per international regulations.
With this information in hand we chose this one from Amazon:
Akela is treat motivated- but do whatever works for your pooch.
We put Akela's bed in the crate and propped the door open. We didn't close the door over at any time until she was evidently using her crate as her safe space. We did not ever touch her when she was in the crate- but we did give her a treat the first few times she went in there to let her know that she was doing the right thing. We never forced her to go in or sent her there if she was in trouble. The crate could only have positive associations.
Once She was spending most of her sleeping time in the crate and going in willingly and happily, it was time to move on to stage two.
It was time to start closing the door over. We would close the door and leave the room. The first time was only five minutes, but we extended this to as much as four hours (still only half her flight time.) Every time we returned she was given a treat. She did great in this stage because we had spent so long building up the crate as a place she enjoyed going to.
As well as keeping the crate in the house for her to go in and out, we would also put it in the car for journeys. This enabled her to get used to travelling in the crate- and she became aware that every time she went travelling in the crate she came out somewhere good like the beach or other favourite walking spots! We used a van with no windows so that it was dark and noisy. This way she really got the idea of what flying would be like (without the ear pops admittedly.) We increased the journey time each time and got this up to 8 hours (Somerset-Dundee). By the time the flight arrived Akela was a pro at travelling in her crate for the time she would need to be on the plane!
We didn't feed Akela that morning. We didn't want her to poop in her crate and have to sit in it for the duration of the flight. We ensured she had done both types of ablutions before the flight as well.
We did not give her any medication. We made that decision because if something went wrong with any of the medication there wouldn't be anyone to help.
We put her in the crate with one of my partners jumpers that I had slept in the previous night so comfort her, and her favourite teddy. Obviously if your dog is chewer or prone to swallowing things like this don't do it!
For water we gave her an oversized hamster bottle wired to the crate. Akela would press her tongue on it and it would release water. To train her to do this I actually had to have a few licks of it myself!
We got up early that morning so that we could give Akela a three hour walk before her flight. My goal was to tire her out as much as possible during the actual flight.
When we arrived at London Heathrow the staff were extremely nice to us and Akela. She was best friends with all the airline staff by the time we had checked in.
What was great about London Heathrow was once we had checked in they allowed us to take Akela to a grassy area outside where we played fetch with her until 30 minutes before the flight. We then were taken into a back room to hand Akela over.
When I got on the plane I was very nervous. The staff at Air Canada came to let me know that Akela had boarded and that everything was fine. Make sure that this has happened before the doors close, or there won't be the option of getting off!
When I tell you every bit of turbulence had me fearing for how she would be I'm not exaggerating. I was a wreck, but when the plane landed I went to baggage and there she was to be collected with all of the oversized baggage. I was rather annoyed that no one was with her and she was dumped there with our mountain bike, skis and someone's pram, but she seemed to be fine.
Afterwords we went to customs to get our Visa approved. This bit took the longest, but no one seemed to mind that we had let Akela out of her crate. It was taking a really long time, so my partner went to speak to the staff- on account of Akela not having gone to the toilet in 10 hours by that point- and they fast tracked our processing.
This is based on personal experiences. Please do your own research as your current location, destination, animal history and any regulation changes may affect this.
Our first point of call for arranging all of this was to call Air Canada. We had to book our flight first, but not all of Air Canada's routes or planes are pet friendly. They have periods that you can't fly with your dog due to extreme hot or cold temperatures. This is for the safety of your animal, and their commitment to the pets safety was what made us ultimately choose to fly with them. Before we booked our flight, we had to call Air Canada and check that the flight had space for a dog. We then went ahead and booked our flights as normal.
After this we called Air Canada to book Akela in. We had to give them weight and breed of dog, and dimensions and weight of crate. They gave us advise on what to bring to export the dog successfully.
The next step was a vet trip. Akela had to be up to date on all vaccinations- and for Canada she needed to have her Rabies Vaccination. Whilst there I booked a check-up appointment 24 hours before our flight with a travel specialist, which is mandatory.
Next I contacted Department for Environment, Food And Rural Affairs. I gave them a call and they talked me through what forms I would need specific for Canada and where to send them. They sent those forms directly to my veterinarian who filled them out after doing the check up 24 hours prior to her flight and sent me away with them.
I brought the proof of Rabies shot and forms given to me at the check up to the flight. It was checked at the Canadian Boarder, we paid a $30 import fee and that was us. Easy Peasy.