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The A-to-Zs of traveling with a small dog

A Twitter friend pointed me to this A-Z list from Wendy Perrin (on her terrific blog Perrin Post), and I immediately decided to swipe the idea. Here are the A-to-Zs of traveling with a small dog:

A is for airplane reservation: Even your small dog, traveling in-cabin with you, needs a reservation. Nearly every U.S. and international airline sets an upper limit on the number of in-cabin pets per flight, and you want your pet to be one of them. (Beware: A couple of U.S. airlines (Southwest, U.S. Air) no longer keep a log of in-cabin pets for each flight, so your pet will be allowed on board on a first-come-first-served basis. Tell the reservation agent you’re traveling with an in-cabin pet — and keep your fingers crossed that five other travelers with pets won’t beat you to the ticket counter.)

B is for toy balls made of felt or rubber mesh for quiet fun: Some felt balls are felted loosely enough that your dog can gnaw bits off them, but the balls from are sturdy. I’m also a fan of the Hol-ee Roller balls, which, like a felted ball, are a hoot but won’t make a racket in a hotel room (or damage a hotel room’s walls).

C is for carrier and crate: At very least, you’ll want a good in-cabin carrier for your small dog. You may also want an around-town tote, a backpack, or a collapsible carrier that you can stow in your purse or backpack until it’s needed for public transit trips, but start with a good in-cabin carrier. My favorite is the SturdiBag Flex-Height Carrier. My pick for crates is the MidWest Homes for Pets line of metal crates (Chloe travels with the iCrate-Single Door-1500 Series crate in the 24″L x 18″W x 19″H size, though at home she uses one size larger). We started with a soft crate, which weighed less, but she soon learned to claw it open. A crate will keep your pet safe in your hotel room when you have to leave her behind; the last thing you want is your dog damaging the hotel furnishings (or being allowed to escape by a housekeeper coming in to turn the bed down).

D is for day care: You may need to put your dog in the hands of a caregiver while you’re traveling, so bring a current copy of your dog’s shot record with you.

E is for exercise: Walking with your dog through new and interesting neighborhoods and landscapes is a reason in itself to travel, but exercise is also the secret weapon of a traveler with a dog. A dog who’s had a long walk, or a long Chuck-it session, is a dog that will sleep happily while you go out to the theater, or to dinner, or to see those ruins the town you’re visiting is known for.

F is for food trucks: The food truck phenomenon is spreading from one urban area to another. Cities like Portland are celebrated for the variety and excellence of their food trucks, but you can find them all over — and that’s a very good thing indeed for travelers strolling around town with their dog.

G is for Gulpy water bottle: It’s your job to keep your dog hydrated, so clip a water bottle made for dogs on your belt loop, or tuck it into your purse or backpack. My favorite is the Gulpy, because it’s light, cheap, and can be used with just one hand (unlike most dog water bottles). Because of how it’s constructed, you can share it with your pet — no need to carry separate water bottles.

H is for health certificate: You’ll certainly need one (and probably two) of these if you’re traveling abroad (see “U,” below), but they’re also officially required for interstate travel. You might choose not to get one if you’re just driving from one state to another — I do, frankly — but a few airlines require a health certificate for in-cabin pets (and all of them require one for a pet traveling as luggage or cargo).

I is for I.D. tag and implanted chip: Both are crucial. There are endless choices of I.D. tags (including tags incorporating USB flash drives, a dedicated domain name, and QR codes), but my favorite is the blanketID, which is not only sturdy and attractive but can be updated as your location changes. It also helps you quickly create a “lost pet” poster. An I.D. tag only works as long as your dog has a collar, however, so it’s important for your dog to be chipped as well (and if you’re traveling abroad, it’s required).

J is for just ask: My favorite dog travel story is not my own. Helen Asquine Fazio, who travels with Raja, her Shih Tzu, and blogs at Travels with My Dog, knocked my socks off with her report that she and Raja were allowed into the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel — they asked permission, and the guards said yes. As Helen says, never be afraid to ask.

