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English Setter puppies.

During 2020, we learned a lot about getting puppies and dogs to their new homes in a safe and affordable manner.

As Americans adjusted to the “new normal” of working and learning at home, many people decided it was an opportune time to bring a new puppy or dog into their lives. We also discovered there were many logistical challenges to getting that new puppy or dog to its new home during a pandemic.

Travel restrictions made it very difficult for buyers to get their puppies, especially those who lived a long distance from the breeder.

Currently, only two airlines in the United States are conducting un-escorted pet transportation, which means the majority of the major airlines still have an “embargo” on pet transportation.  That means you cannot ship a dog or puppy by air cargo with those companies.

The airlines that are shipping have added on a hefty “special handling” fee on top of the standard shipping fee.  So, don’t be surprised when a $85 or larger fee is added onto the final bill on puppy shipping day.

Another rule that has changed: You must have your dog or puppy at the airline and checked into their flight three hours ahead of the posted departure time.  In the past they had be checked in two hours before the flight.

With summer approaching, the few airline shipping opportunities will disappear as the annual “heat embargos” are put into place.  This embargo prevents shipment of live animals if the temperature is forecasted to be above 84 degrees at any location on the itinerary.

Puppy buyers must be able and willing to travel to get their puppy and fly it home in the airplane cabin with them or use a “puppy nanny” to bring the puppy to them.  Their other options are to drive to the breeder’s home to pick up their new family member or use a licensed pet transporter.

During COVID -19, many professional dog show handlers, who are very experienced and knowledgeable about dogs, chose to become registered pet transporters. There are a lot of people who still call on their friends or colleagues for help with getting a dog or puppy from one location to the next. But during the past year, we found that registered transporters have the protection of federal laws in the event an issue comes up during transportation.

Any company or individual transporting anything for hire in a vehicle over 10,000 Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) must be registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and have a US Department of Transportation (USDOT) number.  If your vehicle is under 10,000 pounds, you are not required to have a USDOT number for transporting animals, but need to register with the US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) when transporting animals to a third party for compensation.  We want to encourage everyone to be properly licensed, registered and insured, because these few simple steps and a single piece of paper can protect you and your precious cargo during your travels.

The number one thing we found out about getting puppies and dogs to their new homes during 2020 is that a good transporter makes a lot of people happy! They make the new customers happy that their puppy arrived safely. They make the breeders happy that their precious dogs arrived safely, clean and healthy.  A transporter that does a good job stays happy because they get repeat business.

Commonly Asked Questions

Here are some Q&A to help breeders, buyers and transporters be the best they can be.

Q: Are there guidelines that breeders should be following when buyers pick up puppies? 

A: Breeders should still be using caution and practicing social distancing.  These are suggested guidelines from AKC: Guidelines

Q: What should I look for in a pet transportation company and how do I know if they are safe? 

A: Make sure any “pet transportation company” or “puppy nanny” has a current registration certificate with USDA APHIS, which is the oversite agency for the transportation of dogs, puppies, kittens, and cats and was established by the Animal Welfare Act in 1966.

Go to USDA and input the “license/registration type” as Carrier and your transporter’s “certificate number” and then search.  Make certain the certificate is “active” and check the inspection reports.

There are many un-registered and un-regulated transportation companies, so be careful.  Many will tell you they don’t need to be registered.  The federal definition of a transporter is a person with a commercial business that moves animals from one location to another. They must be considered a transporter under the Animal Welfare Act and be registered with USDA.

Q: What are some guidelines a USDA APHIS registered transporter or nanny must follow? 

  1. Your pet must be transported in a climate and temperature–controlled vehicle.
  2. All animals must be in an appropriately sized and structurally sound carrier with no sharp points, edges or protrusions that could injure the animal. (You may have to provide).  If the carrier has a rubber–coated wire bottom or resting platform, no part of the animals can pass through that or any part of the enclosure. The carrier must also have a leak-proof bottom or a removable, leak-proof tray.
  3. All enclosures must be securely fastened in place.
  4. The puppy must be able to be easily and quickly removed from the enclosure in case of an emergency.
  5. The transporter must stop every four hours to check on your pup and provide it with fresh food and water.  Many transporters provide fresh food and water continually during transportation.
  6. Proper ventilation is required and is described in detail in the regulations.
  7. Nothing may be stacked near or on top of a carrier that could spill onto the carrier or on the pet.
  8. Any cleaning or other materials used in or on the enclosure must be nontoxic to animals.
  9. All carriers must be properly cleaned and sanitized before each use.
  10. All paperwork disclosing the seller, shipper and receiver must accompany the puppy.
  11. All USDA APHIS transporters must require a “health certificate.”  The certificate must be signed by an accredited veterinarian after examining the puppy and determining that it is free of infectious diseases and satisfies all import requirements of the receiving state. Check with your veterinarian to assure that they are still offering routine services, including issuing health certificates.
  12. Puppies may not be transported before the age of 8 weeks.

Q: Can puppies be delivered directly to the puppy buyers’ homes?

A: Some transportation companies or puppy nannies will deliver right to the front door, but it will cost extra.  Most will meet you at a set location.  Expect that puppy buyers may have to drive a few hours and may be among others picking up their new arrivals.

Q: What if a dog is lost or stolen or something happens to it during transport? 

A: Make sure the transporter is registered, has a valid license and insurance, and is bonded. There are a lot of good people out there who are just trying to earn an honest dollar.  Transporting your precious cargo is not an easy task, but be safe and check registrations, references and reviews.  You can do this by going to the USDA APHIS site and/or the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and looking up Pet Transport Flight/Ground Services. You also can check reviews via Google or Facebook. See what others say about the transportation company you have chosen before the puppy gets in a vehicle.


Stacy Mason is a Senior Breeder Relations Field Representative for the American Kennel Club. 

The AKC is here to help owners with questions and concerns about COVID-19 and dogs. Find answers to your questions, plus at-home activity ideas, training tips, educational resources, and more on our Coping With COVID-19 hub.