I believe the most important travel preparation you can make is to ensure your dog is comfortable in unfamiliar places and feels safe wherever you take him, because he has learned to trust you.
Here are a few exercises you should do with your dog, prior to taking him on vacation. These training exercises expose your dog to some unfamiliar places and in the process teach him to rely on you for guidance and safety.
1. Get your dog used to being out in public places, new smells and noises.
It is actually a good idea to practice taking your dog with you to a few busy places around your home town and get him used to being out in public places that are full of new smells and noises.Make it a regular habit to take your dog to the Farmer's Market or an outdoor event. This will teach him to be around a lot of other people, noises and smells. Make sure he is comfortable walking through crowded areas. Make sure he is well-behaved. He should be walking calmly by your side and not bark or lung at the leash, when he sees other dogs or distractions.
2. Practice walking on different types of surfaces and through obstacles and distractions.
You should expose your dog to as many different surfaces and distractions as possible. Find a local skateboard park and take your dog near it. The sounds and fast moving skateboards are hard to get used to for many dogs. Being accustomed to these noises will help as you are out in unusual surroundings. Find bridges in local parks that may have wooden planks with sections you can see through, this is another tough one for dogs. Go up and down different types of stairways and walk over metal walkways if possible. Can you walk past an area with sheep or goats without your dog barking at them?
3. Take your dog to local restaurants and see how he behaves.
Have you taken your dog out for dinner? Can you eat and enjoy your meal with him under the table, or is he getting himself raped up in his leash and is restless, giving you no time to eat? Practice until he is calm and lays down under the table, out of everyone's way. Don't allow your dog to sit on the chair or sniff around the tabletops! Other patrons will not like the idea of your dog having licked the plates or the tabletops.
4. Teach him to be left by himself in unfamiliar surroundings.
This will be the hardest lesson to teach. Try to find an area that you can leave your dog by himself and see how he reacts. Most dogs will whine or bark when left by themselves in unfamiliar surroundings. It is a good idea to have a familiar item for them to lay on, so bring your dog's bed or blanket. You should start by leaving only for a few minutes and then come back.
5. Crate Train your dog.
Another important lesson for traveling is to crate train your dog. He should see the crate as his familiar surrounding and you can bring the crate with you on your vacation. There are several hotels and vacation rentals that may even require you crate your dog when you leave him alone.
When you travel with your dog, you will have to take him everywhere with you, so practice while you are at home and show him the proper way to behave while you are out and about. Make sure you have a well-behaved dog before you go on vacation, it will make your travels much more enjoyable.
For more exercises and training tips check out our book "Keep Your Paws on the Road - A Practical Guide to Traveling with Dogs." It's available as a paperback and ebook through Amazon and other distributors.
Until next time: Keep your paws on the road!
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