Archive for the ‘Airplane Safety’ Category

Travel Dogs in Tuscany, Italy! Chapter One!

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Stick close to me in Montalcino, Sherpa and don't worry.

Raja the Travel Professional decided to help Sherpa the Travel Novice put down her paws for her first overseas trip in Italy’s central region, Tuscany- famous for glorious hill towns, painterly landscapes, handcrafts, wine and, especially food! Italy is a good travel spot for adventuresome, hardy American dogs.

Why Italy?

1.Europeans often travel with family dogs in bucolic Tuscany.

2.Most Italians have dogs they are very proud of and many bring their dogs when they go out to dinner. (Yes, at nice places too, but always begging is uncool.) Hotels usually welcome dogs, but you always should ask.

3.Dogs are expected to be trustworthy and socialized in Italy, but Italians enjoy and celebrate the “dogginess” of dogs… the wagging tails, the slurpy tongues, the need to roam, the need to bark and even the assertiveness of dogs.

4.And, as we see in sculpture and painting, dogs have always been a celebrated part of the beauty of Italian life.

A display of marble dog sculptures in the Vatican Museum.

In the next blog series we are going to tell you all our fun adventures and recommended spots, but first we want to bark about a few ground rules for canine travel. Good canine travel looks easy, but the prep is enormous.

Plane Transport: Small dogs under 15 lbs. can travel in cabin on most airlines in most seasons. We don’t know anything about travel in cargo for larger dogs and we feel it’s not fair that airlines relegate large dogs to cargo. We don’t feel confident about cargo and would never have any of our dog friends in cargo. Others may disagree, but the isolation and unaccountability of cargo concerns us too much to advocate cargo transport at this point. (We’ve already written an awful lot about how to choose a travel bag, train for plane travel, buy a dog ticket from the airline and help your dog not have to pee in flight. It’s all in our archives.)

Health: Only robustly healthy dogs should embark on strenuous travel. We are not barking about dogs who have good health, but take some regular medication. We are barking against taking fragile, highly medication-dependent dogs on strenuous trips. Don’t kid yourself. Travel is for the fit and perky. It’s only fair to make sure your dog is travel healthy.

Before leaving, get a health check up from your vet. Carry the inoculation records as well as a signed letterhead letter from your vet that certifies the good health of your dog, in your own language and translated into the country’s language. (Google Translate will help you and your vet to create a pretty good foreign language translation.)

Use online search engines to research local vets in the areas you will visit and keep the list with your documents.

Sherpa loves playing in the countryside.

Bring shampoo and grooming tools and groom your dog daily. Travel creates mats and, as one example, Tuscany’s hillsides are full of burrs and foxtails. Watch out for eyes and ears. Maintain brushing teeth. Wash paws after long, grimy walks. As a style destination of the world, Italy is the place for your dog to look pretty every day.

Food and Supplements: Take all required medication or regular vitamins, treats and food (if your dog eats packaged food.) Raja and Sherpa eat home cooked stews, so they travel with a day’s supply of frozen food and a few jars of baby food to tide them over. (Note, if your dog eats home cooked, you will need accommodations with a kitchen. If your dog is an avid restaurant foodie, as Raja and Sherpa can be, plan not to be shy when asking a restaurant to make your dog some chicken and rice. After all, you’re paying, so don’t act pitiful and unentitled and feel confident requesting no onions and no salt. (Many restaurants will kindly offer you free food composed of the table scraps of other diners. It’s a thoughtful offer, but other people’s scraps are not a trustworthy source of dog food. Refuse politely. Say, “Thanks so much, but his stomach is sensitive.”)

Toys and Beds: One or two favorite toys help pass the time in transit. A favorite blanket makes a dog feel at home and is easy to pack. Raja loves these snuggle beds. They fold flat and delight him when he sees them reshaped in the hotel. Raja and Sherpa got plush boars in Tuscany. All dogs like to bring back a little souvenir.

A memento of my trip!

Water: A hiker’s light-activated water purifier or bottled water is best for traveling dogs. If you are not drinking from the tap, you dog also should not drink tap water.

