If you're really into Schutzhund, you have the right dog, you give it quality training and you wish to compete at higher levels, you will one day have to expose your dog to the risk of commercial airline travel. While most flights carrying dogs as cargo have no problems, you would be shocked to know the number of times things go wrong. I have been involved with hundreds of flights from which I base my knowledge on.
When you fly with, or ship your dog, it's one of the few times you, as a Schutzhund person, will let your animal out of your control. You must rely on numerous people to care for and transport your dog from airplane to airplane, building to building, across many miles in all kinds of weather.
Don't assume that the airlines will care for your dog like you would. Many things can, and will, go wrong when shipping a dog. You, the owner, can greatly increase the odds of your Schutzhund dog arriving safely if you prepare yourself.
You need to be aware of what you need to do and say when flying your dog. Make sure your crate is in top condition. I also tape all around the bottom of the kennel. I do this because you never know if your dog will push or jump against the front door and break or spring it open. It also keeps people from opening the door. I'm amazed at how many dog owners are surprised to find that strangers will do such stupid things as open the kennel doors. We all know that some dogs can and will be aggressive, especially when someone gets close and stares in, or teases them, through the gate.
Make sure your name, address and phone are somewhere in clear view on the kennel. make sure the correct flight number and destination tag are attached firmly to the kennel. Tell the person checking-in your dog that you are flying with, or shipping a valuable animal and that you are concerned with the well-being of the dog. Talk to a supervisor if you are unhappy with the attitude or performance of the airline employee. Write down the names of uncooperative employees.
Remember to always be polite and respectful in your approach and attitude toward the airline, and its employees. After boarding, tell the stewardess you have a dog on the flight and request they inform you when the dog is loaded into the cargo compartment. Ask her to remind the pilot there is a dog on board. If you switch planes, make sure you repeat the whole process. Big dogs will not come down the luggage conveyors at most airports. Check with the luggage department about where your dog will be coming out.
I always make a point of telling the airline people that I have a dog, that I am concerned and I will be watching closely to make certain proper care will be taken.
Never assume that nothing will go wrong with your dog. Numerous dogs get lost, break out, are mishandled and worse yet, die every year. I've had several mishaps that could have been prevented. I can't tell you how many times a little extra effort by me has alleviated a problem. Remember, "no one will care like you, the owner."
I know for sure I've saved dogs lives on hot days and delayed departures. In one instance the air in the plane's passenger section wasn't on and people were sweating and complaining. I heard my dog barking continuously for 5 minutes. I knew he was having a problem with air supply. I questioned the stewardess about if our air supply wasn't working, how could my dog's air supply be working in the cargo compartment. She was annoyed and assured me the dog would be fine. By this time we had taxied out and waited 15 minutes in line on the runway. We then were told of a malfunction and we would have to taxi back for a short delay.At this point we were still without circulation in the cabin. I could now tell by my dog's hectic bark and the bark of a second dog on the flight that they were starting to weaken. I knew it was serious. Again, I rang for the stewardess. The same angry and annoyed attendant came for the third time. By now she was really ready to set me straight. She was busy with 100 + hot, angry people and she didn't want to have to walk back an deal with "the dog guy" again!
She got out about three lines of "Sir, the dog is fine, you shouldn't worry and be so paranoid about a dog". I remained calm and told her that my dog was in serious distress with both overheating and lack of air, and in a matter of minutes he would die. I insisted she get the cargo hatch open and I was going to go directly to the captain of the plane. She saw how semi-calm and intense I was and hurried to the front with me close behind.
She spoke to the captain and I quickly told him of my experience in these matters. The cargo hatch was opened and there stood my dog out of his crate (he'd broken his door open!), he had torn up the cargo door insulation and netting trying to get out and breathe! The cargo hold was well over 100 degrees and the second dog was already down in his crate. You should have seen the look on the face of the once annoyed stewardess. She was as pale as a sheet.
The dogs lived this time, but only because of my diligence. If I had not been informed and convincing, they would have died.This was a close call, and recently a good friend of mine in Pennsylvania was not so lucky. He lost a great dog because of airline neglect. I felt really bad for this man, he had a great dog who was in the prime of his life. No one cares more for their dogs and it was a shame.Be prepared and informed. Never assume the airline will care as much as you do. Remind them your dog is on the flight, insist if you must, but show respect and your flight with your valuable Schutzhund dog will be safe and uneventful.
Editor's Note: David Deleissegues is the Training Director of the South County Schutzhund Club. He has competed at the International Meisterschaft in Switzerland and recently won the USA North American Schutzhund Championship with his dog, Hark Vom Hause Anin.Reprinted with permission of the Author, David Deleissegues.