K is for Kimpton hotels: It’s getting easier to find “pet-friendly” hotels (in the U.S. and Canada, a good place to start is Go Pet Friendly‘s site), but more often than not, there will be a significant pet fee, and tricky restrictions (e.g., only one pet, only pets under a certain weight, don’t leave your pet in the room if you leave). The Kimpton Hotel group is a shining exception: No pet fee, no weight limit, and no limit on the number of pets you can bring with you — and at every Kimpton hotel we’ve visited, the staff has come to pieces over Chloe. (They’re pricey, though: A budget-conscious alternative is Motel 6, the choice of many dog show professionals.)

L is for putting your dog’s leash on before opening your car door: Even if your dog has never left your side, this is one of the Ten Commandments of Road Trips (ooh, hey! another blog post idea!). Dogs have been spooked by sudden noises (including truck horns and train whistles) and have bolted — be safe, and snap on a leash before giving your dog access to the great outdoors.

M is for good manners: Be an ambassador for pet travel, as my friends Rod & Amy Burkert say. Pick up your dog’s poop — it’s a hazard and a disease vector in any environment — and follow leash laws. In an airport and on the plane, keep your dog entirely in her carrier. Carry a sheet with you and throw it over your hotel bed. You know what I’m saying — be courteous, think of others.

N is for nail clippers: Bring your pet’s grooming supplies with you, because she will get dirty. On every trip we’ve been on, we’ve had to give Chloe a full bath at some point. Pack a drain cover, to prevent dog hair from clogging the hotel’s drain, and pack a supply of quick-drying camping towels.

O is for overhead compartment: Your in-cabin pet takes the place of your carry-on, leaving you with only a “small personal item” to carry on board — and your pet’s carrier will typically occupy the entire space under your seat, so you’ll have to put that small personal item in the overhead compartment. On a bumpy flight, your Kindle and snack might as well be in Timbuktu. My solution? I wear a travel vest, and stow the gear I’m likely to need in its pockets. My favorites are the Filson Travel Vest and the Scott-E-Vest travel vest.

P is for pee pad training (and pet relief areas): If I had it to do all over again, I’d have begun by training Chloe to use pee pads. It’s possible to add that skill to her repertoire, but so far, I haven’t. I’d like to, because although all U.S. airports are now required to have a pet relief area for service dogs (and other traveling animals), they’re typically located outside the airport, on the land side of security. One option is to schedule a layover long enough to let you and your dog exit the airport, find the pet relief area, accomplish your goals, and return through security. Sometimes, however, you don’t have that option. A dog comfortable with pee pads can be whisked into a family stall, and pee pads, too, can be spread on the bottom of an airplane restroom in case of dire need.

Q is for quarantine: Fewer places than you think require quarantine — the U.K., for example, no longer has a quarantine requirement. However, quarantine countries exist, and the rules can be daunting indeed. It is possible to do enough advance preparation that your pet’s quarantine time in Hawaii is reduced to just a few hours, but your pet will (coming from the U.S. or Canada) spend at least 30 days in quarantine when you visit Australia and New Zealand.

R is for recall: Make sure your traveling companion has a good recall (“Come!”). It could save her life. Other important commands are a solid “sit,” and if not a “heel,” at least a mannerly walk. Your pup should also not jump on others. Think, too, about how your dog reacts to other dogs and to children before you make travel plans.

S is for seat belt: In an accident, your pet will be flung around your car like a rag doll — a doll that weighs as much as a bowling ball. Keep her (and you) safe, either by containing her in a crate (for a small dog, a great choice is PetEgo’s Pet Tube and accompanying Comfort Pillow), or by securing her to the car with a harness (never her collar) and a seat belt. Whichever restraint you choose, secure her in the back seat — or if you choose to put her in the front passenger seat, be sure to turn off the air bag on her side of the car!

T is for temperature: It is unacceptably dangerous to leave your pet in the car either when it’s warm or when it’s cold. A car’s temperature will become life-threateningly hot in an appallingly short period of time, and in cold weather, a car acts like a refrigerator. Be aware of your pet’s temperature even when you’re both in the car: If she’s in the sun, and you’re not, you may not realize she’s suffering. Buy one of those window shades that parents use for toddlers, and use it to shield your pet.

