Fly or Drive Your New Bird Dog Puppy?

Many new puppy parents are often surprised when I recommend flying a puppy to their new home unless they live within a few hours. Pups I get myself are always flown unless the breeder is within a 4 hour drive. There are several reasons why I believe flying is the best option in getting pup to its new home.

Ely getting lovin' at by the American Airlines employess. :)

For one, in order for a pup to fly, Federal law requires a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian. This is an additional cost to the buyer, but means the pup receives a thorough examination from a vet within 10 days of flying and if the pup isn’t well, the health certificate will not be issued.

 
 

Next, and really the most important reason, it is absolutely the safest way to get your puppy from the breeder to your home without picking up disease! When a pup flies, its feet touch nowhere except the inside of that shipping crate from the time it leaves until the time pup gets to you.

 
 

If you are driving your pup home and think it’s a great idea to stop every few hours to get pup out at a rest stop, gas station, restaurant, etc., for a puppy break, you are mistaken and are exposing your new puppy to potential life-threatening diseases, parasites, etc. Everybody stops at rest stops and takes their disease-ridden dogs to the “dog areas.” Then, you bring your new, stressed puppy that’s just left his home, his resistance to disease is low at this time because of leaving the “nest,” traveling in the car, different people, water, etc.  You put him on the ground where all the germs, bacteria, and parasites are crawling around just waiting to hitch a ride on your new puppy’s feet—an 8-week old puppy that is not yet fully protected against these diseases. Even with the first set of puppy shots at 6 weeks old, pup is not protected from diseases such as Parvo, Lepto, etc.

 
 

A few days or a week later, pup is sick and everyone always the blames the breeder. If no other puppies in the litter have what your pup has, he didn’t catch it at the breeder facility.

 
 

Even if you fly your puppy and make the mistake of taking him out to a “dog area” at the airport where every one takes their dog, you put your pup at risk for picking up diseases and parasites. Take pup far away from these areas. Better, yet, just keep pup in the crate and high-tail it home to your clean yard!

 
 

Folks, you need to understand some things. I don’t think any breeder would knowingly allow a sick puppy to leave. They want their puppies happy, safe, and well. No breeder wants the phone call that a pup is sick soon after leaving—or ever for that matter. Reputations are everything. And keeping a kennel of breeding dogs and a litter of puppies healthy is the top priority of a breeder. If one gets sick, there is the potential for all dogs and pups in the kennel to get sick and this is not only financially devastating, but the clean-up, sterilization, quarantine of sick dogs, etc., will cause a lot of extra work, inconvenience, and potentially heartbreaking and devastating effects for years. Can you imagine the cost of treating a dozen or more adult dogs and litters of puppies for a parasitic outbreak or illness? Breeders cannot have their dogs and puppies sick. They are very busy people keeping their dogs, kennels, etc., clean and parasite free. Trust me. The work that goes into picking up every “deposit” from kennels and grounds, proper disposal, etc., is not fun, but it is essential to a healthy facility. Disinfecting puppy areas is a never-ending job for at least 8 weeks, and involves disinfecting whelping boxes, floors, play areas, puppy beds, blankets, laundry and toys, etc., wiping puppy feet, mamma’s feet, and doing so constantly. Any change in a puppy’s stool is an immediate panic for a breeder. It can mean simple Coccidia (which is in all dirt), but requires lengthy administration of medications and is very difficult, if not impossible to eradicate from the property or life-threatening Parvovirus or Leptospirosis. Breeders are on constant alert for any changes in eating, elimination, behavior, etc., and do not want a sick puppy ever!

 
 

The well-meaning and excited visitors can’t wait to make a trip to pick-out their pup in person or pick up their puppy, bringing family members, their other dogs, and stopping along the way to pick up a few potentially life-threatening diseases and parasites, leaving it on the breeder’s property, where adult dogs acquire them and be carries forever spreading the disease or parasite, or one that could potential kill every pup or cause for a very costly regimen of medication and round-the-clock veterinarian care to nurse them back to health. In the meantime, it makes the breeder look bad.

 
 

Unless you can make the drive to your breeder’s without stopping to pick up diseases along the way, don’t do it. Unless you plan to pick up your pup and keep him in his crate the entire trip back home—even if pup has to eliminate in his crate—don’t do it.

 
 

Seriously consider flying your puppy. I’ve already mentioned the benefit of the extra examination and health certificate and pup not picking up any diseases or parasites in route, but here are a few more benefits:

 
 

It is usually less costly to fly versus driving. With the outrageous price of fuel, tolls, the cost of a hotel room, taking time off work, eating out, etc., even the cost of the flight, the crate (that you most likely need anyway), and the health certificate usually works out less or at least very comparable. Throw in the veterinarian bill when pup gets sick from picking up something at the rest stop, and flying is a cheaper option.

