Service Dogs can ride in airplane cabins with their handlers, but other types of working dogs often aren’t allowed. Learn about the best kennels and crates for transporting working dogs, including search and rescue dogs, police K9s, and detection K9s.
Airline policies can vary widely concerning non-Service Dog working dogs. Some airlines, such as Southwest Airlines, will allow Search and Rescue, detector, and military working dogs on their way to a mission to travel in-cabin with their handler as long as they have appropriate paperwork. Delta allows detection and SAR dogs in-cabin without charge as long as they’re accompanied by a government handler. Most other airlines, though, require all non-Service Dog working dogs to travel in crates or kennels. Some airlines provide discounts, but most do not. It never hurts to call and speak to a representative, especially if you and your working dog are traveling on official business.
Working Dog Travel Crates and Kennels: Basic Features and Travel Requirements
Kennels utilized for flying or traveling with your working dog need to be safe, sturdy, secure, and well-ventilated. Official policies require a kennel or crate large enough for your working dog to sit, lay down, and turn around without touching the sides or top of the shipping container. The crate must be constructed of wood, metal, or plastic, with ventilation on 3 sides for domestic travel and ventilation on 4 sides for international travel. Kennels need rails on the sides so boxes cannot cut off airflow through the sides if stacked against it. The crate must be build out of solid materials, or fastened together with metal hardware and fittings.
Your working dog must have access to water in the kennel. Airline personnel must be able to give your dog additional water in transit if need be, through the door. An attached bowl or water bottle works well for this. Freezing the water in the bowl prior to transport can keep it from sloshing around. Some kind of absorbent material or bedding needs to be in the bottom of the kennel, and your dog will need to visit a vet for health certificates and rabies verification. Flying internationally with your working dog carries its own requirements; make sure you research carefully to avoid complications.
The best working dog crates and kennels for traveling via plane or vehicle exhibit excellent safety features, are well built, highly functional, and will, above all else, keep your working dog secure and protected during the best and worst of everyday life.
Pros: Durability, Extremely High Level of Safety, Payment Programs
Cons: Cost, Low Configurability
Sizing: 5 Sizes for Dogs 10 – 110 Pounds
Cost: $349 – $599
The Gunner Kennel is the only transport crate for working dogs with multiple safety certifications and extensive safety and stress testing. It withstood a blast from a 12 gauge shotgun at 7 steps with zero penetration, and the Gunner Kennel broke the machine 3 times during the crush test. This crate offers protection far beyond that of almost any other kennel. When stacked beside all other plastic crates and kennels, it far surpasses safety and durability levels.
The double-walled rotomolded plastic that makes a Gunner Kennel the safest known industry rated dog crate also has great insulation properties. The extra layer of material between your dog and the outside helps block hot or cold air. The Gunner kennel has a plug for easy cleaning and draining. Its materials stand up to extreme environments and tons of abuse from even the roughest jobs and dogs.
Ruff Tuff Kennel
This is a no-frills, no-fuss kennel that performs well in stress testing. This kennel is built to absorb and dissipate impact, and it’s a sturdy, solid, budget-friendly option with only a few trade-offs compared to the more expensive brands. This kennel is not pretty, but it is perfectly functional. It’s built for a job and it does its job well. This kennel is a favorite for working dog handlers who do lots of driving with several dogs, as these kennels nest and stack beautifully.
The door is made of a composite material secured with metal rods, so the kennel may not be accepted by some airlines. The Ruff Tuff kennel comes in tan, orange, and neon green, with a wide variety of door configurations. The company is known for putting a door on either end of the kennel, and they offer double door kennels, too, configured on either the right or left side.
Pros: Lightweight, Airline Safe Collapsable Options, Extremely Customizable, Built For Working Dogs, Very Sleek
Cons: Cost, Can Require Assembly
Sizing: 10 sizes of stationary crates to fit all sizes of dogs, 2 sizes of hybrid crates for average sized working dogs (Border Collie to GSD), 6 sizes of collapsable crates for nearly all sizes of dogs
Cost: $299 – $1799
The Impact Crate is a rock solid, beautiful box built for hard work and tons of use. These working dog kennels come in every size fathomable, and there are endless customizations available, from color to door type to level of secureness. This kennel is a preferred favorite of working dog, performance dog, and show dog handlers around the world.
The Impact Crate is built out of aluminum, with multiple features to help with temperature regulation and ventilation/air flow. While it doesn’t come airline ready out of the box, you can purchase side rails so the kennel complies with current requirements for air travel.
East Coast Crates
Pros: Extremely Customizable, Vendor for Military Working Dogs, Collapsable Options, IATA CR82 Compatible
Cons: Cost, Appearance
Sizing: 13 standard sizes for all sizes of dogs; unlimited custom sizes
Cost: $549 – $2000+
East Coast Crates have been around forever, and they’re extremely popular in the show dog world. However, they’re also used by the U.S. military as a recognized shipping kennel for Military Working Dogs (MWDs). These boxes are rock solid kennels built for mobility and heavy use. They are not, however, very pretty to look at, but when it comes to function, they do beautifully.
They can be configured in a variety of ways, and the company specializes in custom kennels and rigs. If you have a request, just let it be known, and they’ll likely do their best to make it happen.
These are your everyday, ubiquitous household kennels. Pretty much everyone thinks “dog!” when they see one of these crates. They’re perfectly functional and they meet all technical requirements for transport. However, they have a horrific safety record. They’re easily cracked or broken, especially if dropped or impacted, and dogs can easily escape from them if they’re not well trained. During car crashes, dogs are regularly ejected or seriously injured from their crates.
VariKennels are easy to find and relatively inexpensive, especially if you get one second hand. They’re available for sale all over, as many people only use them for training puppies or for traveling once or twice. VariKennel is a particular brand, but there are dozens of types of kennels that look nearly identical. They can vary in quality, but most are about as safe as any of the others.
These things have been around forever, but technology and materials have changed a lot. Unless you absolutely need to stick to a lower-cost crate, consider looking at some of the other options. If you and your K9 travel regularly via car or plane, definitely look into some of the other options. Better safe than sorry, and if an extra hundred bucks has the potential to save your dog’s life, it’s money well spent.
*Gallery photos from a variety of sources, primarily the testimonials and gallery section of each brand’s website*