If wanderlust has you seeking to get away on planes, trains and automobiles, your four-legged friend can make the trip with you. Being a dog owner should not mean being anchored to your home or that your dog needs to be left behind. However, not all dogs are as comfortable or as obedient with travel as they should be. If you are thinking about travel with your dog, you might want to consider some training tips to make sure your pet is well prepared for the trip.
Training Tips for Planes and Trains
Ideally you would want your dog to travel in-cabin with you – of course depending on your dog’s size that may not be an option for you. But dogs who can will most likely be expected to travel confined to a carrier. Try to be proactive. Take at least several weeks prior to your trip introducing your dog to her carrier with no pressure. Just as you would have done with crate training, your dog should see the carrier as a fun place—something associated with good outcomes. Use positive association to get your dog eager, rather than hesitant, about being in the carrier. Put your pet’s carrier out in your home with the doors, flaps, or lids open. Let your dog inspect the carrier and use encouraging tones and praise when they do. Encourage your dog to get into the carrier, but don’t rush to close the dog in. Let them go in/come out as often as possible – on their terms. You could use bits of your dog’s food or treats, or squeak your dog’s favorite toy and toss it into the carrier for your dog to run in to get it. It may take several days, but once your dog is comfortable, send them into the carrier with a food-stuffed toy or favorite chew treat to keep them occupied, then close the doors or flaps for short periods of time to start.
Each day, or training session, increase the amount of time your dog spends in the carrier getting comfortable. You might also carry the dog in their carrier around your home, neighborhood, car, or to accompany you while shopping to get the dog accustomed to being in transit. If your dog gets too excited or stressed in environments with more stimuli, which could cause barking problems, be sure that during this process you have also programmed your dog to a vocal cue like “no bark,” that will refocus her when problems arise, and that you are always using positive reinforcement for relaxed, quiet behavior during your practice trips.
Public places like airports and train stations or on planes and trains will also expose your dog to many unfamiliar stimuli that could upset your dog, and fellow passengers may be bothered by a noisy barker, so making sure your dog is calm during travel is important. Again, exposing your dog to public places in advance should desensitize your dog and teach good travel habits. You can also help your dog enjoy a more relaxing trip by making sure she has been very well exercised both physically and mentally. The old saying, “a tired dog is a good dog” most certainly applies to travel. Before boarding, spend 30 minutes walking your dog or playing a spirited game of fetch if possible. Take 15 minutes to crank your dog’s brain. Sit/Stay exercises with distraction, coming when called, walk to heel with starts, stops, and turns while keeping your dog focused will keep her mind working, will tire her out quickly, and if your dog is well trained might really dazzle fellow passengers!
Best Behavior by Car
“Wanna go for a ride” is music to most dog’s ears and is usually met excitedly with your pet’s best impression of a whirling dervish.
Assuming you’re already practicing safe pet travel, like using proper equipment to manage and keep you and your dog safe, dog owners will need to take an active approach to teach their pets acceptable behavior and to make good choices during car rides. The most problematic behavior we see during auto travel is excitement. If your dog is overstimulated, we suggest looking at the dog’s diet to see if there’s anything that could contribute to a hyperactivity problem – specifically too much filler in the form of starchy grain and carbohydrates. A change to food with better quality ingredients will often help.
As mentioned for other types of travel, we also recommend that the dog is mentally stimulated. Many people do a good job of exercising their dog’s body, but it’s the addition of a well-exercised mind that will produce a more relaxed, calm demeanor during travel – your dog may choose to just snooze the ride away in the back seat.
Most important is that owners spend time teaching their dog reliable response to vocal cues, like “leave it” in situations of lower-level stimuli before moving on to more stimulating distractions. Counter condition the dog to understand that focus on the owner gets a better outcome than focus on a distraction. In other words, make a commitment to training your dog, starting in the house, then practice in the yard, before moving on to the stationary car, then to short car rides and ultimately a road trip with your best friend. Keep in mind that the new environments and people encountered as you travel can create some sensory overload that can cause your dog to over-react. Regular practice and not going too far, too fast will help your dog succeed and ensure he is reliable in these situations.
Some proactive training and good, consistent, clear leadership in a way your dog understands will ensure you both enjoy the trip!