U is for USDA website: How can you find out what’s needed to take your dog to another country? The USDA website stays current, and lists each country’s requirements (with links to the necessary documentation). Check out its main pet travel page for more helpful information and links.

V is for veterinarian — In an emergency, you may be too shaken up to think clearly. Prepare in advance by identifying an emergency vet at your destination. Why not go ahead and put the contact info into your phone? While you’re doing that, add the number for the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center to your phone too.

W is for wardrobe: I always pack some kind of clothing for Chloe. I pack a raincoat (she loathes getting wet) and a Chilly Buddy cooling jacket for hot weather (a dog with short hair — or no hair — will appreciate a fleece or down jacket for cold weather). I pack Paws booties for snowy weather, after learning the hard way that sidewalk salt is a hazard for dogs (if you’ll be hiking over a rocky or hot surface, bring sturdy boots for your pup). If a body of water is involved, I pack a lifejacket.

X is for X-ray machine: Here’s how you go through security at the airport with your in-cabin pet. Keeping your pet in her carrier on your shoulder, put your shoes and 3-1-1 bag and jacket and laptop in bins and send them through. Then put your pet’s carrier down on a solid (not moving) surface, extract your dog and hold her in your arms. Toss an excellent treat into the carrier, zip it at least partially closed, and send it through with a heavier bag behind it — either your personal item or your companion’s carry-on — so the carrier doesn’t get stuck in the x-ray machine. Walk through the metal detector with your pup in your arms. If her collar triggers the alarm, take it off and send it through separately in a bowl. On the other side, retrieve her collar and put it back on her. Carry her carrier to another solid surface, and tuck her back in (here’s where the treat you tossed in comes into play). Gather up the rest of your things and reassemble yourself.

Y is for yelp: Dog parks can be a great place for dogs to socialize and get exercise, and they’re a great place, too, for a visitor to learn about local pet resources. Be careful, though. A phenomenon called “predatory drift,” typically triggered by a dog’s yelp, can turn even a mild-mannered dog momentarily into a serious hazard — and a small dog is particularly vulnerable in a sudden conflict. Seek out dog parks with small dog areas, and keep your attention focused on your dog while you’re there.

Z is for enZymatic cleaner: Until I had Chloe, I had never heard of enzymatic cleaner. Now, there’s always a bottle of it in the travel tote we use to keep her stuff organized on the road (or in the air). Also in there? Her grooming supplies, her food kit and water bottle, a supply of treats, her clothing, a lint roller, a roll of paper towels, an extra leash and harness, and her toys.

See all posts about: Scraps


  • Honey, it DID take me a week. I’m lying here fanning myself, and won’t be posting again until Friday at least. (Thank you! and thank you for the kind share on your FB page)

  • Rainey McGuigan

    Thank you so much for sharing your A-Zs of traveling with a small dog. I’m planning to go on a trip to Asia and I can’t leave my dog alone in the house for almost a month. I’ll probably just bring it with me. Thanks to your tips, I know it wouldn’t be so difficult as long as I prepare for it.

  • Wendy Porterfield

    I’m flying for the 1st time with a new puppy. This info is great. Does anyone have a checklist of things to pack from food to pee pads? I don’t want to miss a thing. Thx

  • Gail

    Thank you so much for all the valuable info. I am getting a small dog to take with us and this is the best article!!! Thanks for sharing!!

  • Brittney

    This is all really wonderful information! I do have a question though! I am traveling to pick up our new puppy and he will be flying home with me. Where should I store the Carrier on the way to get him? Do most airlines allow this as a carry on or do they charge??

  • Well, there’s a question I’ve never considered before, Brittney! Thank you! Also, congratulations!!! SO EXCITING! If your carrier comes collapsed (like they do when they’re shipped to you), I’d put it, still flat, in my carry-on and assemble it at your new pup’s location. If it’s already carrier-shaped and can’t easily be collapsed, I’d call it my purse and stow my throw and my Kindle and my wallet and all my normal purse gear in there. On the way back, you’ll have to find other locations for that stuff, of course.

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