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Traveling with a Shih Tzu

Cars, Buses, Trains, Airplanes, Motion Sickness and More


There will, of course, be times that you travel with your Shih Tzu, whether this is a short trip to the local park or a long trip that is much more extensive. 

Bringing our dogs along with us has its obvious benefits; however there are certain issues that can make this difficult.

In most cases, with planning, you can take your Shih Tzu with you on an airplane, for a long car drive and even jot around a city in taxis. You'll want to focus on comfort, health (avoiding motion sickness) and safety.

This section will cover:
  • Short and Long Car Trips
  • Combating Motion Sickness
  • Taxis and Uber
  • What You Should Know about Buses and Trains
  • Flying on a Plane with your Shih Tzu
  • Tips for Your Destination Arrival

Your Shih Tzu in a Car

It is common for dogs to have trouble being in a car. The most typical issues involve:
Car sickness - A Shih Tzu puppy or dog may develop a terribly upset stomach, dizziness and nausea. This feeling can evoke panic (trying to escape, whining) which can be mistaken for a dog not liking the car, though it does sometimes result in vomiting. 
While this condition can happen to people as well, with dogs it is often very pronounced and happens more easily. When the inner ears sense movement (the car is driving) but the dog does not see movement (he is not moving in relation to the inside of the car) this is often what creates the feeling of being ill. (More ahead on this)

Fear - Many dogs are afraid of the car; for those not used to it (and double for those with bad experiences) it can be an overwhelming event, stressful enough that the Shih Tzu will bark, whine, become restless, shake and even try to escape. 

Barking - This is often related to either the queasiness, fear or a combination of both. It is not uncommon for owners to avoid traveling with their Shih Tzu in the car simply because the barking is non-stop, causing a distraction and being a stressor. 
Shih Tzu traveling
Dino, Photo courtesy 
of Diana 
Here are some tips:

It is possible to make car rides with your Shih Tzu much more enjoyable. It does take some planning and in cases of a phobia, it can take some time. However, it is well worth it when you have the freedom to bring your Shih Tzu with you as opposed to leaving your dog at home.

1) Practice. Just like many other elements, a Shih Tzu often needs to be desensitized. This involves a gradual introduction and experience within the car. 

Very few dogs will do well if placed in a vehicle and taken for an hour drive the first time. 

And one issue is that an owner may have taken their Shih Tzu for a ride without realizing the effect it would have, but now feels it's too late to 'start over'. 

However, whether you have a puppy that you now want to start driving around or you have an older dog that never did well, starting from the beginning can help out quite a bit.
Here is a Training Schedule:

Step 1 - Secure your Shih Tzu (more ahead on the best car seats) and sit behind the wheel. Turn the car on. Do not drive anywhere. That's right, the goal is to sit in the driveway with the engine on. 
This allows your Tzu to get accustomed to his car seat, the sound of the motor and the general overall feeling of being in the confined space. Be sure to have your supply of toys (more ahead). Start off with 5 minutes and work your way up to 15. Do this for 7 to 10 days, at least once per day if able. 

Step 2 - With everything in place, this will be slow movement back and forth in the driveway. Take care when applying the brakes, making the transition as easy as possible. If you have a very short driveway, you can jump to the next step. It is best to do this for 1 week, with 5 to 10 minute sessions. 

Step 3 - Short drives. This is a short drive of 15 minutes in a thinly settled district where you can safely drive 35 mph or under. 

Step 4 - Now you are ready to take longer rides in the car. It is best for you to make the destination be a fun one such as a visit with a doggie friend or a trip to the park. However, in any case, a reward when exiting should be given.

Even if your Shih Tzu appears to be doing fine, take a rest stop every 30 minutes. This is vital, as most owners keep driving if the dog seems to be okay. However, without a break, that can change very quickly. It is much easier to avoid upset stomach or restlessness than try to fix it once it happens. 

Pull over somewhere safe and with your Shih Tzu on leash and harness, allow him to walk around, have a drink and a snack and 'find his legs' again. 
2) Preventing Motion Sickness- If the nausea can be kept at bay, this is a huge hurdle to being able to bring your Shih Tzu in the car. 
Shih Tzu outside
Dea, 1 and 1/2 years old
Photo courtesy of Fris Laygo
Here are some tips:

1. Food & meals. Any extreme, an empty stomach or a full stomach, should be avoided. 

Offer a small snack; dry biscuits are best. Many dogs respond well to a bit of sugar. This can be a jelly bean or a small teaspoon of white sugar. 

