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Traveling with a small dog: What other people think

I’m writing this because I’ve been reminded by yet another set of comments on a blog post about pet travel that there are a lot of people out there who really dislike dogs. I can hear you thinking “Why should I care what other people think?” You should care because there is often a big disconnect between our perception of pet travel and other people’s perceptions, and if you’re not aware of it ahead of time, you’ll be shocked when it affects you. If you are aware of it ahead of time, there are a number of things you can do to make traveling easier for you, your dog, other travelers, and other travelers with pets following in your shoes.

As part of writing this blog, I read articles and blog posts about pet travel. Any pet travel article that has an audience will collect numerous negative comments ranging from the fairly mild (“Wouldn’t it be kinder to the pet to leave it at home or in a kennel?”) to the vitriolic. Strongly negative comments are most often associated with articles about in-cabin dogs on planes, dogs in hotels, dogs on beaches and dogs in/around restaurants. You really have to read a sampling to understand how much some people hate dogs. Moreover, if they don’t hate all dogs, they are certain to hate small dogs.

Being accompanied by a small dog also has the effect of branding you, the owner, as frivolous and selfish. This is particularly true if you’ve brought your dog to a place where she’s not allowed, but it’s also just a feature of being a small dog owner. Paris Hilton has not done small dogs, or their owners, any favors by appearing to treat her dogs as fashion accessories.

And that’s where we come in. If you set off on your travels with the belief that your adorable small dog is going to be universally loved, you may be surprised and offended by other people’s reactions. I don’t know about you, but I’m not at my best when I’m surprised and offended. Even if I maintain my composure, my outlook turns negative. It’s much better to know ahead of time that negative attitudes exist, and be proactive about preventing them from becoming an issue.

My advice boils down to: Follow the rules, be polite, and be discreet. If you are following the rules, you offer no weapon to your opponents. If you have paid the in-cabin fee for your dog, your dog is legitimately on board. If your dog remains in her carrier at all times on a plane or on public transit, no one can fruitfully object. If her carrier is on your lap when you’re on the metro, no one can argue that you’re occupying a seat you didn’t pay for.

Even in the absence of rules, politeness should make you pick up your dog’s poop. Always. No exceptions. Politeness should motivate you to exercise your dog before travel or before you leave your hotel room so that she’s tired enough to sleep instead of bark or whine. Politeness should prompt you to agree to change seats to accommodate the needs of fellow passengers with pet allergies or aversions. Taking a wider view, it is polite to have a well-trained dog, who will not jump on other people and who will remain by your side when asked.

My final suggestion is to be discreet. An ideal plane trip, for me, is when I’m deplaning with Chloe’s carrier over my shoulder and a passenger who was sitting across the aisle expresses surprise that I had a dog with me. Ideally, your dog in her carrier should be as unnoticeable to other passengers as a backpack. In flight, I will slip Chloe ice cubes and treats from time to time, but I don’t make a big fuss over her. Generally speaking, I don’t talk baby talk to Chloe or dress her in decorative clothing. I also don’t assume that other people will find her appealing (though I applaud those who do).

If you are law-abiding, polite, and discreet, any comments or attitudes that you encounter can be dismissed from your mind with a philosophical shrug — which is particularly valuable as we approach the time of year when more people are traveling.


  • Stephanie L.

    Do you notify the flight attendants that you have a dog or do you just go to your seat as you normally would?

  • Drat, Stephanie, I’m so late in answering your question! But typically I just go to my seat as I normally would. Given how poky boarding is, there’s usually plenty of time for them to notice my carrier and either react to Chloe or not, as they choose. The only reason I can think of for chatting with an FA about a traveling pet is if she’s traveling with the luggage or the cargo — in which case I’d talk A LOT to the FAs, and also to the captain (and I’d bring candy or some other goody to give to the crew, to encourage and thank them).

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