Dog is my copilot
Let’s face it – in the UK, the chances of an available aircraft, time off work and good weather all happening at the same time are pretty slim. But when it happens, we all want to grab the opportunity to take a trip. As you pack your flight bag and check you have enough cash for a landing fee, you feel a presence. Looking down, your gaze is met by two large eyes staring right back at you, accompanied by a furiously wagging tail. You’re going out – a dog’s favourite thing!
What do you do? Most people would pat the dog on the head, make sure there is a bowl of fresh water, then head off alone. Arriving at your destination, you might take a walk on a beach or go for a pub lunch…with a nagging guilt that Dog would have really enjoyed the day out too.
It feels like a big hurdle, but many dogs take to flying like a duck to, well, the air! For dogs, it’s very similar to car travel, and they’re just happy to be with their human family. Just remember that they will be as aware as us to changes in air pressure. Plus their ultra-sensitive noses will be exposed to all sorts of new smells.
As with car travel, acclimatisation is needed for all but the boldest of hounds. If yours is really fearful, introduce the idea gently, by feeding them near or in the aircraft. Build up lots of positive associations before gradually encouraging them to sit inside, first with the doors open, then closed, then with the engine running. Finally, move to short taxies then longer taxies. When you think your dog may be ready to get airborne, pick a calm day without too many thermals. Start with a circuit before trying a very short journey. Make sure you have something dog-friendly planned for your arrival. Lots of treats, fuss and a nice walk. Ensure you have a back-up plan to get your dog home by another method, just in case they are really unhappy. Don’t be discouraged if you feel like progress has stopped. Just go back a step and be patient.
As well as the animal, there are some things you need to consider as a pilot – not least the size and weight of the dog (remember to check weight and balance) and how to keep it secure. Car harnesses are ideal as they allow you to quickly remove your furry friend in an emergency.
If you take it one step at a time and don’t rush, your dog will soon associate the aircraft with exciting things and look forward to trips.
Admittedly, flying is not for every dog, and sometimes the sensible thing to do is admit defeat and leave them behind. Just remember to give them lots of treats and a big fuss when you get back!
Things to consider:
- Let your dog visit the toilet before you fly.
- Dogs have very sensitive hearing which can be damaged by exposure to noise. Cotton wool balls pushed gently into your dog’s ears are a good, short-term solution. For frequent flyers, consider investing in a pair of Mutt Muffs.
- It is really important that your dog is restrained so it doesn’t interfere with the operation of the aircraft or come to any harm, in the event of turbulence, for example.
- The first few times, take a friend who is comfortable flying. They can help handle the dog and keep an eye on it during the flight.
- Remember to take water and food, just in case the unforeseen happens and you are away for longer than intended.
- Check that your planned destination is happy to welcome dogs.
Adapted from an article originally published in Flyer magazine.