I was in Dahlonega about a week and a half ago working with a new Home Dog Training client and Parker, his 2-year-old Yorkshire Terrier. The training was focused on standard obedience exercises as well as correcting Parker’s unwillingness to pay attention to my client and any member of his family. Parker was quickly performing quite well for my client and demonstrated that he could perform commands such as come, sit, walk, and stay. He even demonstrated that he “really could” pay attention to my client. The best news is that Parker would pay attention and obey on my client’s terms, and not his.
Everyone was ecstatic with the initial results, and all agreed that it was an excellent lesson. As we were finishing up, my client had one more question. He said that he and his wife, as well as Parker, were going to Salt Lake City over Christmas. He went on to say that Parker had never been on a plane before. He was anxious that he would misbehave in that confined environment for the long flight.
Being restricted in an unknown environment with strange sights and sounds can be frightening for many of us, dogs included. When flying in an airplane, you are stuck within a pressurized environment with very little ability to see what is directly around you. You often hear unusual sounds and smell strange odors.
On top of this, all ability for you to protect yourself and feel safe has been removed. Although not as widespread than in previous years, many people around you are covering their faces with masks. Even though we have a pretty good idea of what is going on and what to expect during the flight, the experience can still be a little tense for us. As I just mentioned, we know what is going on; think of what Parker is experiencing and how he feels!
It is imperative that we attempt to familiarize Parker with the “airplane trip” environment so that we have the ability to assure him that “all will be fine”. This can be accomplished in two steps.
Step One involves socializing and comforting Parker to the environment of the crate. Since most of us don’t have a “pressurized environment” in our home, we won’t be able to emulate that portion of the flight. We can create an environment similar to the row of plane seats and Parker’s crate.
We can set up several rows of chairs in our family room. Have one side of the chairs up against the wall to simulate the side of the plane. We will have Parker with us within the chairs in his crate. Minimize any external sounds and smells that might remind Parker that “he is really in the family room”. This is the best way we can emulate being in the main cabin on a plane flight.
I highly recommended that he get an airplane approved crate immediately. Most airlines give very clear guidelines as to the size and nature of the dog crates they allow in the main cabin. Whenever possible, the family members should be in the family room with Parker in the crate. This means that they will be sitting in the “make believe row of plane seats” with Parker in his crate at their feet. The crate door should always be closed while they are with him in his crate in the “make believe row of seats”. They can talk to him, but do nothing that will adrenalize him.
In order to strengthen Parker’s sense of overall safety with the crate, they should have it in other locations around the house and have Parker in the crate. Sometimes they should leave the crate door open so he can wander out and in at his leisure.
They should start feeding him in the crate. Put goodies in the crate and place his favorite toys in the crate. Allow her to walk into the crate on her terms and allow her to leave when she wishes. Family members should sit next to the crate and engage in play-time activities with Parker while he is in the crate (with the door open.)
After Parker is happy with the crate, start picking it up (obviously with the door closed) and calmly walk around the room. This emulates the time you will have to go through the airport and board the plane. Have family members crowd around you to imitate the hustle and bustle of the airport and the annoying line getting on the plane.
Once Parker is fine with all the above activities, we are ready for Step Two. I told my client that he now should take Parker to Hartsfield Airport. This means that Parker will be placed in the crate and experience the hour and a half car ride down and through Atlanta. He will experience the sights and sounds of the parking structure as well as the sights, sounds, and smells of the terminal. If Parker starts to get a little nervous, move to a quiet area and calm him. Give him a toy or a goodie to redirect his attention to you.
Now that he is calm, continue your trek around the airport to help acclimate him to the environment. Hopefully it will only require one time for Parker to come to the conclusion of “I am cool with this”. If necessary, you may need to make additional trips. Whatever you do, do not try to force Parker into liking the crate and the airport. Keep it slow and on his terms and things will be fine.
Lastly, I recommended getting some Bach Flowers Rescue Remedy (available at most GNC Health Stores). This is a natural, holistic, and calming essence. It naturally calms dogs (and people) and helps to cut down the anxiety often associated with stressful situations.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over seventeen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.