Labrador Mo in California…

When we decided we would be living and traveling internationally, figuring out how to get our big dog Mo overseas safely and comfortably was very important to us. It required a lot of research to find the best possible methods to get him abroad successfully.  Here is what we learned and how we managed to get him all the way to a small island off the coast of Spain from our home in California.

Mo is our three-year-old Labrador Retriever, and he is family. I realize not everyone can relate to what crazy dog people we are, but Mo is magic and medicine and pure love. We got Mo three years ago during a particularly challenging time for our family, while we were displaced in the wake of a terrifying natural disaster at our home in Santa Barbara.

We were recovering from mudslides and fires the year before in our small town that wreaked havoc and took the lives of our neighbors and classmates.  We had been evacuated a dozen times from our home fearing more flooding, but a year had passed and we hoped the threat of flooding was over.  However, unbeknownst to us and due to changes in the capacity of the riverbed by our house, the creek overflowed during a powerful rainstorm and our home was flooded with two feet of mud and water within a matter of minutes.

Not only was the experience terrifying, as we quickly escaped through the flood waters, but we also lost eighty percent of our belongings. We had to move out of our house for six months which proved to be extremely stressful on our family of five.  We were bouncing between eight different rentals and hotels during a six-month period and there was a lot to process and grieve. The kids showed a lot of resilience, and we learned valuable lessons, but it was a formative life experience to say the least.

Somehow during the chaos of being displaced and bouncing around from rental to hotel we connected with a woman looking for a home for a black lab.  We always intended to get a dog following the death of our 14-year-old lab five years earlier, but it wasn’t really on our radar at this particular time for good reason.  Adding a puppy to the chaos of not being settled in a home seemed like a silly thing to add to our plates.

But during all this turmoil it felt like fate had intervened and this new puppy was our destiny.  We ended up driving up the California coast to get our newest family member.  From the very first moment we held Mo he has been nothing short of angelic.  Labradors are known for being mellow and gentle, but Mo takes it to a whole new level.  He barely barks, cuddles endlessly, and has more emotional intelligence than most people we know! While we were unsettled and without a home, Mo was a steady source of warmth, love and puppy breath. He provided grounding and support that helped our entire family during such a challenging time.

Our big dog travelling Mo in Mallorca…

Mo had a great life in Santa Barbara before we moved abroad.  He slept and ate and received an inordinate number of cuddles from not only our family, but anyone who met him. He would walk on the beach and swim in the ocean everyday…sometimes multiple times a day! He greeted absolutely every person or dog like a long-lost friend without exception.

But determining how to get Mo to Mallorca from California was by far the most stressful part of the entire move abroad for us. And that is saying something considering we had to liquidate our entire house AND uproot and move three kids!

However, something about moving an animal who was not only so gentle, but unable to communicate proved to be worrisome for us.  We were concerned about how he would tolerate such a long journey across the globe. Mo would be out of our sight and with strangers for almost forty-eight hours. He had also never even seen a dog crate before in his life, and now he was going to have to be in one for very long stretches of time.

Like everything else with our international move we did a lot of research.  Here is what we learned and how we were able to keep Mo comfortable and safe.

Deciding on a Route and Airline Carrier…

We first started to read and explore about the different international carriers and routes that even allowed big dogs.  This narrowed down the search to a few carriers.

There are rules and regulations depending on each airline with respect to what size and breed of dogs can go in the airplane cabin. We ruled out right away that having him with us was not an option due to his size, which meant we were exploring which routes and airlines would work best for him to be in cargo from California to Spain.

We talked directly to multiple airlines who shared with us their practices around pet transport. We also reached out to private companies that handled large animal transportation and crossed referenced all the information we were provided.

I had conversations with three different companies that provide private services and they proved to be very informative.  They were extremely knowledgeable about the best airlines when it comes to transporting big animals.  They also explained to me the best routes with facilities for big animals.

As it turns out all three companies had the exact same recommendation for Mo’s route which gave me confidence this was the way to go. They all suggested Los Angeles to Frankfurt on Lufthansa due to the large animal facility in Germany where he would be able to get the care he needed. I started to read all about it and became increasingly more comfortable with the idea. Lufthansa also gets the highest marks and ratings when it comes to big animal transport. They have an impressive facility that you can read about to support shipping large animals.

Hiring a Private Company…

Private Company for Shipping Dogs Text exchanges during the trip really put us at ease…

We interviewed three companies that help with shipping big dogs overseas and there was a big range in cost.  We ended up going with the middle of the road estimate. The service provider we chose happened to be located very close to the Los Angeles airport where we were departing from, which also made logistics a bit easier.  For reference the middle of the road quote was $1800.  There was one company that was much pricier and another that was a lot lower, but we liked our communication with this particular staff and they made us feel at ease about the process.

We could have just gone through the airlines, but the private companies provide an extra degree of knowledge and experience that was helpful and gave us peace of mind.

The private transport company is in constant communication with the airport staff, can stay with your dog and give you real time updates. They served as a liaison for Mo’s itinerary, provided information on the best crates and helped us with all the complicated paperwork as well.

There is not a lot of room for error with the undertaking of shipping a big dog six thousand miles, so we looked for as much reassurance and reinforcements as we could get. Oh, and the entire staff was clearly made up of animal lovers who were genuinely trying to make Mo comfortable!  Every time we talked to them they shared stories about their own pets and assured us Mo would be in good hands.

