A bit of training can go a long way before embarking on a trip with your dog. Picking the destination is only the start. There are a lot of other factors to consider when traveling with your dog, which is why we talked to Suzanne Bryner of Lucky Fido Dog Training. Bryner is a certified dog trainer and loves traveling with her own dog, Foxxy. We asked her for training tips so you and your dog can have a stress-free trip.
Reviews.com: How should owners prepare their dogs to be a good travel companion?
Suzanne: There are definitely a few things you can do to prepare your pup for travel. Make sure that your dog is happy and comfortable traveling both in a crate and seat-belted on a seat. I use both when I travel with my dog Foxxy. I crate her for periods where I have to really focus on a windy road or city traffic, or just need her to chill out, and then let her ride on the seat, seat-belted, for long, easy stretches. Making sure the dog is comfortable in both is paramount to having a happy trip.
What commands should a dog have mastered before taking them on the road with you?
I would say that there are two things that your dog should be able to do in a variety of situations and practiced repeatedly under high distractions. The first is stay. A dog that has a solid stay (or wait) for going forward through doors and in and out of the car is much less likely to bolt when you open the hatch and take off across a busy street after a squirrel. This happened to me with my last dog Megan, while passing through Portland, Oregon, and it was terrifying! She was hit by a car but sustained no lasting damage, thank goodness!
Second, your dog should have what I call a “make the neighbors jealous” recall. Coming when called is one of the most important things you can do to keep your dog safe in the world. Whether on the trail or in a city park, being able to stop your dog from heading out of sight, following their nose, or taking off after wildlife in an off-leash area is literally lifesaving. If possible work with a certified, force-free trainer to build your recall as powerfully strong as possible (find a trainer in your area, here). Note, please observe leash rules wherever you travel. They are in place so that EVERY dog and person can enjoy the area.
Any tips for keeping a dog focused and well-behaved amid all the distractions on a trip?
In addition to stay and recall, get your dog some really good exercise as often as possible, and be willing to leave them in the car, in the shade, if the temperatures are suitable, when in a situation that is just not fun or safe for dogs. Things like crowded streets, fairs, etc. are potentially scary and unsafe for your dog. Park them somewhere safe and cool and be willing to be gone for less time or in short stretches. I had a client dog recently who felt great walking anywhere as long as she had her ball in her mouth! Letting your dog carry a favorite tug or ball, if they are this type of dog, may help you both navigate tricky streets and paths.
What factors can help keep a dog happy and calm during a trip?
You can help your pup out on long hauls by providing lots of enrichment opportunities. Taking lots of short breaks, and a few longer ones work best for us. Foxxy and I stop often, every hour or two, to have on-leash sniff walks, in interesting places. I keep an eye out for exits that look promising to give her frequent breaks where she is just allowed to take in the ‘sights’ through her amazing nose. She gets longer walks in the morning before we hit the road and at the end of the driving day too. While we are riding, I play music or audio books that are soothing to both of us, she gets chews like Bully Sticks, to work on as we go as well. If we are staying in hotels, I take the opportunity to prepare stuffed Kongs and put them in the freezer for the next days travel. This is how she will use, and tire out, her brain, and have her meals while we are on the road.
At what age do you think a puppy is ready for travel?
Provided they are happy in the car for long stretches, I would say as soon as they have finished their vaccinations. Please do check with your veterinarian about the areas you are planning to travel for concerns or other considerations in a particular environment, as there may be additional precautions you will need to take to keep your puppy safe. If you and your puppy have been out for early socializing at home as recommended by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior), they will be well prepared for all the new experiences coming their way! You will have so many great opportunities to continue to socialize as you go, so remember to always have yummy snacks with you for when new and unusual opportunities crop up.
Also keep in mind that puppies will need to continue their house training schedule on the road, so be prepared to stop more often! This is actually a great way to just enjoy an easy pace while on the road.
It will be more important to be able to crate your puppy in the car, since puppies can be quite active at times. Your happy crate training will matter more here, as will having lots of favorite things to chew on!