7 min read


Can Dogs Live in Space?



7 min read


Can Dogs Live in Space?


Look to the heavens and you will see Sirius, the dog star - the brightest star in the heavens! Man has looked to the heavens and pictured their best companion among the heroes and legends in the stars. With that curiosity of worlds beyond has come a quest for explorations into space in search of other beings, life forces and potential new worlds to inhabit and explore. 

As humans in contemporary times have reached for the stars, the dog has played a major role in learning about the potential of life beyond the earth's atmosphere. The earliest experiments with rockets were made with dogs, who bravely orbited the earth to demonstrate the capacity for life to be sustained in outer space.


Signs of Dogs Good for Space Travel

In the 1950s and 60s, dogs were included in space programs in Russia. The dogs that were selected to go into space needed to be small, so they could fit into the spacecraft and not take up much space. They also needed to be animals who were calm. Dogs that were aggressive or fearful were not appropriate for space travel. 

The space dog needed to be an animal that was not easily frightened, trainable, and who had an agreeable disposition. The dog had to tolerate wearing equipment to monitor body functions. The dogs chosen for space travel were stray dogs. The scientists believed that a stray had stronger survival instincts and would be more resilient to the stress of space travel than a dog that had been reared in a home environment. They were said to have selected "placid, long-suffering" animals for the space experiments.

Space dogs are restricted in their movements. The first sign the scientists would look for was whether or not the dog was able to stay alive in space. They took measures of the dog's vital signs, such as temperature, breathing, and blood pressure. 

Some animals were sent to space with food, so digestion may have also been studied. The stressed behaviors that the scientists wanted to avoid would have been noted in signs of fear and aggression. The dog would appear fearful, shaking, with a tucked tail and dropped ears. Many dogs become difficult to manage and will bite from fear.

Other signs of fearfulness in dogs range from behavior to body functions, similar to how human bodies react to anxiety-provoking situations. The dog may develop issues with digestion. There may be diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting. Blood may appear in the dog's stool or vomit. A stressed dog will have a decrease in appetite. The dog may show avoidance behaviors, run away, hide or sleep excessively when under stress. 

Humans are inclined to be explosive when they are feeling anxious. This is also true for dogs. The difference is that the dog will show the fear by becoming aggressive. The dog will show a fearful body position, cowering and backing away from fearful stimuli. A tail held high can be a sign the dog is aroused by anxiety.

Conversely, a dog that is calm will look physically relaxed. The dog will have a relaxed tail. The dog will look to the side, their mouth closed. The ears will be neither raised or lowered. The dogs chosen for space were cooperative with the scientists and manageable in their tests with them.

Body Language

Signs a dog would not be a good space candidate included:

  • Shaking
  • Dropped Ears
  • Biting
  • Tail Tucking

Other Signs

<p>More signs that a dog was no good for space were:</p>

  • Digestion Issues
  • Hiding
  • Running Away
  • Aggressive Behaviors

History of Dogs in Space


In the mid-twentieth century, the United States and Soviet Union were engaged in a race to space as part of the on-going Cold War. There were fears about nuclear arms, espionage, the war in Korea and expansions in media. On October 4, 1957, the Russians launched the Sputnik, the world's first satellite -  the first man-made object to orbit the earth. 

Both countries used animals to learn how living creatures and man may survive in the outer space. Dogs played an important role in these early explorations of space. The Soviet Union sent 20 dogs into space and some dogs died in these experiments. The testing with dogs began with subordinal flights between 1951 and 1956. There were a total of 15 of these missions in which the rockets flew 60 miles above the earth. 

The dogs that flew in these missions wore pressure suits with acrylic glass bubble helmets. On July 22, 1951, two dogs,  Dezik and Tsygan, were the first canine heroes to board one of these test rockets and both dogs were safely recovered. In a subsequent flight on July 29, 1951, Derik was sent on another flight with a dog named Lucy. Their space capsule parachute failed upon re-entry and both dogs died during this test. 

There were more launches during the summer and fall of 1951. Two space dogs, Smelaya and Bolik, ran away before they were launched. They were replaced by Malyshka and ZIB, who made successful orbits. More space dogs made suborbital flights in 1954. These dogs include Lisa-2 and Ryzhik, who made a safe journey on June 2, 1954. Albina and Tsyganka were successfully recovered from their flight one year later. From 1957 to 1960, there were 11 flights with increasing altitudes from 124 miles to 280 miles in these advancing rockets. In 1959, Otvazhnaya went into a rocket with a rabbit. named Marfusha and another dog named Marfusha. Otvazhnaya, whose name means Brave One, went on 5 more flights.

