The Traveling Chihuahua: Tips on How to Raise a Dog Who Travels

We made an addition to our family with a little Chihuahua-(1/4)Pinscher during our Peace Corps service on April 4th, 2017. She was the first dog I’ve ever adopted since the only other pets I had were little perriquito birds popular where we lived in Saltillo, Mexico in 1998. I’d always wanted a Chihuahua after growing up with close Mexican family friends in Lake Orion, Michigan who had two little ones. Almendra was the same brown color as Coral and abuela to Pepita, the sweetest cutest little black Chihuahua:

 

My partner Kyle knew I was having a hard time with my mental health, specifically panic attacks and severe anxiety. Considering this, he thought of a great idea to help me thanks to one of the people he worked with at a Cacao Association in Mingueo, La Guajira, Colombia who had two dogs that had just had puppies. After Kyle went to go meet the dog parents and newborn pups, he determined that the dogs parents were chill, not as “yappy”, or temperamental as most Chihuahuas are known for. I was apprehensive at first since we traveled a lot via bus to get everywhere along the coast for work with the Peace Corps, and we were living on a volunteer stipend, therefore I was worried there wouldn’t be enough money to support Coral. Alas, Kyle took me to go see the dogs, so of course I fell in love immediately. I saw my baby Coral and instantly felt a connection to adopt her.

 

She cost us 150,000 Colombian pesos, which is about $50 dollars. Apparently, miniature sized dogs can go for about $2,000 in the US, so we saved A LOT of money there. Either way, miniature or small dogs require such little food consumption, clean-up, and I argue overall minimal effort to train. We got lectured by my sister and prima who are avid supporters of “adopt don’t shop.” I’m a supporter of adopting as well, but the reality was that the nature of our job wouldn’t allow us to adopt just any dog, especially a medium or large-sized dog because a) their food costs too much to manage with our budget, b) finding someone to take care of a larger dog in Colombia when we have to travel 6-7 hours to the main office in Barranquilla would be difficult, and c) it would be much easier or cheaper to take a small lap dog around with us on buses or flights.

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The family in our backyard in Dibulla, La Guajira

Overall, we learned a lot about traveling with Coral mostly on buses, but a little on flights as well. My recommendations are as follows:

  1. Buy a neutral colored doggie bag cage that does not scream “I have a dog!” This will facilitate hiding your pet when certain conductors or transportation workers aren’t too keen about you having an animal. We bought a black bag that almost looks like a generic duffel bag. The majority of people didn’t complain about Coral after at least 60 times we rode a bus with her, except for a bus driver one time we were rushed and didn’t have her in her bag so he asked us (visibly annoyed) to put her in her bag, and another driver that insisted to give him a tip/bribe for bringing her on.

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    Coral the size of Cacao pods outside of San Jacinto, Colombia
  2. Start training your puppy to travel right away by bringing them along on trips since they are young so that they grow up traveling easily. Potty training is the most difficult at first, so make sure to take them out at every pit stop possible so they know that is when it’s okay to go potty instead of in a moving vehicle. Overall Coral started to learn that she needed to lay low and out of sight, but we had to train her not to whine or yip to be let out. We would train or discipline her to not bark with water in a spray bottle or squirt gun.
  3. You do have to think ahead to when you can take your dog around with you, and when you might have to leave them in your hostel, hotel, or rental home. We would usually mix it up and take her out after work, but during work we left her in our room which sometimes required innovative measures like placing the “Do Not Disturb” sign out, or creating a barrier so she doesn’t stick by the door whining for us to come back to her.

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    How we would look while riding a Brasilia bus around the Caribbean coast of Colombia
  4. Buses are usually more relaxed spaces for small dogs as long as you have a well-behaved dog, while flights can be more strict and flight attendants will make sure you don’t take your pet out of their cage. Bringing your dog along on a flight tends to cost more money (unless it’s a commercial US flight that accepts certified service animals for free), while buses didn’t usually charge.
  5. Plan ahead for potty breaks during long bus rides. We still have not taken Coral on a long flight, so I have no idea how this would work. Do any of you have pointers?
  6. Taking your pet outside of the country is complicated, and it can get expensive. When we moved back to the USA from Colombia, we had to go to the veterinarian to get special tests done, get some vaccines that were required by the USA, a special letter from the vet approving Coral’s travel, and another approval from the national
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    Coral with her Colombian soccer jersey in Dibulla, La Guajira

    Colombian Agricultural Institute (called the ICA) located inside the airport. We left the country in a rush due to my medical evacuation, therefore this whole process was rushed as well. The vet visit should have been done at least a week in advanced, therefore we were charged extra for the rush on top of the normal charges for the travel-related tests, medicine, and documents. In Colombia specifically, we should have visited the ICA office located at the airport at least 24 hours in advanced of our flight, but we didn’t know this until the night before our flight. We arrived super early to the airport the day of our flight. Aside from getting lectured by the administrator for not completing this task the day before, and explaining our unique work situation, he didn’t charge us extra for the rush.

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    Coral with her Tia Michele in King’s Canyon National Park in California
  7. Make sure to get your dog a Service Animal certification so that you don’t run into problems on flights or entering certain spaces with your dog. This is mostly for those of you who have a disability, mental illness, severe anxiety, depression, etc. However, please be wary no to abuse this benefit that helps many people with their mental illnesses or other disabilities, and please know you’re still highly responsible for the behavior of your dog around others.
  8. When hiding a dog, it’s still important to be as respectful and cleanly as possible with lodging staff, transportation staff, owners, etc. Coral makes a very small mess if there is an accident, but no matter what, we would clean it up right away and leave the space better than we found it. Once, Coral scratched at a door and we made sure to fix that right away. Please be respectful and aware when traveling with your pet, even if you might be hiding them.

 

I hope these tips help! Coral has not only joined us as a member of the family, mi mejor amigita o hijita de otra especie de animal, but she has provided a therapy-type of companionship through very challenging times in my life. They do say our Millennial generation is not having kids like generations before us, but we sure do love to have fur babies. It’s likely we will see more and more people traveling with theirs pets.

 

What is your experience traveling with your pet(s)? Please share in the comments below!

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