Do not overdo this (it can cause a high sugar spike that results in the Shih Tzu having too much energy), be sure it is real sugar, as fake sugar is toxic and of course, do not give anything with chocolate. 

2. Calming remedies . There are some herbal calming remedies that can help a Shih Tzu feel better when traveling in the car (or on a plane). 

One that is quite effective for many dogs (when used in conjunction with proper seating, etc.) is Richard's Organics Pet Calm. This has a safe blend of chamomile, passion flower and Valerian root. 
3. Inside car adjustments. Dogs often do best if it is just a tad cooler than owners would assume is a comfortable temperature.
While you don't want to freeze your Shih Tzu, keep the heat a bit lower in the winter than you would otherwise or the AC up one notch in the summer.

You'll also want to have one or two windows open a bit. When there is a cross breeze (your driver's window and the rear passenger window both open) this creates a good amount of air movement. Do note that having windows open all the way is often too much wind for a Shih Tzu. Experiment in regard to how much they are lowered depending on the speed. Soon you will learn what your dog likes best. 
3) The car seat. Not only is this nonnegotiable for safety, it also helps a dog endure travel. Let's look at the 2 elements:

Safety - If your car is traveling along at 35 mph and collides with another car or you hit something stationary, a 10 lb. Shih Tzu will be thrown with the force of a 300 to 450 pound object (depending on if  the car hits a stationary object or if there is a 2 car accident). 

That is enough to severely injure a dog, if not kill him. You cannot hold him, put your arm out, or do anything to prevent this, other than keep him safe in a certified canine car seat.
Comfort - Being up high and able to see is a huge element for a dog being able to tolerate traveling in the car. A raised booster seat, sized for toy breed dogs like the Snoozer Lookout Car Seat size Small is a great choice. The 4 walls offer a feeling of security and there is room for toys. 

Tips - The front passenger seat can be a dangerous place if it has air safety bags. If you cannot shut these off, the best place for a Shih Tzu in a car is in back seat. Many dogs do well on the rear passenger side, where they can see their owner but also be close to the window. 
Booster seats have a buckle attachment inside to secure the dog. Do not attach this to your Shih Tzu's collar. This can cause severe neck and/or back injury should the car be hit or if the brakes are abruptly applied. Place a comfortable harness on your Shih Tzu and attach the buckle to that.  

Keeping a Shih Tzu Calm

The elements that will help during car travel that we already went over (but also help with reducing stress) are:
  • A gradual desensitizing
  • Prevention of motion sickness
  • Taking breaks at least every 30 minutes
Other tips that will help include:
  • Have special car toys that are only given inside the vehicle. With your dog safe and free from nausea, this alone can quickly train a Shih Tzu to actually look forward to traveling. 
  • Experiment with music - Some dogs will calm down with certain music; easily listening is often best, however experiment with genre and volume. 
Shih Tzu medical alert dog with owner
Photo courtesy of Barbara Kostelnik 

Taxis and Uber

It is best to make sure that your Shih Tzu is very familiar with cars before trying to take him into a taxi or other car service. 

Not all taxis and ubers accept dogs; in most cities, this is the driver's discretion. What they fear most is the dog soiling the car or vomiting. Since it will be difficult to drag a car seat along with you if you are jumping into taxis and you'll want to put the driver at ease, it is often best to have your Shih Tzu in a sling (best if he is under 10 lbs.) or an a canine carry case.  

Buses and Trains

There is not one blanket rule for pets on this type of transportation. Each bus and train line has different guidelines. Some only allow dogs if they are checked as luggage, in a crate. We suggest avoiding this at all costs. 

Others will allow small dogs if they are in canine travel bag or carrier and yet others will allow a dog if on leash. You may want to look over the Pet Travel Guide site that lists out rules by city and even covers traveling by ferry.
Recommended car seats and carrier bags are below. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. On mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4. 

Flying on an Airplane with your Shih Tzu

If you have decided to do something fun with your Shih Tzu and it involves traveling far enough to take an airplane, a lot of preparation will need to be done. Not all airlines allow pets in the passenger cabin; they have dogs go into the cargo compartment with luggage and this can be risky, if not fatal. It can be overwhelmingly stressful, not to mention the extreme temperature changes. 

