Many dog owners want to take their dog along with them when they take a vacation, including on overseas trips. Flying with your German Shepherd dog can be challenging, expensive, and complicated, although it is possible.
Read this guide to learn everything you need to know about flying with your German Shepherd, including what paperwork you need, preparation tips, and how to book your flight.
Important To Know Before Flying with Your German Shepherd
Most veterinarians recommend that you don’t fly with a dog unless it’s absolutely essential.
Flying can be extremely stressful for your canine companion. The experience takes your dog away from his secure, safe, familiar environment into strange surroundings full of bright lights, loud noises, and hundreds of people milling around.
Add to that several hours of confinement in a crate that’s safe for air travel with limited potty breaks, fluctuations in temperature and air pressure, and you can see how a sensitive dog could find flying a scary experience.
So, unless you’re going overseas for at least three or four weeks or you’re relocating to a different state or country, we recommend that you hire a pet sitter and leave your GSD at home.
Carry-On or Cargo?
Small dog breeds can often travel as carry-on luggage, provided that the crate will fit underneath the seat in front of you. However, a large dog, such as a German Shepherd, will always have to travel in the cargo hold along with passengers’ luggage and freight.
Riding in the cargo hold is not a pleasant experience for your furry friend. The temperature in the hold can be uncomfortably cold or too hot for your German Shepherd, depending on the time of day and the season in which you travel.
Although airlines promise to take good care of your dog, you have no control over what happens to your pet once you’ve handed him over to the airline personnel. Some owners have reported that their pets were injured because of careless handling or even died after traveling in the cargo hold.
So, we urge you to think very carefully before flying with your German Shepherd dog.
Choose The Right Travel Crate
Every airline has its own requirements when it comes to pet travel crates. However, most airlines follow the International Air Transport Association’s guidelines.
When choosing a suitable travel carrier for your dog, you should pick one that offers the following:
- The crate should be durable and well-made with strong carrying handles.
- Since German Shepherds are large, heavy dogs, a crate with detachable wheels and a pull handle is a good choice. That means you won’t need to struggle with a dog on a leash and a large crate when moving around the airport terminal.
- The crate must be extremely well-ventilated so that your dog gets plenty of air and doesn’t get too hot while in transit.
- The crate bottom should be leak-proof in case of potty accidents en route.
Write “Live Animal” clearly on the crate with arrows that show which way is up. You also need to attach a label to the crate that shows your name, address, contact telephone numbers, and destination contact information.
The cost of flying with your dog depends on the individual airline. However, prices are generally based on the combined weight of the travel crate and your German Shepherd and the flight distance. Most airlines provide a calculator to work out an estimated cost for your dog’s flight.
Rules For Flying with Your German Shepherd
There are many guidelines and rules governing air travel with dogs, and you need to understand those rules so that your pet is allowed to fly. Ask your preferred airline for a copy of their policy regarding flying with your dog before booking your flights.
Crucially, ask your airline which dog breeds are permitted to fly with them. Some flat-faced, brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs, are not permitted in the cargo hold since their facial conformation makes it difficult for them to breathe, so there’s a danger of suffocation during the flight. Other potentially dangerous breeds, such as Pit Bulls, are often banned from flying altogether.
Choose Your Flights Carefully
Ideally, you want to avoid flying with your dog during busy holiday periods when airports are chaotic, and there’s more risk that something could go wrong.
If possible, pick a non-stop flight without transfers. Again, there’s a risk in that that your pet could end up on the wrong connecting flight, or there could be delays that leave your dog sitting in his crate for hours without food, water, or a chance to relieve himself.
Be mindful of the weather, especially if you’re traveling to a region or country with a warm climate. In warm weather, choose early morning or late evening flights when the temperature is lower. Conversely, when the weather is very cold, try to fly in the middle of the day, as that’s when the air temperature is slightly higher.
For your dog’s safety, some airlines do not permit pets to fly in the cargo hold when temperatures are too cold or too hot at any point on your journey. That means you’ll be left trying to make other plans for your dog, so be mindful of that possibility when making your travel plans.
Check Availability Before Flying With Your German Shepherd
Most airlines will only carry a limited number of dogs per flight, especially during busy periods. So, always contact the airline to check before you book your flights. Ideally, you should make reservations for yourself and your German Shepherd at the same time.
Veterinary Health Checks
Your dog most likely won’t be permitted to travel unless you can produce a health certificate from your vet to say that your dog is fit to fly and your canine companion’s vaccinations are up-to-date, including rabies.
Health certificates are valid for 30 days and are required both for departure and return flights. In fact, most airlines won’t accept a health certificate if it’s more than ten days old. Bear in mind that if you are away for longer than your dog’s certificate is valid, you will need to arrange for a vet visit while you’re away on vacation so that your dog has health clearance for your return flight.
Does Your Destination Permit German Shepherd Dogs?
Some countries and US states have strict rules on visiting animals and insist that dogs are placed in quarantine on arrival. That could mean your dog might have to spend your entire vacation in quarantine kennels, which could ruin your trip for both of you.
Preparation Is Crucial
Always ask your vet for advice on what food, water, and medication you should give your dog before you fly.
In particular, sedation is a matter of debate. Even some veterinarians recommend against sedating your dog for travel, and many airlines will not permit a sedated pet to fly because there are risks associated with that. If you do want to sedate your dog prior to flying, you will need to produce a vet’s note.
Be sure to familiarize your dog with his new crate well before you travel. It’s a good idea to have a few dry runs in advance of your trip so that your dog is comfortable and happy in his crate. You might even want to visit the departure area of the airport a couple of times, too, so that your dog can get used to the sights, sounds, and smells of an unfamiliar environment.
At The Airport
If your dog is flying as cargo, you’ll need to be at the airport in good time, at least three hours before your flight departure time for domestic flights. If you’re flying internationally, you’ll need to be there at least five hours before your flight is scheduled to depart.
Generally, you’ll need to take your dog to a designated cargo drop-off point at the airport. So, allow plenty of time, and make sure that you know where you need to go.
It’s advisable to have a current photo of your German Shepherd on your phone. Although airlines are very careful not to “lose” animals, it does happen occasionally, so it’s wise to be prepared. We also recommend that you have your pet microchipped, which is a legal requirement in some overseas destinations, such as the UK.
Collect Your German Shepherd Immediately on Arrival
Dogs are usually available for pick up around two hours after your flight arrives. If you don’t collect your pet within four hours, your dog will be taken to a boarding kennel or veterinary clinic. So, when you reach your destination, grab your checked baggage as quickly as you can, and then get your dog.
Take your dog for a walk immediately so that he has a chance to relieve himself and stretch his legs after a long journey confined to his crate. Most major airports have a pet relief area, so make good use of that.
Flying with a large dog in cargo is not recommended. The experience is likely to be very stressful for your furry friend, and there are some horror stories of dogs not surviving long-haul flights. Unless you’re relocating to a different state or country and you have to fly to make the trip, or you’re on vacation for over four weeks, it’s better to leave your dog at home with a pet sitter.
However, if you intend to fly with your German Shepherd Dog, be sure to follow the advice we’ve given in this guide. Bon, voyage!