Clothing and Heat: If it’s cold, your dog could need a coat or a raincoat. If the weather at your destination is hot, your dog could need a tummy shave down. On hot day trips, soaking the paws and tummy in water provides instant relief. Rome and some other Italian cities have frequent water fountains along the streets. While you can’t actually soak your dog in them, nobody would blame you for splashing a hot doggy with water from the aqueducts of the Romans. (Do not plunge your dog into the Trevi Fountain unless it’s a real emergency. That’s kind of not done… unless you really, really must.)

Harnesses and Leads: Yes, bring one and a back up. If you normally use a retractable lead, consider a short nylon lead for travel. It’s lighter and Italy’s crowded streets don’t accommodate a long lead.

We could go on, but Raja says we have found our balance between advising and helicoptering. Next blog, it’s paws on the ground in Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and off by car to the lands of good food and sunshine!

A Rescue Dog’s Fast Track to Earning Her Travel Wings!

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Could Sherpa do it? Yes she DID! In just one month Sherpa went from wary of her travel bag to flying across the country in it for a total 7-hour trip!

How? First off, no dog is going to train happily is she’s not happy and at ease with her life. So any rescue pet needs to calm down and settle in before anybody tries to teach her anything. Sherpa got the royal treatment right off. Even though her house rules allow her on furniture and don’t require her to eat her peas, she still has to adjust to being left alone by herself, behaving civilly to guests and staying cool in new situations. It may take a while for her to learn that she’s never going to be returned to the rescue shelter and anyone coming up to her is NOT going to steal her family away. But she’s making strides.

There was a legitimate reason for real concern. To start out, flying dogs should take a short trip of about one hour, just to get their wings flapping in the right direction. Classically, a dog from LA should get to fly to San Francisco for a weekend as a first trip. But not Sherpa. She was being asked to be too wonderful too fast. But we somehow thought that her interest in being with and like her family meant she’d do anything at all.

Well part of her success was consistent and constant training. Sherpa has shown us that she can’t be forced to do things that scare her, but she will try to tolerate new situations for a limited time. So it was off to Office Depot, CVS, the car wash, or just around the block in the travel bag. Some trips ended in visits to her favorite guilty pleasure, In-n-Out Burger.

Sherpa, ready for your travel bag now?

On the morning of her trip, Sherpa was bright eyes and looking for fun when she heard she had to go in her bag! “Is it In-n-Out Burger so early in the day for me?” she wondered.

But, no, so surprising and challenging, it was off to the airport and onto the plane and up in the sky and back down again! Was Sherpa OK about it? Weeeel… she did drool a lot at first. But she was quiet, still and held her center.

Raja and Sherpa meet up on the east Coast!

Once she got out on the East Coast and met the rest of the family and got to play with Raja and stay in his house and see his neighborhood and meet his friends, well, Sherpa now is an Official Travel Dog too. Look how cute they look together!

Yay Sherpa! Now a Travel Dog With Wings! And for being such a wonderful doggy, Sherpa won’t have to keep her paws on the ground for too long. Next month she’s going on a family vacation to another country waaaaay across the Atlantic Ocean! You can be sure we’ll be barking all about it!

Training Your Dog to Fly in Cabin: Sherpa ‘s Flying Lessons

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Sherpa... soon to fly!

As we mentioned last post, training a dog to fly in cabin isn’t as easy as zipping her in her airline approved bag and taking off. Everybody tends to resist incarceration- at first. How did Raja get so good at it? We capitalized on his most salient desire- to be a constant companion. It wasn’t too hard for him to piece together being in the bag to being in the car and the plane and the train and the gondola and the horse cab, etc.… with us.

Sherpa, however, as a rescued dog, has some unsatisfactory associations with small carrier confinement… being removed from her crowded first home in a crate, carted about to pet shop chain adoption days, transported to a new foster house, etc (perhaps). So, moving off site in a carrier leads toward worrisome expectations, as her experience has proven. Still, the beauty of reconditioning can lead Sherpa to wonderful new adventures near and far (as we say). Same as with people, for animals to be lead away from their fears towards more autonomy and confidence is always always good. So we’re not just going to let this go and end up with Sherpa kenneled back home when others fly.