One of the most famous space dogs was Laika. On November 3, 1957, Laika was the first dog to go into outer space aboard the Sputnik-2. It was believed she could survive for 10 days. Sadly, Laika died within hours due to overheating and panic. It was a botched mission and her death caused an uproar in countries around the world, the United Kingdom, in particular. 

She was honored as a "hero of the Soviet Union" and her face is on a stamp. On August 19, 1960, Belka and Strelka went to space as part of Sputnik 5. Later, Strelka had 6 puppies, one of which, Pushinka, was presented to President Kennedy's daughter, Caroline, by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. She bred with the Kennedy's dog, Charlie and her descendants are alive today.

The Science of Dogs in Space


Dogs are not the only animals who have been sent into orbit to test the potential for life to survive in space. The species have included fruit flies, amoebas, algae, frog eggs, microorganisms, spiders, fish, cats, rabbits, mice, monkeys, squirrels, and chimpanzees. 

Let us remember that the astronauts who go into space are also subjects of study as to how the human body is affected by the conditions in space. Some of the conditions that are under study include the impact of weightlessness on the body. It was not known how the lack of gravity impacts orientation, body functions, and balance. Even the functions of muscles may be different in space as the brain will anticipate a physical movement before it is needed when there is no gravity.  

There are also questions about radiation in space and the potential for mutations or damage from exposure. The animal studies help the scientists to understand how space will impact reproduction, development, normal aging processes, general health, and mental functioning. 

There is continued optimism that these discoveries will not only expand the potential for man to someday live on other planets but to expand scientific understandings of life to find more cures and life-enhancing methods to improve life on earth. 

There are ethics in the use of animals in research. As times change, so do ethical standards regarding the use of animals in scientific studies. There are standards that today's scientists must adhere to when planning and implementing research. There must be a sound justification for the study. The studies must minimize the number of animals, reduce any sources of pain, discomfort, or harm and provide the animals with adequate care and handling.

Training Your Dog for Air Travel


The dogs that were sent to space had minimal training before going on their missions. The early scientists selected female dogs who were strays with a calm disposition. Their early training consisted of being in a small crate for extended periods of time and learning to eat food in the form of a gel. Later, they were made to stand still for long periods of time, practice wearing space suits, and they took rides in the centrifuge. 

You will likely not be taking your dog into space, but when you are traveling with your dog, there are things you can do to train your dog to be a safe and comfortable traveler. The first thing you will need to do is to crate train your dog. It is easiest to crate train if you start the training early, as a young pup. The Humane Society has offered these tips for crate training your dog. 

Begin by introducing your dog to the crate. Gently bring your dog to the crate, speaking in a soft and encouraging tone. Place treats in the crate and encourage your dog to walk into the crate. 

At mealtime, place the food bowl next to the crate. Gradually move the bowl into the crate so the dog will go into the crate to eat, associating the pleasure of food reinforcement with the crate. Once your dog goes into the crate, close the door and open the door as soon as the dog finishes eating. Gradually increase the time the door is closed at feeding to about ten minutes. 

Then start using commands to go to the crate. Call the dog over, place a treat in the crate and give the command, "Kennel". After the dog enters the crate, reward with a treat, praise and close the door. Stay near for a few minutes, then leave the room for a few minutes. Return and praise the dog as you let the dog out. 

Gradually increase the time you are out of the room. This may take several days or weeks. You can then expand your training to crating the dog when you are leaving the home. You can also work with your dog to crate at night as next steps. Once your dog is comfortable in the crate, the two of you can have safe travels knowing your dog is protected when you are on the go.

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Safety Tips When Travelling with Your Dog:

  1. Use restraints or safety belts to prevent your dog from roaming in the car.
  2. Place the crate or animal in the back seat - airbags are dangerous.
  3. Keep their head in the car.
  4. Take rest stops often.
  5. Never leave your dog alone in the car.
  6. Avoid airline travel with your dog.
  7. Investigate the airline policies and practices before deciding to travel by air with your dog.

By a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

Published: 03/23/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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