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If a puppy is flying, the breeder has to crate train—or at least start crate training. A breeder can’t go to the airport with a puppy crying and carrying on in the crate. Neither the airline staff or passengers appreciate this.  This is easily solved by the breeder starting crate training so the pup is used to spending time in it and is not stressed at all when it’s time to fly. This is a total bonus for the new puppy owner. Better than driving for 8 hours listening to a poor puppy crying in a crate the whole way home, I’d say.

 
 

Fitz and Mannie upon arrival in the 'Burgh!
Two puppies of the same age can fly in the same crate to the same destination.

 
 

If pup is flying to his new home, he’s had at least 2 exposures to riding in a car—once to the vet for the health certificate, and the trip to the airport—another bonus for you. I try to make sure pups that are flying have another trip or two in the truck before the trip to the airport. This gets them used to riding, and gets them used to being carried around in the crate, and being put in and out of the vehicle. They hear the doors slamming, vehicle starting, get used to the stop/starts, being jostled around a bit, etc. Then when flight day comes, this stuff is old-hat and won’t freak out the pup at all. Even airplane switching, loading, unloading, etc. will not stress out a pup that’s used to it.

 
 

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Flying, just like any type of travel can have its downside. Temperatures—too hot or too cold—can delay a pup flying for a few days or even weeks. While frustrating to the new family waiting to receive their pup, this isn’t a bad thing and is all in the best interest and health of the pup. The pup just stays with the breeder a while longer, and unless it’s in some horrible breeder’s hands, staying longer is usually a good thing. Weather, such as storms, fog, etc., can cause a delay or cancellation of the flight. I’ve had times where pups get delayed on the second leg of the flight (there are rarely ever direct flights for flying puppies from here). New puppy owners get very stressed over this and a lot of unnecessary worry. It can cause hours of waiting and frustration, but it happens and puppy flying is a huge part of the airline’s business today and they take very good care of puppies. It is someone’s job to look after the pups in cases of layovers, delays, or even cancellations. Breeders are required to send food and water, so pups get this if needed. In my experience, it always works out just fine and the pups are well cared for and none the worse for ware. They have no idea they are late. They are just hanging out chewing on their new toy.

 
 

Flying puppies is a lot more work for the breeder. They have to start the crate training. Most breeders today have full-time jobs, besides the care of the kennels and puppies, and are not able to easily take off a day any time they need to fly a puppy or to take it to the vet for a health certificate. They have to do the work of figuring out the best flight route and make the flight arrangements/reservations. There is a lot more paperwork the breeder has to do. They usually have to take off at least a half-day of work to take the pup to the airport. Flying a pup involves a lot more than just putting a pup on your lap and driving to the airport.

 
 

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Pups usually have to be checked in at the airport 90-120 minutes before the scheduled flight. In my case, the drive to the airport is just under 2 hours one-way. The pups also have to be fed at least 2 hours before leaving for the airport so they do not get car sick. Then, there needs to be time to get the pup out (at a clean place where no other dogs go) for a bit of play time and to relieve themselves. For example, when I have a puppy whose flight leaves at 6:00 AM (which are most flights in the warmer months), my day starts at 12:30 AM. I don’t bother going to bed because I don’t hear alarm clocks. ever. Pups are offered food at 12:30 AM because we have to leave by 2:30 AM. Everything is loaded into the truck—puppy paperwork, puppy food, water, dishes, flight paperwork all filled out and in truck, clean towels, blankets, wipes, water, leash, etc. The puppy’s flight crate all ready with the paperwork, food, absorbent materials, blanket, a new toy, live animal stickers, etc. I load pup into another travel crate in the front of the truck (keeping their flight crate clean and ready). We make the 2-hour drive on time if weather is good. I have a secret place that I feel is clean and no other dogs have defecated. I get pup(s) out to “go” and have some play time and exercise. I wash their feet, then it’s back into the crate and we get to the airport. I switch pups into their flight crates and double-check all paperwork, etc. Carry the pups into the airport terminal, stand in line, and go through the check-in process. It’s a long process. More paperwork. The crate and pups are inspected (pups cannot look or act sick or sedated). Then, they take the pup. Usually there is at least an hour before the pup’s flight actually leaves. I sometimes have to leave, but prefer to wait until the flight actually takes off, if something goes wrong, like the flight gets delayed or cancelled, etc. During this time, I sometimes have other pups to fly, so repeat the same thing or if there are a few hours before another pup leaves, we go find something fun to do in an area no other dogs would most likely have been—not public areas, but a back road, out-of-the-way area, usually the woods and not a public hiking trail. While waiting, I call or text the new, anxious puppy owners with the confirmed flight details, airway bill number, usually send a photo of the pup in the crate, etc. I then make the 2-hour drive back and immediately get on the computer to track the puppy using the airway bill and flight numbers. And then wait to hear from the new owners when they receive pup in good order. I ask for a photo of the pup as received in their new owner’s arms. 🙂

