10 Tips for Traveling With a Nervous Pet
A pet with a nervous temperament is probably better off on the ground. But some circumstances, like a relocation, make it necessary to fly with your pet. With a bit of training and patience, you may be able to get your dog comfortable enough to make it through the flight. If you must take your nervous pup or pussycat on an airplane, follow this expert advice to make the experience run smoother for you and your pet.
1. Know Signs of Distress
Besides the obvious crying and shivering, some inconspicuous indications your pup may be nervous include excessive licking, yawning or pacing. Dogs may have a glazed-over look or continuously shake-off, as if they are wet.
2. Travel With Your Puppy
Pet behaviorist and owner of the etiquette and training School For The Dogs, Annie Grossman, said that pet owners should travel with their puppies as early as possible, to help them get comfortable with air travel while still malleable. The best time to do this is when they're under 12 weeks of age, before the socialization window closes. Situations dogs experience within that time frame are better at adapting to those same situations later in life.
3. Bring a Familiar Comfort Object
Grossman also recommended playing with your puppy on a designated mat or blanket to create a positive association for your pet with that item. Whenever you travel, bring that security blanket and their favorite toy to ease some of the anxiety.
4. Perform Crate or Carrier Training
Have your pup get used to their crate or carrier before setting off on an adventure. Allow your dog to walk into the carrier on their own, without forcing them inside. Build a healthy relationship with the carrier by giving your dog treats while inside. Place their comfort items in the crate to make it a pleasant place to lay down and relax. TPG reader Patty G. has used this method to prepare her globetrotting military family pups for trips to 10 countries and 30 states.
5. Swaddle Your Fur Baby
All babies love to be swaddled, even your fur babies. Try dressing your pup in a ThunderShirt, which has a similar effect to the weighted anxiety blankets used by us humans. If you don't have a ThunderShirt, Grossman suggested putting your pooch in a tight dog vest or shirt, which will give them that same feeling of comfort. Bonus points for an item of clothing that has your scent.
6. Try Aromatherapy
Dog whisperer Cesar Milan recommends using aromatherapy to calm a nervous pup. In the weeks leading up to your trip, sprinkle lavender oil on your hands and let your dog become familiar with the scent during favorite activities (think: eating or playing fetch). Relax your pup during the flight by rubbing the lavender oil between your fingertips and letting your dog smell your hands. It's not a bad time for a head rub, either. The positive association with the calming lavender scent should help to soothe your little Nervous Nelly.
7. Remain Calm
How can your pup stay relaxed if you're a nervous wreck? Milan also pointed out that dogs can pick up on their owner's emotions and will feed off negative energy. Even if you're not the best flyer yourself, keep a cool composure for the sake of your canine companion. Talk to your pet with a positive tone of voice throughout the air travel experience.
8. Arrive Early and Leave Plenty of Time
Sprinting through the airport is not the ideal situation for your pet, who should be kept calm before the flight. And let's avoid swinging your pet around in his or her carrier while running to the gate, shall we?
9. Prepare for Security
Going through security, you will have to hold your pet and put their carrier and leash through the X-ray belt. If your pet is not comfortable with strangers, let the TSA agent know. TPG reader Olga T. regretted not telling the TSA agent that her cat was nervous around unfamiliar people. The agent went to pet her cat which resulted in a claw to Olga's face during a failed feline escape attempt.
10. Consult your vet
If all else fails, speak to your veterinarian. What works for one dog (or cat) may not work on another. Your vet will be able to offer you helpful advice specific to your pet, and may even be able to provide pheromones or mild sedatives to help your dog relax.
Feature image by Rima Brindamour for The Washington Post / Getty Images.