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With summer at last upon us, our thoughts are turning to getting out of the house and back on the road. You can practically taste the romance of the open highway; the fresh countryside air, a stacked playlist and the endless possibilities ahead. Perhaps the only thing missing from this fantasy is your four-legged friend grinning widely, sticking her head out the car window to bask in the sun and relish the breeze. Whether you’ve recently adopted a puppy or are living with a pooch who may need a road trip refresh thanks to months of shelter-in-place orders, it only takes about two weeks to get your fur-covered co-pilot ready for the road. Leah Canino, canine behavior specialist at Canino Dog Training in Sylmar, CA, offers these simple tips on how to get our pups back in the car pack.
Take puppy steps
Dogs love routine. After three months of having their daily schedule thrown off by humans invading their space, it’s no surprise that your dog may be acting a little strange. “Coping behaviors such as chewing, barking and overgrooming are a dog’s way of dealing with new stressors and disruptions,” says Canino. The best way to solve for this, she says, is to get back to basics. Over the course of one week, dedicate 10 minutes a day to revisit the commands your dog learned as a puppy. Practice sit, stay and, most of all, their “reliable recall” (coming when called) in order to get your dog’s behavior back on track.
Pay it forward
While it may seem obvious, it’s really important to “pay” your dog for good behavior so that they want to repeat this behavior in the future. This is the essence of positive reinforcement. “Think about all of the things you’ll want and need to do on your road trip: take a pit stop, have a meal at a roadside cafe, run around at a state park,” she says. According to Canino, dogs need to rehabituate to travel. Practice getting in and out of the car with your dog and letting them out to go to the bathroom on a leash. Give them a treat when they complete these tasks easily. Rehearsing these steps now will make it a breeze when it comes time for your car vacation.
Call on a crate
“Perhaps the best way for your pup to feel safe in a new environment is through the use of a crate,” says Canino. Crate training is something that many dog owners shy away from or simply put off doing because it sounds difficult and time-consuming. But if not now, when? Crate training can be accomplished over the course of a week. While it may seem restrictive and confining and first, proper crate use actually provides your dog with a sense of safety and familiarity. “Having a confined spot for your dog to stay for a few hours will give you the freedom to go out for a jaunt while your dog enjoys their own down time,” says Canino.
Practice at the park
Once you’ve worked on some of your canine companion’s fundamentals at home, it’s time to take your skills out into the real world. Regardless of your location, bring your dog to a public place with people and other dogs. As demonstrated in Canino’s dog training classes, reviewing basic commands in new and varied environments allows your dog to generalize these skills and deepen his learning. “It’s important to get your dog readjusted to car rides that lead to fun so they don’t just equate the car with going to the vet or groomer, which may not be their favorite,” she says.
Book a pet-friendly hotel
Finding a great hotel that not just “allows” your pet but welcomes them as an honored guest is easier than you might think. Just be sure to book your hotel on Travelocity and use the “pet friendly” filter. Some hotels go out of their way to give dogs the five-star treatment—think personalized tags, walking service, on-site dog parks and, yes, even goldfish companions—and you can see a sampling of some of our favorites and the pet perks they offer here.
Pack for success
Just as you would for each of your family members, it’s important you pack your dog their very own bag or suitcase. This keeps it convenient and easy for you to quickly access what they need when they need it. “You’ll want to include their food bowl and water containers, as well as toys and a familiar-scented blanket for comfort,” says Canino. For dogs that exhibit nervous or anxious behavior in the car, Canino recommends a natural calming aid such as Quiet Moments by NaturVet which can be purchased online. For dogs who may experience motion sickness, Canino suggests consulting with a vet about the option of a prescription such as dimenhydrinate (dog-safe dramamine). Finally, be sure to get a couple of safe and long-lasting chew toys that can keep them occupied during those times you need to go out or while you are in a public space.
“With a little advanced training and preparation, you can make your dog the ultimate travel companion,” says Canino. By following these easy steps, your summer road trip will play like a blockbuster buddy movie for you and your canine co-star.
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