So you’ve been doing a ton of research looking for the perfect puppy to add to your family and you finally find it. The only kicker is that the pup is in another state and you’re worried about how to get your puppy home. You know you’re not comfortable shipping your puppy cargo so what are your options? There’s always driving to get the pup but that is likely an extremely long drive with the risk of parvovirus when letting your pup out for potty breaks in an unknown area. The option that I want to tell you about is one I didn’t know existed until I started helping out my breeder friends.
FLYING WITH A PUPPY AS A CARRY-ON
Some airlines allow you to fly with a small dog (or cat) as a carry-on. There is usually a fee and specific restrictions based on the airline (weight limit, limit to amount of pets on a plane, areas a pet cannot fly, etc.) so you definitely want to research the airlines you have available for your flight as they may vary. I recently traveled on American Airlines to go get a puppy for my friends (here is American Airlines pet policy). I flew from Massachusetts to California which in total was about a 12 hour trip for the pup not including the hour plus drive the puppy made to get to the airport.
WHAT TO EXPECT
A little extra security and a lot of extra attention is what to expect. When I picked up the puppy at the airport I was definitely worried about how he would behave and that something would go wrong with security or the flight and we wouldn’t be let on. All of my anxieties were for nothing! Here is how it all played out for me.
I started a few days before by making a packing list and gathering everything I might need. My friends (the ones who now own the puppy) made sure that the breeder had the pups shot records and took the pup to the vet for a health certificate. The airlines may not ask you for the health certificate but it is good to have just in case.
PACKING LIST MUST-HAVES
- Airline-approved carrier (Good2Go Carrier: I liked this one because it had both a top and side opening as well as a half “window” opening on the other side, a leash attachment so the pup couldn’t jump out if the door was open, and retractable supports so I could fold the carrier up and stow it in the overhead bin on my flight to get the pup. Another cheaper option that has an expandable side to give the puppy room during layovers is here.)
- Pee pads (line the carrier with pee pads)
- Poop bags
- Gallon zip-lock bags (to put any soiled items in so everything didn’t stink)
- Collapsible water bowl
- Leash and collar (no tags to reduce noise)
- Unscented bully stick
PACKING LIST EXTRAS
- Blanket or stuffed toy (for the puppy to snuggle with in the carrier)
- Toys (hard chews or rope, no squeakers; switch toys out throughout the trip so the pup doesn’t get bored)
- Change of clothes (for you in case the puppy pees on you haha)
- Snuggle puppy (I just used the heartbeat piece for most of the flight by putting the heartbeat under the pee pads in the carrier so the pup wouldn’t chew on it)
Here are a few other things you could ask the breeder to do before the flight: a blanket with a familiar scent (either of the breeder or the puppies siblings), ask if they will practice having the pup go in a carrier a few times, and ask if they can tire out the puppy before the flight.
TIME TO FLY
Once I picked up the puppy and got him settled into the carrier I went up to the American Airlines counter and checked him in. This airline charges $125 for a puppy to fly as a carry-on. The pup and carrier also must not weigh more than 20 pounds together and the puppy has to be able to stand up, lay down, and turn around in its carrier. For security they had me take the puppy out of the carrier and walk through the metal detector with him. They also pulled me aside to check my hands for traces of explosives. All in all, it was very quick and there were no issues at all.
While waiting to board, a lot of the passengers asked me if they could see and pet the puppy. We instantly became very popular and got lots of complements on how sweet and adorable he was. We boarded with no issues. Airlines require that the puppy is stowed under the seat like any other carry-on item. I had the top opening of the carrier open so I could pet the pup while we waited for the plane to take off. Once we were flying I was able to have the puppy (still in the carrier) on my lap and opened up the door so I could pet him and let him rest on my arm/hand. Note: some flight attendants my require you to keep the puppy under the seat for the duration of the whole flight. I also brought a separate bag with me on the flight with snacks for myself and a book. Airlines allow you one personal item and one carry-on item so this worked for me. Within my bigger bag of goodies I made sure to pack a smaller bag that I could put my book, water, and a couple snacks in since I knew I wouldn’t have room to put my full backpack and the puppy carrier under my seat for the flight.
Our first flight was about 6 hours and although the puppy never really fell asleep for any significant portion of that flight he did remain calm and settled in the carrier. He mostly just wanted me to be touching and petting him for the first part of the flight. Once he settled in a bit more he started chewing on the chew toys I brought. The odor-free bully stick was by far his favorite and kept him entertained for most of the flight. I was a little worried about being stuck in the middle seat for a 6-hour flight with a puppy, but thankfully both of the men sitting next to me were totally ok with the puppy. One of them even did his fair share of snuggling and petting the pup and let me put my drink on his tray since I didn’t have room to put mine down.
During our layover I took the puppy into a less busy bathroom with me. I used the larger stall and laid out a few pee pads on the ground so that the puppy could have the opportunity to try going potty in a safe place. I put my leash on the pup and let him out of the carrier to go on the pee pads. I also offered him a small amount of food and water since we did have a long trip that day. I would suggest not letting them drink a ton of water though because you don’t want to load them up before going on another flight. It is important to avoid any of the designated pet relief areas in an airport with a puppy because these can be dangerous since the pup isn’t fully vaccinated. I also wouldn’t let the pup down on the ground in the airport because it may have an accident. My pup didn’t use the pee pads in the bathroom so I put him back in the carrier (where more pee pads were lining the bottom just in case). The interesting thing is that during this kind of a stressful situation, a puppy will kind of go into survival mode and might not go potty until you get home. That is what happened for us. The pup made it the 12 hour plus trip without going pee or poo once!
The only time the puppy made any crying noise was first thing after I put him back into the carrier after attempting a potty break. Little guy wanted more freedom! Thankfully he settled fast once I started walking again and then that was the only time he made a peep. Our second flight was much shorter and he actually slept the whole time so I ended up leaving him down on the ground under the seat for the duration of that flight.
All in all, it was a pretty easy trip with lots of sweet snuggles and getting to make a lot of peoples day with some adorable puppy love. The puppy was excited to get home and stretch his legs once he got out of the carrier. He also went pee for such a long time after holding it in the whole trip!
I hope this is helpful information if you are planning a trip to go pick up your new puppy and welcome it home.
Have you travelled to pick up a new pup? Tell us about it in the comments!