Can Dogs Learn to Fly?

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Introduction

Dogs have many wonderful and truly amazing talents. They can sniff out drugs and prohibited items, rescue survivors from the rubble after a natural disaster, and make loving and loyal companions for people of all ages.

Unfortunately, one thing our furry friends can't do is learn to fly. Try as they might, our fur-kids can't grow wings and take to the sky.
However, that doesn't mean dogs are limited to the ground, as they're quite capable of air travel as passengers and, more recently, even as pilots. The idea of a dog flying a plane might sound pretty far-fetched, but sometimes fact can be a whole lot stranger than fiction.

Does Your Dog Want to Take to the Sky?

Does your dog spend the day jealously watching birds fly by? Do they love leaping from on high and soaring through the air? Do they race around the backyard making airplane noises and pretending they're a fighter pilot?

Okay, maybe not the last one. But seeing as you asked whether dogs can learn to fly, you may be wondering just what your furry friend is capable of. 

A dog in full flight really is a wonderful sight to behold. Take the wet and wild sport of dock jumping, for example. Every dog that takes to the platform is ready to launch, and barely able to contain their excitement while they wait for their turn. Maybe it's the excitement of chasing their favorite toy, making a splash, or simply pleasing their owner, but surely some dogs also love that feeling of freedom as they leap off the dock and out into oblivion.

While we're sure dogs would love to be able to flap a set of furry wings and fly away — after all, they're more than happy to tackle most other new situations and experiences — this is one skill that's currently beyond our canine companions. However, you might be surprised to learn that there are a couple of ways you can help your pooch get airborne.

Body Language

Your dog's body language could be indicating that they're bored with life on the ground and that they want to take off. Signs include:
  • Barking
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Pacing

Other Signs

Other signs of a dog who wants to take to the sky include:
  • Watching birds with envy
  • A fascination with planes, helicopters and other flying objects
  • A love of jumping (off just about anything)

The Science of Flying Dogs

No matter how hard they may try, dogs can't grow wings and fly away. However, these amazing creatures can actually be taught to fly airplanes. It sounds ridiculous but it's completely true. 

In a 2016 British TV program, Dogs Might Fly, three remarkable rescue dogs were trained to fly a plane and even perform some aerial tricks. Under the tutelage of New Zealand animal trainer and zoologist Mark Vette, these daring dogs spent four months training to operate a Cessna 172. 

The show saw 12 stray dogs handpicked and rescued from shelters across the UK. In an interview with The Guardian, dog trainer Victoria Stilwell said the show looked for dogs “willing to go the extra mile, to problem-solve and to investigate how to work something out for themselves. That’s the kind of dog you want flying a plane,” she said.

The pooches were trained to perform an impressive array of tasks and tricks as part of the program, but three of them — Reggie, Shadow, and Alfie — were given the chance to fly. Training took part in a special flight simulator which used colored signals to indicate which direction the dog should fly. Blue meant to turn left, red indicated a right turn and white meant to continue straight ahead.

These lights were then attached to the cockpit of the Cessna, and the plucky pooches wore special harnesses to keep them upright.And while a human pilot was on hand to take care of take-off and landing, each of the three dogs took control of the plane for long enough to perform a figure-eight in the sky. Reggie became the world's first dog to officially fly, and apparently took the controls for 15 minutes straight.

If that's not the most dog-gone amazing thing you've read today, you're a very hard person to impress.

Flying With Your Dog

The opportunity to get behind the controls of a Cessna 172 probably isn't something your pooch will get to experience in their lifetime. However, there are still a couple of simple ways you can help your pet indulge their passion for flying.

The most obvious one is to take them on holiday with you. If you're the proud owner of a pint-sized pooch, one of the benefits of small pets is that many airlines will allow your dog to travel in the cabin with you. Larger dogs, however, will not be allowed to travel in the cabin (unless they're service dogs). 

These breeds will instead need to travel in cargo. This is entirely safe and most airlines have comprehensive policies in place to ensure that your pet is as comfortable as possible, but it can be a stressful experience for some canines.

Another way to allow your dog to feel what it likes to feel like they're flying is to give the sport of dock jumping a try. Some dogs absolutely love this simple yet highly addictive sport, and the joy they get from launching themselves through the air is wonderful to behold. In fact, it's so good that dock jumping is almost as much fun to watch for people as it is for the dogs participating.

If your dog just wants to spread their wings and fly, search for your nearest dock jumping event or group and give it a go.

Safety Tips When Flying With a Dog:

  • Check the fine print. Before booking, carefully read all the terms and conditions of the airline's pet policy. Where on the aircraft will your dog travel? What does the check-in and boarding process involve? How will your pet be looked after during the flight? Make sure you know what to expect during your journey from start to finish to avoid any nasty surprises.
  • Plan ahead. From training your dog to be happy and comfortable in a crate, to teaching them how to overcome separation anxiety if they'll be separated from you for the flight, make sure your pet is ready for what lies ahead. Desensitizing your pooch to noise is also a must.
  • On the day of the flight. Give your dog plenty of exercise beforehand to tire them out for the flight. Make sure they've had plenty of food and water, but balance this with the consideration of how long it may be between toilet breaks for your pet.
  • Talk to your vet. Visit your vet well in advance to find out whether it's safe for your dog to fly. You may also be able to investigate the possibility of sedatives or anti-anxiety medications for your pooch.

We Want to Hear About Your Dog's Desire to Fly!