How to Ship a Dog

Reduce shipping stress by being prepared.
Reduce shipping stress by being prepared. (Image: violet-blue/iStock/Getty Images)

The decision of the best way to ship your dog depends on a variety of factors, such as your budget and time line. Once you make the choice on the best method, you will need to gather all the documentation he requires for his trip, and do everything you can to prepare him so his journey is as stress-free as possible.

Air Versus Ground Travel

Air travel is generally the preferred method of travel for cross country and other long distance trips. If the trip is relatively close, within a few states, the decision may be more complex. By the time you add the drop-off and pick-up time at the airport, ground travel may be just as quick. Also, some owners are uncomfortable with their dogs traveling alone as checked baggage or cargo, and prefer the more hands-on element of ground travel. For long trips, however, the extended travel time of ground transportation is significantly more stressful than air transport for most dogs.

Required Paperwork

Your dog will need a health certificate, issued within 10 days of his flight, for air travel. Your dog's usual veterinarian can complete the health certificate for you. It will include your name and address, any tag or tattoo numbers your dog has, your dog's age, a statement that your dog is in good health prior to travel and a list of inoculations and dates. The certificate must be signed and dated by the veterinarian. Requirements for ground transportation vary, but you generally will have to provide either a health certificate or a copy of your dog's health records.

An exception to the paperwork rule is if you are traveling with your dog in the cabin. For your dog to travel in the cabin, he must be small enough for his crate to fit under the seat in front of you. Contact your airline for measurements. If you carry on your dog, he must remain in the crate the entire time. He will count as one piece of your carry-on luggage, and you will be charged a fee for his travel. If you are not traveling with your dog, you can hire someone to escort him if you would prefer he ride in the cabin.

In addition to the health certificate, you will need to provide feeding instructions. Transportation companies will want to know when your pet last had food and water, and may require that it be within a certain number of hours of departure. They will want to know what his feeding schedule is for the duration of his travels. Even if the flight is short, the airlines will want to know when your dog should next eat to account for any flight delays. You will be required to provide your own food for the trip.

Finally, you want to make sure your dog stays safe should he manage to escape. If he is not microchipped, your veterinarian can do that when he prepares the health certificate, and your dog also should have a collar with up-to-date identification tags. You should tape your dog's name as well as your contact information to the outside of the crate.

Getting Prepared

If you are using ground transportation, ask your hauler how he prefers to transport the dog. Airlines are particular about the type of crates they allow. Collapsible wire crates generally are not accepted. Rigid plastic crates are accepted. Metal, wood and other types of crates may be accepted, depending on the airline. If your dog is not crate trained, start introducing him to the crate several weeks before he will travel. Ideally, he should be comfortable enough in the crate that he will spend much of his time sleeping. The crate should be large enough for him to stand up and turn around in. It should have both a food and water dish, empty, secured to the door, so they can be filled without opening the door.

If your dog has an anxious personality, talk to your vet before the trip. Different shippers have different rules about tranquilizing dogs during travel, so make sure the option you and your vet decide on is acceptable with the transport company. Socializing your dog by walking him in public regularly, attending obedience type classes and using a boarding kennel occasionally to help him become accustomed to new experiences, and less stressed by travel.

Important Considerations

While traveling by ground or air is generally a matter of personal preference, in some cases, you don't get to make the choice. Dog breeds with flat faces, such as boxers and pugs, do not always travel well, and most airlines have stopped transporting them. The rules are different for each airline, and while some airlines have stopped transporting snub-nosed breeds entirely, others will allow certain breeds to travel as a special class. If you need to use air travel for your brachycephalic or flat-faced dog, call the airline directly.

Using a Shipping Service

If the idea of getting the paperwork together and organizing air or ground transportation seem overwhelming, you may want to consider hiring a dedicated pet shipping company to handle the work for you. These companies make the transportation arrangements and let you know exactly what your pet needs to travel. Using an experienced company to arrange travel makes the entire event less stressful. In addition to commercial flights, these companies can book your pet on animal-only flights or even arrange charter services. These services are particularly good for complicated situations, such as shipping a snub-nosed breed or young animal. Some also handle the shipping themselves.

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