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Travel management

With so many methods of transport, it is hardly surprising that for a percentage we observe a few problems. I will not go through all of them but the cures are normally all the same so you can adopt them as necessary. Many of these are in fact traceable back to the apprehension of the owners. We can be our dog’s worst enemy in assuming such a little bundle of fur is so fragile and needs our protection. We have the “Arrr” factor that turns us into illogical carers. Evolution taught a puppy to lean at an amazing rate to accustom itself to its ever-changing environment in order that it can survive and yet we try to interfere thinking we are doing the right thing. We must try to stand back and let it learn only giving guidance by caring, reward or appropriate chastisement when it is deemed necessary. Watching a puppy learn is exciting and wonderful to see and helps us to better understand then. By watching, we learn about the character of our puppy and how to communicate with it as well as making some needed changes.

Do not make a lot of fuss showing your concern or worries as this only reinforces to the dog that there is something to concern it. Be calm and let that be the influence you convey to your dog. Think happy thoughts or jolly hockey sticks if you are a Roger Mugford fan (I do have my concerns about him) as this controls your body language that your pup is reading. (Anyone who has done acting will know what I mean)

The most common problems are usually associated with cars and are probably a result from its very first encounter. Many breeders and rescue shelters now recognise this and are beginning to take puppies out for short trips in the car in order to accustom them to car travel in preparation for the new owners.

We all are aware that changing homes is stressful for humans as it is for dogs and their reactions to traveling for the first time in a car will surface in differing ways. We can have howling, barking, running around, cowering, sickness, urinating even defecation or they just settle down and go to sleep. If this is its first trip in a car think of the changes, it is making and loosing all the other puppies and its mother. (Gut wrenching stuff) If you think about it the new dog receives a first car trip, new people, new home, new bedding, new food, new toys, new sounds and a new silence. Bringing a new dog home is adoption and would you not take some time if you were to adopt a child so do you not think the dog is at least entitled to getting to know you. Try not to make too many changes all in one go.

Make this first car trip before the puppy’s normally feeding time and let food be the reward on arriving at its new home. Give the dog some exercise before the trip to wear it out and then it is looking for a chance to rest. If you have taken a blanket some days or weeks before for all the puppies to use as bedding and having become impregnated with the puppies smell you can lay this down in the car to help to reduce the stress.

Make a short trip first before actually setting off like just around the car park and then let the dog out for a short walk and give lots of praise. Take the pup for a short circular trip and then return to the kennel as if you are returning it to the kennels. (We are wicked are we not)? This will make the pup think the next trip will also be back to the kennel. You can offer a toy to play with or a nice juicy bone to occupy its time. An arm through the dog guard stroking the dog may also help calm the dog. Do prepare for the eventuality that the trip may not go so well and try not to frighten your dog if it is sick or shows any signs of fear. Act normally and take your dog’s mind off it and onto something else. Be cautious and aware of the potential dangers of letting your dog sit on your lap. You do not intend to do this forever so why start now.

Other problems in traveling are dogs taken for a walk usually end up caked in mud or wet from swimming and should stay in the back but how many jump forward and wet your lovely upholstery making it look like a riverbed. How many of you still have the spot marks all over the car interior after a dog shook itself. Dogs locked in the car start to renovate your upholstery trying to dig themselves out of the windows or down at the doors. It is for these reasons I prefer a covered pickup and particular cab pickups. No longer are these considered as only workers vehicles, because now they are elevated to status symbols because they are so well equipped and wet smelly dogs are happy in the back drying off peacefully.

To solve most of these problems and for far greater canine safety one item I would advise purchasing is a training/traveling crate. Wolves and dogs naturally love a den of their own for their own feeling of security. To familiarise them to your dog take it into the house as they love and need somewhere to call home. There are many times dog are confined for travel, kennels or at the vets so if they are familiar with having a den then such times will be less stressful for your dog.

