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How to make your dog more comfortable in her carrier

Photo by tombothetominator

One of the search queries I see most often in Dog Jaunt’s records is “dog whines in airplane carrier,” so I know that there are plenty of you out there who are worried about how your dog is reacting, or will react, to being in her carrier. Even Chloe, an outstanding traveler, has started to scrape a bit at the sides of her carrier during takeoff.

I’ve decided that she’s probably not upset about being in the carrier, but is instead reacting to some unpleasant engine squeal that happens when the plane is working its hardest — it had me worried, though, and got me researching solutions for anxious canine travelers. Here are my best suggestions.

Give your dog time to grow accustomed to her new carrier, and be sure to use it on trips to places she adores (the off-leash dog park, for example, or a dog store where she’s showered with treats) — not just trips to the vet. Leave it out at home, and encourage her to spend time in it by tossing in treats. You might even set her food bowl in its opening at meal times. Put a super-soft pad in it so it really is comfortable (notice the extra padding in this doxie’s carrier?).

On the day of travel, be sure to give your dog a long walk just before you leave for the airport. You don’t want to push her so hard that she’ll need to drink a lot of water when you return, but exercise will increase the likelihood that she’ll snooze on the plane. Tuck into the carrier your dog’s favorite toy and a tee-shirt that you’ve worn, so she’ll have the comfort of familiar smells.

Consider spraying the inside of the carrier with Comfort Zone with DAP, a synthetic version of a pheromone produced by nursing dogs (it also comes in TSA-friendly wipes that can be run around the inside of the carrier and on your dog’s collar). Please note that the first time I used Comfort Zone, I stuck my head in the carrier right after I’d sprayed it to see if it smelled like anything, and choked myself on the alcohol that carries the important ingredients — be sure to let about five minutes go by before letting your dog inside, so the alcohol can dissipate!

Some owners swear by a spritz of calming lavender spray, or you could tuck a lavender sachet under the carrier’s padding (so your dog isn’t tempted to chew it). Others swear by Rescue Remedy Pet, a distillation of floral essences. A drop or two on your pet’s tongue, nose or paw may have a calming effect.

Several airlines will let you put your dog’s carrier on your lap during flight, and although you cannot let your dog (or any part of her!) stick out of the carrier, you can put your arm inside the carrier and soothe your dog with pats and treats. Chloe’s carrier is very large, so I’m careful about when I pull it onto my lap. It works best when I have a window seat or I’m sitting next to my husband (we can turn it sideways across our laps). Otherwise, it’s really too much of an imposition on my neighbors.

Turn to sedatives as a last resort, and only with your veterinarian’s approval and prescription. In some cases, they may be necessary and appropriate, but sedatives in general are not recommended even for pets traveling in-cabin, since they tend to affect your dog’s balance and impair her breathing.

Amazon links:
Comfort Zone with DAP
Comfort Zone with D.A.P. Wipes for Dogs
Bach Rescue Remedy Pet

3 comments

  • Rod@GoPetFriendly

    Of all the advice you mention, I think the most important pieces are day-of-travel exercise and acclimation to the carrier. Personal and vicarious experience tells me that we don’t leave enough time to be exercised. So Rover gets left out to do his duties, but never gets a tiring walk because we’re running around like crazy trying to get out the door. So on top of not being properly exercised, your dog is also picking up on your mounting tension as you worry about leaving on time. The final blow, then, is placing the dog in a carrier which they may only see the inside of when they’re getting ready to travel. And then we wonder why they whine.

  • Absolutely, Rod — And it’s a good point that all of these suggestions work equally well for larger dogs (like yours) traveling in crates, whether in a car or under a plane. (Well, maybe not the carrier-on-the-lap solution!)

  • Amy@GoPetFriendly

    Ha! I can just see us with Buster’s crate on our laps!! Also, I wanted to say that we used the Rescue Remedy when we first found Buster to help him adjust from where ever he’d come from to living with us. We found it to be very helpful.

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