I was in Alpharetta about a week and a half ago working with a new Home Dog Training client and Margaret, his 2-year-old Havanese. We were working on standard obedience exercises as well as some needed improvement in her willingness to pay attention to my client and his family. Margaret was doing very well and she was giving my client full attention as we were finishing up our session. My client was thrilled with the initial progress, but had one more question. He told me that he and his wife, as well as Margaret, were going to Phoenix over Christmas and Margaret had never been on a plane before. He was afraid that she would be a little terror in that confined environment for the five-hour flight.
Being confined in a strange environment with unfamiliar sights and sounds can be scary for many of us, dogs included. When in a plane, you are in a pressurized environment with limited eyesight, weird sounds, uncomfortable smells, and no ability to assure your safety. Besides that, everyone is wearing a mask. All this stuff naturally makes us nervous even though we know what is going on. Just think of what Margaret will experience.
The best we can do for Margaret is to attempt to familiarize her with the environment and assure her that all will be well. We need to do this in two steps. The first step involves socializing and comforting her to the environment of the crate. Since we can’t emulate a pressurized plane cabin in our family room, the crate is the next best thing. The crate will be her main “safe place” during the trip and her best focus on safety.
I suggested that he get an airplane approved crate immediately. Next, he needs to put it in the family room and where ever Margaret and the family will be hanging out. He should not force her inside the crate, but entice her.
Start feeding her in the crate. Put goodies in the crate and place her favorite toys in the crate. Allow her to walk into the crate on her terms and allow her to leave when she wishes. The family members should sit next to the crate on a chair to emulate the crate being at their feet during the plane trip.
Eventually start to close the crate’s door for a few minutes while she is inside, always letting her out if she starts to become adrenalized. Increase the time the crate door is closed until she is fine and will actually fall asleep in the crate. Continue to make the crate a happy place while she is inside.
Next, start picking up the crate and calmly walk around the room. This emulates the time you will have to go through the airport and board the plane. Have family members crowd around you to imitate the hustle and bustle of the airport and the annoying line getting on the plane.
Next I recommended that my client and Margaret go to Hartsfield Airport. He needs to put her in her crate and put them in the car. After that, they drive to the airport and he and Margaret (in her crate), walk into the terminal. He can’t go any farther at that time, but they can walk around a bit to let Margaret get used to the sights, sounds, and smells of the airport. Doing this (for semi-real) ahead of time will allow my client to determine if there is anything else ne heeds to do to make sure that Margaret is ready for the trip.
Lastly, I suggested getting some Bach Flowers Rescue Remedy (available at most GNC Health Stores). This is a natural, holistic, calming essence. It often calms dogs (and people) and helps to diminish the anxiety of stressful situations. Since it is not a drug, it will not impact anything she may be taking from a Veterinarian’s direction nor will it impair her in any way.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over fifteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.