 
 

With all this extra work, and time off “work,” you would think most breeders would not want to go through the trouble of flying a pup and many won’t fly a pup—it costs a lot of extra time, effort, and money on the breeder’s part —but in this breeder’s opinion, it is the safest, quickest, and healthiest way to get a puppy to their new family. I am even considering restructuring my puppy pricing to include flying because I believe in this very strongly and I don’t think people realize the risks associated with driving a puppy home, stopping along the way to pick up some diseases, or even visiting puppies before they are protected bringing parasites and diseases on the kennel property that can affect our entire kennel and puppies.

 
 

If you have to pick out or pick up your pup in person, there are a few ways to help keep all the pups healthy and most everyone happy:

 

  • Bring an extra, never-worn, pair of shoes to change into when you reach the breeder’s grounds.
  • Use hand sanitizer before entering and handling the puppies.
  • Don’t bring other dogs or if you absolutely must bring it, plan on keeping the dog in your vehicle. Not only can your adult dog be a carrier for something that will not make him sick but make young puppies sick, but a breeder’s facility usually has a protective mother dog not appreciative or welcoming to a strange dog around her puppies. There can also be bitches in heat at the facility, making dogs more protective and unwelcoming to a strange dog.
  • Most upland gun dogs these days are family members and it’s great to have the whole family involved in the process of picking a puppy, but this usually doesn’t go well—every member of the family falls in love with a different pup! Decide well ahead of time who is the final-decision maker (usually Dad as he is usually the pack-leader and the one that will be working and hunting the dog, but this can be a hunting mom, too—like me!). With the live puppy cam, or videos and photos, families can watch the puppies for weeks before its time to make the decision. Most folks have already decided before they visit and most decide at the end, they don’t need to visit or are more confused about which pup to pick. But, if you do visit and have to bring the family, bring clean shoes for everyone! Realize there will be a protective momma or two on the grounds, etc.
  • Have an appointment, be on-time (not early or late) as breeders are very busy people and usually have a strict schedule to keep. They will have not fed the puppy (so it does not get sick while traveling). They will have bathed the puppy and want to present you with a clean, great-smelling new family member and they don’t want pup to get dirty again waiting for you to arrive. Telephone if you will be late.
  • If you must drive your puppy home, please consider not stopping at public areas to get your puppy out. Map out areas ahead of time that are out-of-the-way, maybe a back road, wooded area (beware of standing water and mud puddles, though) to let pup out. If he has a bm, pick it up (don’t be like others that leave their dog’s deposits everywhere). This would be a good sample to take to your vet at his first check-up too. It’s the first one after leaving the breeder.  Wash pup’s feet off before putting him back in the crate. This won’t get rid of everything, but it can help. Change your shoes or spray them with a bleach solution before getting back into your car.

 
 

Look, I don’t mean to sound like a paranoid freak. Lots of folks pick up their puppy in person and drive them back stopping at all these horrid places on the way home and never think a thing about it and most pups are just fine. But leaving the home is stressful and will bring a pup’s resistance down rather they act like it or not and when their resistance is low, puppies will contract diseases they would at other times easily fight off.

Most breeders have no qualms whatsoever about visitors at any time handling their puppies and everything is just fine. But one person visiting and unknowingly bringing Parvo in on their shoes handling puppies that are not yet protected can have devastating circumstances on that litter and future litters. I had a breeder friend that lost 2 entire litters at 4 and 6 weeks of age within days of a traveling family visiting. I’ve heard of a fellow that lost two puppies to Lepto shortly after bringing them home and letting them drink standing water from a puddle at a rest stop on the way. I hear from folks all the time bashing breeders because their pup ended up with Giardia or Coccidia (both highly contagious) shortly after arriving home, but as it turned out no other pup in the litter had it. They blame the breeder for unclean conditions, while no other pup got sick, and these things can be picked up anywhere and when the pup’s resistance is low from leaving their home, traveling, etc., it can and will take hold. There are fewer opportunities for a pup to contract something when flying!

 
 

Next time you are considering driving to pick up your new puppy, and unless you can drive without stopping until you have that puppy safe in your own disease-free yard, seriously consider flying. As mentioned, flying puppies is now a huge part of the airline’s business and they do it well and take very good care of the puppies. I would never consider flying a pup otherwise!

 
 

-M.

 
 

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