Choosing a Crate…

Picking the right crate is a science.  There are three main considerations when choosing a crate to ship a large dog, including making sure it is the proper size, is it comfortable and does the crate meet airline standards.

It’s important to check and double check on all these fronts.

Choosing the right size… there are numerous resources on the internet that guide you on how to measure your dog to make sure you get the correct size crate.  This Petmate crate worked great for Mo.

Comfort… making sure your dog is comfortable is important and I would err on the side of bigger crates for longer journeys.  Dogs need to be able to stand up and turn around in their crate to readjust. We also bought a orthopedic mat for the inside of the crate to provide maximum comfort on Mo’s joints for the long journey.

Confirm…once you have the crate picked out confirm with both the pet transport company and the airline carrier that it is suitable and meets their standards.  There are some types of crates that airlines will not allow, and we didn’t want to find out on the day of departure that they wouldn’t accept our crate.

Medication…

One of the most frequent questions we get asked is did we medicate Mo?  I was open to the idea and wanted to explore it if it could make him more comfortable, so we asked several experts.  Not only did our vet insist this was not advisable, but so did all three pet transportation companies.  All four of these experts advised that medication can interfere with respiration and heart function and cause dogs to be confused and disoriented during travel.  Check with your vet, but this is what we heard from multiple sources and so we did not medicate Mo.

Paperwork and Requirements…

There were four pieces of paperwork required to ship Mo to Spain. The four items required were Microchip verification, proof of vaccines, record of physical exam (performed by a vet no more than ten days before departure) and USDA endorsement. Check with the country you are traveling to in order to understand their unique requirements, as every country is different.

Mo getting underway. Lots of zip ties and paperwork.

Crate Training…

The thought of training a three-year-old dog to be in a crate for hours felt impossible at the outset.  But the process of training him went surprisingly smooth.  Because Mo had never been in a crate, I spent a lot of time reading about how best to start the process of training him to spend time in one. I am no dog trainer, but this is what worked for us.

The biggest piece of advice I received was start training as far out as possible before your departure.  This allowed us to not be impatient, take our time with the training and make sure Mo didn’t feel any urgency while being trained.

After purchasing the right crate, I put it in our kitchen by his food and water bowl for a few days so he could see and smell it.

I kept the top half of the crate and the front grate off initially (this was an excellent tip someone suggested!)

After a few days I would entice him in the crate with a treat and he would walk in and out to get his treat.

A few days later I would have him come in and sit for a few seconds in order to get his treat.

I then put the grate on the front (still no top) and would have him sit for a while when I was in the kitchen cooking, while giving him a lot of praise.

Eventually, I would walk out of the room and have him lay there for longer and longer periods.

I finally put the top on, and he would very peacefully would go in the crate and spend some time.

This process took about two to three weeks, but went smoothly! I think the key was taking it in small steps and not rushing and feeling realxed through the process.

Mo Arrives in Spain!…

After researching carriers, airlines, crates and training it was time to leave and begin the voyage! We drove him to Los Angelas International Airport and sent him on his way.  

Mo ultimately had a very successful journey from one side of the globe to the other. However, there were indeed some extra steps taken to help keep him comfortable.  The second we saw his sweet face in Barcelona, with his tail wagging, we all breathed a sigh of relief.  An hour after arriving in Mallorca, after a final ferry ride, Mo was swimming in the Mediterranean!

We can’t imagine life without Mo and it has been fun to see him adjust to his new life here in Spain.

dog in Spain

Mo is happy anywhere in the world as long as he has a beach….

Mo’s Itinerary from Start to Finish….

Mo’s journey from start to finish lasted about forty hours! It consisted of the following…

  • a car ride along the California coast to Los Angelas International Airport

  • two plane rides (the first flight was 11 hours and the second flight was 3 hours)

  • a cab ride

  • a ferry ride across the Mediterranean

  • a final cab ride to his new home… totaling forty hours!

Here is the breakdown…

5:30am Car ride from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles Airport

8:00am Meet dog transport liaison and leave Mo with him

8:30-2:00pm Mo spends time in crate, gets regular walks, water and we receive pictures and updates

2:00pm Mo gets loaded on plane and we receive notification that he is securely in cargo

3:30pm take off from Los Angeles International Airport on an eleven hour flight…this was the hardest leg!

11:30am arrive in Frankfurt’s large animal facility

12:00pm Mo gets unloaded, walked and put in large animal kennel with food and water

4:00pm Mo gets loaded on another two hour plane ride to Barcelona

7:30pm Mo lands in in Barcelona

9:00pm Customs processing

9:30pm We finally receive Mo after clearing customs with his tail wagging!

10:15pm Board ferry for eight hour ocean journey. Mo stays in our cabin and spends a lot of time outside making new friends and learning some Spanish!

6:00am We arrive in Palma, Mallorca

7:00am Final cab ride to house rental in our new town

8:00am Mo’s first swim in the Mediterranean!

We appreciate how important animals are to so many people, and we hope sharing how we navigated Mo´s journey can help others as they determine the best practices for their own pet´s travel!

We would love to hear about travels with your pets so send us your stories!


Read here on how to find a home abroad.

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