Dear Cesar,

My dog is scared to death of flying on planes, and I’m trying to find a solution that doesn’t involve drugging him.

When he was just a year old, we took him on his first flight. It was 5.5 hours long and he did beautifully. He was happy, calm, quiet, and he played with his kong and other people on the flight both going and coming. (He’s certified as my Service Dog, so he gets to sit on my lap or on the floor — he doesn’t have to be in a carrier.)

Then, a couple months after that, I took him on a 2.5 hour flight and I expected he would do just as well, but he had a major panic/anxiety attack during the entire flight there and back. There was nothing I could do or say to calm him down or snap him out of it — he was completely shut down. (I have no fear of flying, BTW, so I know it wasn’t my energy he was picking up on.)

I was so gutted by seeing him in such a deep state of distress — it seemed like his heart was going to stop or something! I travel a lot for both work and leisure, so it’s pretty much not an option to stop flying or to leave him at home.

Last summer I took him on a 1-hour flight to San Francisco. I bought him a Thundershirt and Mutt Muffs to see if that would help. It took a little bit of the edge off, but he was still shaking and drooling uncontrollably and he was generally inconsolable.

I’ve spoken to his holistic vet about this dilemma (and about how I refuse to give him sedatives or other drugs.) I’ve tried every “natural” remedy I can think of, but nothing has worked thus far.

I have a couple of flights coming up soon, and I’m just trying to see if there’s anything else out there that I can try.

Let me know if you have any suggestions.

– Lydia Zaki

Cesar’s tips to help dog overcome fear of air travel

Flying in a plane is an unnatural experience for most dogs. The air pressure alone can affect a dogs’ balance and cause anxiety or uneasiness. While your dog has flown peacefully before, he may be having a reaction now based on a variety of reasons, different smells, sounds, etc. In order to help ease him into the flying experience, I recommend that you try using an association by scent technique with lavender oil.

You can place a drop of lavender oil on your hands and let your dog pick up the scent. It is best to do this in association with pleasant experiences, such as feeding time and before walks. Do this as often as possible prior to the flight, and then once on the plane, allow your dog to smell the lavender scent again. The positive association will allow him to calm down and remain relaxed.

It is also important to keep yourself calm and relaxed during the flight. You may not fear flying, but the anxiety you feel FOR him is also affecting him. Your dog will pick up on your tension and manifest it into his own behavior. Your dog’s anxiety will pass and the flight will end, so it is crucial that you remain calm and assertive throughout.

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