Last week we mentioned that she likes to hide in a den. Sherpa continues to run under the couch or the bed now and then. She’s terribly sneaky and cute about it, as her video shows. We can work with this. Clearly, she likes a refuge. So, when she slides into any of her several secret spots, we never drag her out and we treat her emergence as a wonderful event. “Yay, Sherpie!”

And always the travel bag stays out on top of her favorite couch, door always open and her favorite blanket folded on the bottom. Don’t know if you can see the Sherpa Security Cam screen capture, but look closely inside the bag. When she’s home alone and nervous, she slips inside. Success is perhaps possible if we’re careful and don’t make her hate the bag.

Sherpa still doesn’t love riding in the car in her travel bag. We get it that she feels she’s being transported to a new home, and she’s pretty much not having that happen! Occasionally she likes to bark at people when she’s in the bag. Not good form.

So she’s taking it slowly. Sitting in the bag when she wants. Transported to short destinations- being carried around the block in her bag, taken out for a burger, a visit to the car wash, carried into the office supply store for a zip drive- or any random item within 15 feet of the door in case we have to make a quick, loud getaway. We have to quickly turn her away from anyone approaching too quickly or anyone peering in the bag too closely. Raja got the idea of the travel bag fast, but he didn’t have his own baggage to mess with his head. Sherpa’s going to have to summon a whole huge load of trust to get herself on that plane. Can she, will she? Raja’s tapping his paw.

Next post we’ll take you with Cy the agility athlete who is going to earn his C-ATCH championship in just a few days! And then back to Sherpa… does she get on that plane and fly cross-continent, or does her barking earn her a drop off in Utah?

Travel Dogs are Born… and Created

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Meet Sherpa, Raja's new California cousin!

Raja has a new cousin in California, a Tibetan Spaniel Mix named Sherpa. She was rescued from a place with too many dogs and too little attention, lived for a few months in the foster home and just got her new home a week ago. So, Sherpa has a lot to learn about forever homes, trust and really good food. She also has to learn to play and, very importantly, she needs to learn that every car trip is not a trip to a different way station in a shuffled life.

Focusing on the idea of shuffling, although now a permanent family member, Sherpa will be shuffled a lot. She’ll fly back and forth coastally, she’ll go on ski trips by plane and car and she’ll visit the seashore. Who knows, she might become an international travel dog and trot the globe with Raja. Easily.

But for now, cousin Sherpa has to learn to enjoy sitting in an airline travel bag for 8 hours total travel coast to coast. How will she begin?

Most dogs like the security of a den.

First, we discover that Sherpa doesn’t mind refuging in a small den. She likes to go under things. So we got her an airline approved, size-appropriate travel bag and set it out in the living room with her new favorite blanket in it and her newest toy. Sherpa doesn’t mind going in and out. She doesn’t mind sitting in it when she’s by herself either, as her security camera reveals.

But, zipping her in and taking her out and about is going much less well. Sherpa likes to bark at people who get too close to her bag and she claws the mesh when she has to sit in it in the car. Sherpa does best when she’s being carried in the bag and can see lots of sights outside. As long as nobody gets too close, Sherpa will deal with the bumping and swaying. While it’s important to let her know the bag is a place for her, we walk a fine line between comfort and confinement. We want Sherpa to feel secure in the bag, not stuck in the bag. We want her to feel as Raja does: all major adventures start with a comfy snooze in the travel bag and end in a new climate for fun and exploration. Hop in the bag, take a nap, awake to ADVENTURE!

From today, Sherpa has about one month to go from ambivalent to cozy in that airline bag because she’s scheduled for her first transcontinental flight in 30 days. Raja’s first flight was across the continent. We recommend short one hour flights to start out, but Sherpa, like Raja is being asked to get her wings pretty fast.

Can Sherpa do it? We’ll see…

What does a flying dog do when nature calls?

