I was at a follow-up Home Dog Training visit at a client in Austell last week working with her great American Staffordshire Terrier, Mildred.  Everything was going great and Mildred was the perfectly behaved little girl.  After we finished having her stay back from the front door when people came in, not jumping and staying off the sofa, and not stealing food from the dinner table or kitchen counters; things were looking pretty good.  My client said she was really excited about how Mildred was behaving and said she had one more thing she wished she could fix.  They were going on a road trip this summer to Sanibel Island, Florida and Mildred had never traveled in the car before.  Being a “Staffie”, Mildred is a little menacing and she didn’t want other people scared if she started to get out of hand or got away on the trip.  She was wondering what she could do to make the trip fine for the entire family, especially Mildred.

I explained that we have taught people how to do this for years.  The first and most important concept that everyone needs to understand that dogs and children are both high energy travelers in the car.  The good news is that dogs are much easier to deal with than crazy kids wondering “are we there yet?”.  There are multiple, simple steps that we must work through to make sure that the trip will be fine.  I explained each step as follows:

  • We must first establish that Mildred is fine in the car and for short trips.
    • Slowly walk her to the car on a leash. Open the back door or the rear tail gate and have her jump in.
    • Sit with her a few minutes to make sure she is comfortable in her spot and calmly focused on you.
    • Give her a toy or a goodie to divert her attention.
    • After a few minutes, attach her to the seatbelt or make sure she is in a place where she “can’t fly forward” if you quickly step on the breaks.
    • Get in the driver’s seat, start the car, and slowly back out of the driveway. If Mildred starts to become agitated or nervous, stop the car and calm her.
    • Drive around the block a few times and then return home. Don’t spend more than five minutes on the road the first trip or two.
    • Extent the trips in time and distance.
    • Have someone else in the car with you and take a trip to a place where you or the other person must leave the car and then return. (The market, the bank, or a gas station would do just fine.)
  • Prepare for a longer trip.
    • Pack the car with suitcases and boxes to emulate the amount of “stuff” that you will be taking on your trip.
    • Pick “a place” for Mildred. This will be her safe and happy place during the trip.  Make sure that she has a fluffy bed or favorite towel in her place.  This will enhance its sense of safety and security.
    • Bring Mildred out on a leash and guide her to that spot.
    • Play with her a few minutes and give her a goodie.
    • Go for some rides through both city and freeway driving. Do some “honking on the horn” and some quick (but not dangerous) stops.  Find some bumpy and curvy roads to drive on.  All of these things help to emulate the possible conditions you may experience on an extended road trip.
    • Practice taking Mildred in and out of the car. Make sure you have her leash firmly grasped in your hands before you open the door so that she can’t bolt out.  Remember that as you are looking inside the car to get her, she is seeing what is behind you as her exit path.
  • Ready for the trip.
    • Feed Mildred the night before the trip to make sure that she has done her potty business before you have to leave.
    • Get Mildred up early and strenuously play with her for about twenty to thirty minutes.
    • Allow Mildred to walk around and examine your packing of the suit cases and trip preparations. If she can see what is going on, it will keep her adrenaline lower as opposed to being locked in a room with strange noises on the other side of the door.
    • Bring Mildred out last, just as you are ready to go.
    • Put her in “her place” and sit with her for a minute or two. Give her a toy or goodie and you should be ready to go.
  • On the trip.
    • Be sure to stop for potty and play breaks every three hours or so. This makes sure that Mildred won’t have an accident and will give some directed play time for both Mildred and the kids.
    • Keep Mildred on a long lead so that she has room to run, but is still safely contained.
    • Feed Mildred when you stop for the night. Do not over-feed.  Make sure she is properly hydrated during the entire trip by providing water at every stop.
    • Be sure to have her tags on her collar. Think about micro-chipping her or even have a GPS location tracker on her collar.  Have several recent pictures of her on your phone or tablet.  You can never be too careful.
    • Have fun!

Remember that you need to start this process as early as possible to build up the continued socialization to establish the behavior.

We hope you will contact us at (770) 718-7704 if you have any dog training issues.  We have many great dog training articles available for you at Best Dog Trainers Austell Georgia.  Find all our phone numbers, text addresses and email contacts at Dog Training Help Center Austell Georgia.