We brought our 8 year old Golden Retriever from Norway to Houston last year. Total flying time 13-14 hours because there are no direct flights - poor puppy had two landings and departures. I would not describe her as nervous, but at the same time she is far from brave. So we were really worried too.
I had a long chat with my vet, who does international show jumping so very familiar with transport of animals, and she gave me a lot of comfort.
Re Trauma of it all she said "dogs are smart. it's not gonna be any better or worse than a person flying for the first time". By the way, when they go in the hold they are not in the general cargo hold but a room with a light - at least on our flight - good to check.
Re duriation of flight: "has it never happened that the dog will be alone in the house for 13-14 hours? they can hold it that long"
Key tips from her:
- have a passport for your dog, even if not required (immunisations and micro chip details)
- try to get a direct flight. If you cannot get a direct flight try to avoid connecting flights in the US as the dog will be cleared at the first point of entry. If there is a problem with papers, etc you don't want to be on the connecting flight while the dog is still at the first airport.
- Contact the airline at least two months in advance and before booking the flight. Not all airplanes / lines can take a dog. Ask them out about transport arrangements. If you are making a connection, ask about services there. E.g. I discovered that flying via UK is often risky as they sometimes stop animals there! Frankfurt was a better choice because they have vets on site that will assess the dog and contact the owner if any concerns. by the way, it is the cargo people at the airline that know this stuff.
- My vet strongly advised against any seditives. a) they are a risk on their own (and then with no people around, b) increases chance of injury, as the take off will wake them and they will then stagger around, c) over a 13 hour flight they will awake at some point anyways so still get the experience.
- That long a flight one of the challenges may be water. She recommended that shortly before handing her over at the airport, I fill a small plastic bowl with dog food soaked in water and place it in the box. In addition dog transport cages should have a water bowl on the outside (no one is allowed to open the cage to the dog while en route). My dog's water bowl was full when we arrived state side. A lot of dog lovers in the world. ;-)
- You will probably be told that the dog's papers go with you. My vet advised me to make an extra copy of the papers and tape it to the side of the box. Just in case.
When we arrived in the US the worst part was that we were all so happy to see each other but we couldn't open the door until customs was cleared. Of course a suitcase was lost, and no transport guys available. Honestly, that was the worst bit. When we got to the new house she was tired and unsure, so we just sat next to her the rest of that day. Next day we had to go out, and she hated that. Luckily I was able to work from home first week, as she wasn't quite her self. More skittish, very protective of our property, sceptical to strangers, etc. This weirdness lasted 3-4 weeks then passed and she became exactly the same dog as she had been before.
Hope this helps.