How to Crate Train Your Dog for Travel

chase in his travel crateIt's not something you learn until you're facing a long-distance pet relocation: crate training is one of the most important parts of planning a safe pet move.

In our many years of experience helping pets travel around the world, we've found that having a dog who is comfortable in the travel kennel will help ease the anxiety (both your pet's and yours) that this major life event tends to inspire.

By taking a few training steps before your day of departure, much of the potential stress surrounding cargo pet travel can be alleviated. Here are our tried-and-true tips for helping your dog acclimate to the travel kennel before your relocation.

*(Have a cat? Check out our cat crate training tips.)

Start Early

As soon as you know you're moving, buy your dog's travel crate. This will mean doing some research and measuring them from the base of their tail to the tip of the nose and from the floor to the top of their head to make sure you acquire the right one—here is more information about how to choose the correct airline-approved travel crate. In our experience, as long as pets have a few weeks to get used to their crate, they are in a much better position to enjoy a low stress move.

Start Slow

If your pet has never used a travel crate before and you sense they might be skeptical of it, don't put the whole thing together at first—just place the bottom portion of the crate in your living room or another common area where your dog likes to spend time. Once they get used to this, add the top of the crate. When your dog is truly comfortable, then add the door.

dog in kennel

Normalize The Travel Crate

Many pet owners have found success by placing toys and treats inside the crate to encourage exploration. You may also choose to feed your pet in the crate—start by placing the food bowl just inside of it at normal meal times and then gradually put the bowl farther and farther inside on subsequent days. Before you know it your pup will be casually moving in and out of the kennel and choosing to hang out there for naps and playtime on their own. (These tactics even work for cats!)

Maverick in travel crate

Be Patient

Though crate acclimation is extremely important, try not to force or rush the process. Ideally you have a few weeks at your disposal to let you dog come around to seeing the kennel as a positive (or at least neutral) aspect of life, so in that time try to behave normally and let your dog have time to get used to this slight change of scenery on their own.

dog crate training

Take a Few Trial Runs

Once your dog is comfortable with the crate, try keeping them in it with the door closed when you run errands (start with a few minutes at a time and work your way up). After this is going well, you can try loading the dog and crate into the car and taking short rides around town so that dogs start to see that crate life is no big deal.

pug in travel kennel

Offer Positive Reinforcement

As with all dog training endeavors, it helps to reward your furry friend when they do something you like. Treats, verbal praise, and affection go a long way when it comes to reinforcing new behaviors, and as an added benefit, the time you spend working on this goal together will help to strengthen your bond and relieve stress as you prepare for your big move.

nike next to travel kennel

Our clients are often worried about crate training older dogs who have never spent time in a kennel, but in our experience it's never too late to set your pet up for a safe flight. Happy travel crate training, everyone!

Have questions about crate training or need help planning your dog's safe relocation? Contact PetRelocation to set up a consultation.

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By Euna on September 23, 2018 at 11:36 am

we're visiting Korea for a few months and we really want to bring out doggie with us. so i've read all about the crate-training and that's great. my baby is a lab mix, weighs about 75 lbs and is as sweet as they come. i think we can train him to be comfortable with the crate......but my question is what will he do if he has to pee or poo in the crate during travel? and what about when he's thirsty? it's about 19-hr travel. is there like a dog-attendant that travels with them? they can't possibly be made to stay in the crate all 19 hrs, right?
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By Sadhana on September 18, 2018 at 1:45 am

Hi, I am planning to take my 2 English Bulldogs to Sri Lanka. it is 4.5 hr flight but I am very concerned if they will survive the journey due to their breed, age and heavy weight. Any advice? Any advice regarding the temperatures inside the cargo area of the aircraft?
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By maegan@petrelocation.com on September 21, 2018 at 3:55 pm

Hi Sadhana, Thanks for your question, it is one we get often because it is difficult to move snub nosed breeds. There are safe ways to do it, but there is always a bit of a risk with this breed. In order to relocate your pets internationally, you will likely need to wait until it is cooler than 80 degrees at all points of the journey. Here is some additional information about safely moving this breed internationally and information on cargo holds for pets. Hope this helps!
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By Elizabeth on September 16, 2018 at 12:38 pm

I rescued a street puppy who had been attacked last week, and we got a crate for her yesterday. She's fine going in and out, but she doesn't really like the door being closed. Next week I am flying her from India to the US so she can be adopted, live with a family with a yard and have lots of attention. We are working on the crate training, but I am kind of concerned I'm being cruel doing this! I know ultimately she will have a better life, but I am also worried she's going to be scared for 20 hours. Could you tell me a little bit about what the hold and such are like? I'd like to explain it to her, which might sound crazy, but I know she listens!
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By maegan@petrelocation.com on September 21, 2018 at 3:52 pm

Hi Elizabeth! That's wonderful you found this pup a forever home! If she doesn't like the door closed on her crate, you should start feeding her in there. Start with the door open, and as you progress, start closing it all the way. As soon as she is done eating, let her back out. Having something positive happen when she is in the crate with the door closed means positive conditioning. Plus keeping the time span short emphasizes the fact it’s no big deal to go in and out!

