I was at a new Home Dog Training Session last Monday in Atlanta working with a new client and his Miniature Schnauzer named Howard.  As with so many Schnauzers, whether they are Miniature, Standard, or Giant; Howard was stubborn and was convinced that he was going to be the “big man in the room”. 

Prepare your dog for the holiday road trip

After working with my client and Howard for a few hours, Howard eventually came to the realization that his role in the family was one of “follower” and not “leader”.  With that said, I also needed to reprogram my client from “taking direction from Howard” to “giving direction to Howard”. Eventually, both my client and Howard understood their roles and the family dynamics were resolved. 

As I was concluding the lesson, my client had one more question for me.  He told me that he, his wife, and Howard were getting ready to drive to Arizona to visit their son and his family for Thanksgiving. This would be a “multi-day road trip” and he wondered if I had any suggestions for Howard.

I started off by reminding him that, just like we discussed today, the behavioral learning process is based on socialization and repetition.  Many years ago, our mom would take us to places over and over again. She was doing that so we would get to understand that “everything was OK” when we engaged in that specific action.

Mommy dogs are performing the same action when they guide their newborn pups around the house and yard.  We need to do the same type of activity with Howard.  This will get him comfortable when traveling and staying in new and initially strange places.  I suggested that he do the following:

Getting Howard Happy with the Crate:

  • The first thing that must be done is to get Howard comfortable with his crate. This is because he will be spending a great deal of time in the crate while in the car and at the hotels along the way.
  • Place the crate in a central location at home where there is always family present. Give him his meals in the crate and play with him with his toys while he is in the crate.  These activities will help to identify the crate as a fun and save place.
  • Go on car rides with Howard in the crate. Start slowly with this.  Begin by having someone hold him in the back seat with the crate next to him.  After a while, place him in the crate. Give him his favorite toy and/or goodie and then slowly close the crate door.  Always make sure that the crate is firmly attached to the car, so it won’t slide around due to any quick car movements.
  • Drive to a friend’s house while having Howard in the car in his crate. Now, take Howard on a leash, enter the house, and go into one of your friend’s bedrooms. Have a crate in the bedroom and place Howard in the crate.  Stay there for a few minutes.  This will simulate pulling up to a hotel, entering the lobby, and going to your room.
  • When home, leave Howard by himself in the crate for longer and longer periods of time.  This will help Howard to get used to being “there by himself”. This is important so that you can leave him in the crate in the hotel room.

Familiarity with the Environment:

  • It is obvious that the hotel room will be somewhat of an unfamiliar environment to Howard. Even though you emulated a hotel room at your friend’s house, the “real thing” is never exactly the same.
  • Although you have worked on making the crate a safe place, you need to add an “enhanced safety factor” to make sure Howard will be fine with the crate while at the hotel. One of the main ways that “dogs understand things” is through their smell. This is the tool I suggest in this instance.
  • Come up with a unique scent you can have around Howard’s crate. I suggest lavender.
  • Spray some lavender mist on old towels or shirts and place them in his crate. In addition, get some lavender plug-ins and plug them into the wall sockets in the room. You can also spray the room with some lavender room deodorizer. Do this both at your home where you keep the crate and your friend’s bedroom where you are practicing with the “hotel room emulation”.
  • Take some of your old, smelly clothes and place them in Howard’s crate.  This will help associate your smell and assurance of safety with the crate and the immediate surroundings.

Time for the Road Trip:

  • You have performed all your exercises, and it is now “show time”.  You have successfully familiarized Howard with the car, the crate, and being in the crate in a location away from your home.
  • Give Howard his “last meal before getting in the car” several hours before you leave. This will give him plenty of time to potty.  Have a great “play time” with him just before you “load up”. This should get him tired and ready for a nap as you start your trip.
  • Don’t play loud music on your trip. Keep the volume low and play soothing music to keep Howard calm and collected. (I suggest the greatest hits of The Carpenters.)
  • Always make sure you give Howard plenty of time to “sniff and poop”. Pull over at highway rest stops every two to three hours. Always keep him on a leash or long lead and let him wander around to sniff and poop.  Try to stay away from other people and dogs to minimize his distraction and allow him to focus on his “poopy needs”.
  • Take the crate to the room and “lavenderize” the room before you bring Howard inside the hotel.
  • Take Howard for about a ten-to-fifteen-minute walk when you arrive and before you bring him inside.  This will allow him to start to familiarize himself with the environment, create a sense of environmental safety, and poop (if needed).
  • Go through a back door when you take him to your room. This will minimize any inappropriate interactions that could take place in the lobby or other heavily trafficked public areas.
  • Initially allow Howard to freely move around the room.  Do not leave him alone. Slowly put him in his crate and close the door. Always make sure that he has a toy or goodie in the crate. Place a lavender scented towel or one of your smelly shirts in there too.
  • If you need to leave the room, try to do this when there is not a lot of noise coming from adjacent rooms.
  • Make sure you get Howard out for walks every two to three hours.  Also, make sure he has a “good walk, sniff, and poop” before you continue your trip the following day.

Your Journey’s End:

  • Properly coordinate your arrival so that some family members at your destination can take charge of Howard while you “unpack and move in”. They should keep Howard on a leash and maintain his focus at a location away from your “unpacking activities”.
  • When you are “all settled in”, it is time to have Howard meet all “these new people”. Make sure you do this in a quiet, calm manner. You don’t want this to be an excited or crazy event.
  • While at your son’s home, make sure that Howard stays on his normal daily schedule.  This familiar, consistent schedule will help Howard feel safe and secure in the new environment.
  • In the same way that I suggested in your home, have Howard’s crate in a central area of your son’s home.  This will allow him to take part in the family activities in the same manner that he did in the past.

To reiterate, the key thing that we need to achieve is to get Howard familiar with traveling and staying in new places.  By performing the “dry runs”, discussed above, you have shown Howard that he can be fine in the car or at new places.

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 amazing families and are ready to help you.