Does Your Dog Need a Headset? Tips for Flying with Fido

Opinions vary on how much special treatment and gear dogs need when flying in GA aircraft.

Aviation is full of firsts. You have your first solo, first flight as a certificated pilot, first time carrying passengers. Then there is the first time you go flying with your dog.

Like the other examples, traveling with Fido requires planning and often comes with a degree of trepidation. After all, it is hard to predict how your uninitiated pet will respond to the sensations of flight. While many pilots who fly regularly with canine companions say it is no big deal, that their dogs usually fall asleep during the taxi, it might not be so easy in every case.

While I look forward to taking Mozzie, our hardy Australian cattle dog mix, on his first flight soon, I wonder if cockpit noise will bother his sensitive ears. I also worry about motion sickness, which occasionally strikes him on long car trips. Perhaps the unfamiliar airport and aircraft will make him nervous?

Christoper Corrado, a veterinarian and pilot based in Blairstown, New Jersey, says anxiety and motion sickness tend to be the main hurdles for dogs. And sometimes the odd visual perspective of the earth through the windshield at several thousand feet upsets them. But many dogs love to fly, and will jump into an airplane the same way they jump into a car.

“No one knows better how your dog is going to behave than you.”

Peter Rork, founder and president of Dog Is My CoPilot

A number of companies sell gear from muffs for hearing protection to therapeutic swaddles designed to keep dogs calm. A Warsaw, Indiana, company called 4 Paws Aviation adds oxygen hoods to the list to prevent hypoxia at higher altitudes in unpressurized cabins.

Still, many pilots who have flown with dogs for years say the only equipment you really need is a comfortable back seat where the animal can sleep, because that is what dogs usually do.

“No one knows better how your dog is going to behave than you,” says Peter Rork, founder and president of Dog Is My CoPilot. You have to allow pets some time to get used to the routine of flying, which may take a few trips, he adds.

Rork’s organization flies dogs from overcrowded shelters, where they may be killed to make space, to adoption centers in areas where dogs are in demand as pets. For this type of bulk shipping, efficiency is the goal. The dogs ride in crates in the group’s Cessna Caravan because it is the best way to transport as many as possible while keeping them comfortable and under control, Rork says. 

Experts say you should let your dog hang around the hangar and the aircraft for a while so that they may get familiar. [File Photo: Adobe Stock]

Dog Is My CoPilot has not used special equipment beyond crates for the animals. While the Jackson, Wyoming-based organization flies routes over and around the Rocky, Sierra, and Cascade mountains, they do not fly above 14,500 feet—and they keep high-altitude exposures short. Rork says the dogs feel more secure in their crates and typically snooze from takeoff to landing.

Patience is probably your greatest resource in getting dogs into the air successfully. Let them hang around the hangar for a while and get familiar with the aircraft’s interior before departing. Bring a bag with water, treats, and maybe a favorite chew toy. Have another family member or friend come along the first time to comfort, and if necessary, wrangle the critter while you fly. Remember, distraction is always a serious threat.

Chances are, if your dogs tend to follow you from one activity to the next, they will fly with you as well. Some will love the experience while others will just tolerate it. A few will be anxious, ill, and otherwise miserable. In this way, dogs really are like people.

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