I was at an initial Home Dog Training session with a new client in Lithonia last week working with her and her American Staffordshire Terrier named Marion. Everything was going really well and Marion was being a wonderfully behaved little girl. We began our lesson by teaching her to stay back from the front door when people knocked and wanted to enter. We then progressed to behaviors such as not jumping on people and remaining off the sofa unless invited.
I continued the lesson by teaching Marion that she is not allowed to take food from the dinner table or steal goodies from the kitchen counter. She continued to be a wonderful student. My client said she was absolutely thrilled with the transformation in Marion’s behavior. She then said that there was one more thing she wanted to address with her.
She said that their family was going on a road trip in early August to Sanibel Island, Florida. The entire family was looking forward to the trip, but she was worried because Marion had never been in a car for that long before. Being a “Staffie”, Marion could be a little intimidating. My client didn’t want other people to be nervous if she started to become overly excited. She asked me what I suggested that would help Marion have a great road trip.
I started by saying that the first and most significant concept that she must remember is that both dogs, like children, can be “very high energy passengers” while in the car. The great news is that dogs are far easier to deal with than crazy kids constantly asking “are we there yet?”. There are multiple, easy steps that she can practice to make sure that the upcoming trip will be pleasant and uneventful. I continued by providing her with the following steps:
- She must initially establish that Marion can be calm and happy in the car for short car trips.
- She should begin by calmly walking Marion to the car on a leash. Open the back door or the rear tail gate and guide her inside the car.
- Sit next to Marion for three to five minutes to ensure that she is comfortable in her spot and providing my client with calm focus.
- Bring along her favorite toy and give it to her to help divert her attention. Providing her with her favorite food treat will work as well.
- Once she sees Marion calm and relaxed in her spot (this may take a few minutes), “click her in”. This means she is going to use a device to attach Marion to the seat belt latch so she is now firmly in place. We do not want her flying around if my client needs to avoid another driver doing something stupid.
- Calmly get in the driver’s seat and start the car. Wait for about ten to thirty seconds to allow Marion to get used to the new sounds and “engine sensation”. Now, slowly back out of the driveway. If my client sees that Marion is becoming tense or nervous, she should stop the car and calm her down.
- My client should now drive slowly through her neighborhood for about five minutes and then return home.
- My client should keep the initial trips short (about five minutes). As she sees that Marion is calm with the short trips, she can start to take trips for longer lengths of time. I suggested that she tries to initially remain in her neighborhood so she can keep the immediate surroundings familiar and calm.
- After Marion is “happy in the car” for a neighborhood trip lasting ten to fifteen minutes, add another person in the car with you. My client should repeat her “drive around the neighborhood” process with that person for a day or two.
- Now, as she starts the “neighborhood trip” with Marion and “the other person”, go somewhere nearby such as the market, the bank, or a gas station. Have the other person get out of the car at that location, disappear for a few minutes, and then return. Continue the trip and return home.
- When Marion is fine in the car for a “short trip”, prepare for a longer trip.
- Fill up the car with suitcases and “traveling stuff” so that the car looks like the family is ready to leave on their road trip.
- Assign “a place” for Marion. This will be her “I am completely safe and comfortable here” place for the trip. It would be a good idea to have her fluffy bed or favorite blanket in “her place”. (If you are a fan of “The Big Bang Theory”, this is the equivalent of “Sheldon’s spot”.)
- Walk Marion out on a leash to the car and place her in “her spot”.
- Play with her a few minutes and give her a goodie or her favorite toy.
- While in “her spot”, take Marion for some rides through both city and freeway driving. Honk on the horn and perform some quick (but not dangerous) stops. Drive on some bumpy roads and roads that are “really curvy”. All of these things help to mimic the potential conditions my client, her family, and Marion may experience on an extended road trip.
- Stop the car at different locations along the drive and take Marion out and in the car. Her leash must be attached to her collar or harness. My client must have a firm grasp of the leash before she guides Marion out of the car. Also, I told my client that she must make sure that it is safe to let Marion out of the car (quiet area with minimal distractions).
- Marion is now a “professional traveler” and ready for the “real trip”.
- It is never great to travel on a full stomach. With this in mind, I told my client that she should feed Marion the night before the trip to make sure that she has done her potty business before they get on the road.
- Wake Marion up early and energetically play with her for about twenty to thirty minutes.
- Allow Marion to freely walk around and watch as my client and her family pack the car. If Marion can see what is going on, it allows her to understand the “nature of her surroundings” once she is in the car.
- Once the car is packed, load the rest of the family into the car first. Once they are all “calm and settled”, bring Marion out (on a leash) and walk her around for a moment or two.
- Put her in “her place” and remain with her for about thirty seconds. Give her a toy or goodie and observe that she is calm and focused on those items. Marion is now ready for departure.
- And now, the trip begins.
- My client should stop for potty and play breaks every three hours or so. This will ensure that Marion won’t have an accident in the car and will allow her to drain Marion’s “pent up” adrenaline along the way.
- Only stop at places that are “dog friendly”. I suggested that my client keep Marion on a training lead (twenty to thirty feet) so she has room to move around and potty. The lead still allows my client to have complete control over her.
- Since everyone Marion will meet along the trip is a stranger”, I firmly suggested that my client doesn’t allow people to come up to Marion and pet her.
- I emphasized that my client should not over-feed Marion on the trip. Think of her “trip meals” as the meals we used to get on airplane flights (small, but just enough). Make sure Marion is properly hydrated during the entire trip by providing water at every stop.
- Make sure to have Marion’s tags on her collar. I strongly recommend having her micro-chipped. I also suggest placing a GPS location tracker on her collar. My client should also have several recent pictures of Marion on her phone or tablet. She should also have some “hard copy” prints of Marion so she can quickly hand them out, if needed.
- This will be a great road trip. So, just take a deep breath, smile, and have fun!
It is important that you start this process as early as possible so that Marion is a great traveler long before the actual trip begins.
Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over eighteen years. We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and excellent families and are ready to help you.