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Nothing could be more unnatural than air travel- for all of us.  Two hours before flight we submit to a series of harassments during which TSA  counts coup on our fatigued persons: questions, clothes removed, body scrutinized, luggage rummaged, torso wanded, patted down, patted up,  hurry up, wait, eat bad food, wait.  Then, we load thousands of pounds of heavy stuff in a winged metal rocket and depend upon the effects of thrust and lift to keep us hurtling through the skies until we land far, far away.  And while we are in the plane we sit, alternately freezing or sweltering,  cramped and phlebitic, hungry and thirsty. Our only source of exercise is an apologetic squirm to a claustrophobic, germy WC.

But that’s the humans… what about the traveling dogs!

In some sense, the dogs have it better. They get transported and, for the small in-cabin traveling dogs, their travel bags insulate them from outsiders.  (Well, for some reason, Raja always gets frisked.  He’s not a real fan of having complete strangers fumble around under his fur, but he puts up.)

In another sense, dogs who travel are not properly served.  First, they can neither eat nor drink during transport because, once they leave the car at drop off in front of the airport, they have no place to go to the potty.  Think about it.  Once they enter the airport, they are not able to relieve themselves until they arrive.  So for International transport, that’s 2 hours, plus the flight (a minimum of 5 hours) and then a minimum of 1hour post flight, considering how slow gating, deplaning, baggage and customs are.  And let’s think of how the frequent delays take a toll on pet patience.

We have two obvious solutions:

  • The first is that dogs should not fly.  But that’s preposterous.


  • Airports  should provide restroom facilities inside the terminals for traveling  pets.  It is not an unreasonable  request since airlines charge for pet transport- around $150 per flight-  which is a whole huge lot to pay and get absolutely nothing in return except the expectation that the paying client will be neither seen nor heard from.

Many airports have smoking porches or decks for the really addicted.  A segment of this area could be partitioned off for traveling pets to sprinkle a plastic hydrant.  Perhaps once a day somebody could douse it with inexpensive, non-toxic hydrogen peroxide.  (Is that so hard?)

Traveling pets are highly unlikely to relieve themselves in their transport bags.  This would be tantamount to relieving themselves in their beds. This they will not do at any cost because, in spite of what some may think, pets have strong codes about where they will and will not, uh, “go.”

Since airlines charge for pet transport, airlines should do the minimum to make transported pets as comfortable as possible.  Since most people cannot make it through an airplane trip without also visiting the WC, to expect our pets to be “better” than we are is both unfair and mean.

Raja and I call upon the great airlines of the world that allow pet transport to do the right thing for all the paying customers that keep the airlines in business.

When Small Dogs Fly: Snacks Before Flights

Monday, January 31st, 2011

It’s a fact of canine physiology:  Small dogs can become hypoglycemic and often do best with several small meals, rather than one or two large ones.  But what about that recommendation that dogs should have no food or water within three hours of flight time?  Those austerity rules might be OK for a commuter hop, but transcontinental flights and ocean crossings are another matter!  Hey, you try going without a meal for those flight durations.  Bet you’ll be hypoglycemic too.

Hypoglycemia can make humans cranky, but for those canine travelers among us who weigh under 15 lbs, hypoglycemia can bring on trembling and seizures.  Preventing canine hypoglycemia on flights is essential for safe, happy trips.

Raja and I are advocating a little, non-bulky, non-fibrous snack before a flight for small dogs.  And the most portable snack we have discovered is a jar of mooshed baby food turkey, beef or chicken.  It’s a pure protein, smoothed with a little corn starch.  While a diet of this sort is not recommended as a daily snack, it sure goes down easily and stays quiet in the intestine on flights.  Plus, your fellow traveler can snooze in his carrier with a little something to give him energy and keep his tummy from rumbling.

Raja gets his snack before leaving for the airport.  I carry another in my travel bag to give him in emergency should the plane be horribly detained or upon landing after a long flight.  You don’t need to give your dog all of the jar; just consider his weight and eating habits and let good sense guide you.  Make sure you read the label and read that there are no onions or raisins in the ingredients.

A little imagination, compassion and prevention make for happy travels for your small dog.