Here is a list of the 6 things to do & know:

1. Research airlines ahead of time to find out their exact rules and guidelines. You'll want to know about bag size, boarding guidelines, and any extra fees.

2. Choose the travel bag/carrier wisely. For those airlines that do allow pets to travel with owners, they will need to be in a travel carrier. Luckily, since the Shih Tzu is a toy breed dog, this can be accomplished. However, rules on the size of the carrier are strict. You'll want to take measurements to be absolutely sure that it meets the regulations. 
Terry, photo courtesy of Ana Almonte
One like the Sherpa Delta Pet Carrier is a great choice for most airlines. This has wire mesh which helps it conform to fit under seats, mesh windows, a great carrying strap, and even comes with a luggage tag. 

Also, be sure to train your Shih Tzu to become used to the carrier. Even if he does well in a car seat and is happy to be in a sling… canine travel crates are much different.
3. Book a direct flight. Changing planes is stressful enough without having to worry about your Shih Tzu too.

4. Health -check papers. Many flights want you to produce papers stating that your dog is in good health and up-to-date on shots. In most cases, this must be dated within 10 days of travel. 

So, you'll want to plan ahead to obtain this from the veterinarian. 

If you will be traveling overseas, there may be much stricter regulations, so you'll want to inquire about this. Do you remember when Johnny Depp's dogs were put in a quarantine facility in Australia because the actor did not bring proper documentation? You don't want that to happen to your Shih Tzu. 
5. Dealing with bathroom needs. Unless the flight is very short, traveling on a plane will no doubt involve your dog needing to go to the bathroom at some point. 

If allowed to do this in the crate, it can be uncomfortable for your dog, not to mention the noses of every other passenger. 

This is where doggie diapers can come in handy. While you'll have some cleaning up to do once you land (via quality canine body wipes), keeping urine and feces contained makes for more comfortable travel. 

6. Calming remedies. If you know that your Shih Tzu doesn't do well with planes, you can start this before takeoff (see above, under 'car tips'). However, if you are not sure, you can bring some along or apply a small dose to his travel carrier just in case.  

It is not recommended to use prescribed tranquilizers unless there is a strong, valid reason. 

Many are not tested to see how animals respond when at high altitude and if a dog were to have an allergic reaction, tens of thousands of feet in the sky is not where you want to be. 
Shih Tzu puppy in blue blanket
Cooper, 6 months old
Photo courtesy of The LaPenna Family

Arriving at Your Travel Destination

While you may have been looking forward to vacation for quite a while, your Shih Tzu may not share your excitement. 

The 2 biggest mistakes that owners make when traveling are not having a plan for their dog in regards to lots of walking and assuming that their dog will be fine staying at a new house or in a hotel. 

Let's look at these issues:

Walking - As with many things, the fact that a Shih Tzu is a small toy breed dog makes life a bit easier, including the solution to this. If you'll be doing a lot of walking or sightseeing, you'll want to take steps so that your Shih Tzu 1) does not tire out and 2) is not overwhelming being walked among a bunch of people in a new setting.  

While it's just fine to let your dog explore a bit (safe on leash and harness) having a sling or body-carrier for your dog can be a great help. 

These are much different than carry cases; a quality sling is an open-air cloth sling bag that will keep your puppy or dog against your body (similar to a pocket book or 'man purse'). One like the Timetuu Hands-Free Dog Carrier Sling is ideally sized for most Shih Tzu.
A canine body-carrier is similar to a baby carrier, a sort of 'pet backpack' that has leg and head openings, keeping your Shih Tzu secure on your front. One like the Outward Hound Kyjen PoochPouch Front Carrier For Dogs is both super sturdy and comfortable.
New environment - While you can't take everything with you when traveling, if possible do bring your Shih Tzu's bed. This can really help a dog settle into a new place. It can also help to bring along the dog's food and water bowls. Pets can get attached to these and may be finicky about eating if the food is not served in the dish that they are familiar with. And of course, bring along favorite toys

A Final Word

Traveling can be exciting, but not always for dogs. If you are planning a long trip, do put some thought into what will make your Shih Tzu happier: Staying at home (with friends or family) or being somewhere new with you. 

It's not always an easy decision. If you do take your puppy or dog with you, with a bit of planning, you can both enjoy the getaway. 
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