On a pet safe flight, cargo holds are climate controlled & pressurized just like the passenger cabin. Pets are actually breathing the same air as passengers on top. Here are some great tidbits to share with your pup. Hope this helps!
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By Marina on August 25, 2018 at 3:25 pm

I am planning a trip to England for three weeks I would like to bring my dog with me because my mother who I am visiting is very poorly and I think it would be important for her to be with him. He is And emotional support dog. He weighs 80 pounds and is the retriever chow mixI want him to travel with me in the cabin and wondered what your advice would be for the seven hour flight and how we can make it the most comfortable for him.
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By cquezada@petrelocation.com on August 30, 2018 at 11:34 am

Hi Marina

Thanks for your question! All pets entering through London Heathrow must arrive via manifest cargo, per their travel scheme. For all pets traveling this way, it helps a lot to get them acclimated to a crate. This significantly reduces travel anxiety. We recommend a 30-day lead time for preparation for most UK moves, so you have a comfortable time frame in which to meet the import requirements. Keep in mind that these requirements can vary depending on where you're coming from. If you would like a complimentary consultation with one of our relocation experts, please fill out this form and someone will contact you as soon as possible!
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By Sara on July 27, 2018 at 7:19 am

We are flying our 40 lb bernadoodle across country next week (6 hr direct flight). I'm very worried about the temperature restrictions (we are flying Air Canada)....it's going to be hot the day we fly:(. We have our travel crate and am wondering if we should put one of those doggy cooling pads in it? ....or is it better to leave the crate bare? Feeling so anxious!!!!!!
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By maegan@petrelocation.com on July 30, 2018 at 10:15 am

Hi Sara! We understand this can be an anxious time! We are a bit concerned that the airline might not allow cooling pads because the gel inside could open up and be hazardous to the pet if ingested. We do suggest layering the crate with absorbent material though (blankets, towels, old tshirts, etc.) The airline will require there to be some sort of absorbent material in the kennel and if your pet soils one layer, they can move it aside and have a dry area to rest. Feel free to check out this video about preparing your pet for travel. Hope this helps relieve some of your anxiety!
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By Monika Bechtel on July 20, 2018 at 12:26 am

Hello.We are leaving Tanzania in one week. It's very fast (and kind of unexpected), so we didn't have time to train our dogs to use their kennels. If fact, we had problems to even find proper kennels here. We are moving to the Seattle, USA, so the flight will be very long and I think very stressful for our dogs.Do you think one week of kennel training might be enough to make them feel comfortable? One vet here advised us to use Valium but I heard from other dogs owners that this isn't the best idea.Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.Monika
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By maegan@petrelocation.com on July 20, 2018 at 1:06 pm

Hi Monika! Thanks for your question.

Regarding administering valium as sedation, the answer is a firm "no." Sedation is dangerous because it interferes with a pet's normal coping systems and may disrupt regular breathing. Most airlines will not accept pets that have been sedated.

It is unfortunate when there is not much time for crate training, but any amount of time you spend acclimating your pets is better than no time spent! Just put things that smell like home inside the crate (old tshirts, blankets, towels, etc.) and that will help them feel more at ease.
Good luck & hope this helps!
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By sherin on June 26, 2018 at 2:10 am

Hi,I have actually bought my dogs crate two months back an the is traveling in September. I ve have tried everything to get him in there. He just seems scared of the crate. I even put the lower part alone and sat with him and given him positive reinforcement to get him used to it. He is a Maltese and I wouldn't put him in a plane if I had a choice but I am moving to Toronto and I don't want to leave him as I am too attached and I don't believe in abandoning him. I don't know what to do. I have been reading stuff online to try and get him used to his crate and I have booked his tickets on EmiratesRegards Sherin
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By maegan@petrelocation.com on July 2, 2018 at 3:04 pm

Hi Sherin! Have you tried setting it up like a "bed" your living room or a in a common space where you guys spend a lot of time? You can make a bed out of things like a blanket, towel, old t-shirt, etc. (anything that smells like you) and these items can travel with him on the plane as well, which will give him the comfort of home. Also, dogs tend to mirror their client's emotions so if you are overly anxious about the move, he will be too. Once you've set up his new "bed" leave it alone in your home and I bet he will eventually take to it on his own. Even if he never becomes fully 100% comfortable going inside, he will still remember that this crate was a part of his home, reminds him of you and will serve as his safe place while on his big journey. You guys are doing great! Hope these tips help!
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By charlotte on November 22, 2017 at 5:39 pm

The reason I was thinking about sedation or anti anxious medication is because it is not the crate my dog has a problem with...he's fine in a crate....he just cant stand the sound of the wind!! He goes crazy on stormy nights at the sound of the wind, he will literally bark and drive himself nuts for hours and hours....I can't begin to imagine what the sound of being in the cargo section of a 747 will be like for him...the sounds of take off and the sounds of the flight itself and turbulence and landing....we are flying from NZ to UK so the that level of anxiety for that many hours just really worries me. Any suggestions?
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By bethany@petrelocation.com on November 27, 2017 at 11:36 am

Hi Charlotte!

We're sorry to hear about your dog's anxiety - we know that can be tough on both you and him!

In the past for highly anxious pets, we've recommended adding extra "home comforts" to the kennel for travel. A blanket that smells like you or an old shirt may help him to feel a little calmer. Other than that, we've had clients look into some natural calming remedies, like pheromone sprays, to help with their pet's anxiety.

I know right now it may seem like it will be impossible for him to not stress out during travel, but we've had many anxious pets handle the journey without any issue. Most of the time, because the cargo hold is dimly lit, pets just end up sleeping throughout their journey.

We hope this helps somewhat, Charlotte, and hope both of you have a safe flight to the UK!
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