Strong steel mesh Crates are a real benefit used in the back of the car as the dog is under control and safer in the event of any accident for both dogs and humans. Imagine a loose dog in a sudden stop accident flying forward due to inertia. How many times has your dog slid off the seat when you had to break hard? (In Spain that is at least once every day) Driving with a dog wandering around the car is dangerous. I am not keen on the dog harnesses as they restrict the dog to turn around and appear generally uncomfortable. In big estate cars even with a dog-guard, the dog has too much room and in an accident results in injury when thrown about. They are also not that secure, as they are additions and not permanently fixed into place. If you stop and open a door, your dog could jump out in front of another vehicle. How many times have you opened the tailgate and tried to stop your dog jumping out? The designs of the lifting tailgates never considered dog behaviour. One further advantage is that you can leave tailgates and windows open allowing better air circulation and keep your dogs cool. With the grills that fit into the lowered windows, they are not that secure and I have known many dogs dislodge these as well as dog guards to gain an escape.

I fitted crates in the back of my covered pickup and whenever I left the back open to allow the air to circulate, I inevitably found the dogs asleep in their own crates. My dogs traveled all over the country so to them their beds simply went with them. They always slept in their own crate. Given the choice of sleeping at home in their individual runs and kennels or in the back of the pickup the pickup was the most popular.

One problem with big dogs is not all cars or even estate cars can accommodate standard crates. If you check out places that do welding, they may be able to fashion one for your particular car and appropriate for your dog. Sometimes if you have more that one dog then you may find a duel crate useful to stop any dog arguments in the back of the car. If you only have the one dog, it stops it checking your food purchases. (I could have sworn I bought some lamb chops today)

Ideally, you need to purchase new ones as your dog grows but this is expensive. If you can only buy one then, buy one that will fit a fully-grown dog. This should be big enough that your dog can stand without head bowed. Length will be one and a half the dog’s length with its tail down. The width should be the height of the dog to its shoulders. The dog can see all around and they are brilliant for any problem solving if any were to arise. Standard ones usually have a gate at the end and one at the side so this allows choice of fitting into your car.


It is important that you focus on the need to teach your dog to use its crate of its own accord. In the house leave this open as its sleeping quarters and teach your dog this is its place of retreat and where it can feel quite safe. Teach your dog to go into its crate occasionally after a meal to sleep. Once settled in preparation for use in the car just try moments of locking the door if your dog barks to come out say ‘quiet’ or ignore it until it is quiet and then let the dog out to show that only being quiet opens the door. Placed outside with the gate open and with a sun screen on the top allows for a perfect cool place for your dog to sleep in the sun with the air able to blow through. Our cats love to sleep in their wicker travel cases for the same reason. Before they would disappear whenever they saw the basket as it usually meant a trip to the vet.

Never treat crates like a cage or any type of dog bed as a punishment box like shouting ‘get in your bed’ as this will encourage your dog to wish to sleep somewhere else. Do not simply place your dog into it and lock the door expecting your dog to get use to it. It will in a fashion but it is cruel and likely to cause problems.

Training a dog to travel in a car does depend on the dog’s reaction. If it is not a keen traveler, you have to make car trips exciting and end with a reward like walking or other activities that your dog likes. If your dog always gets excited in the car and starts to bark incessantly we have to make trips to nowhere so there is no reward at the end of every trip. If your dog always wants to go out in the car as it does not want to be alone you have to teach it the delights of remaining at home. A dog given a juicy bone then taken on a short trip will want to get home as soon as possible. Some dogs will not get in a car and some will not get out. The old way to cure this was ether to yank the dog in or out of the car using a choker shouting, “get in” or “get out”. Thank goodness for more enlightenment times. We have cases where ordinarily docile pooches turn into the hound of the Baskervilles when they learn to start to guard the car. (Are all these problems making you wish to put the paper down and give up?)

It is not as bad as it would seem if we just remember to ask yourself what does a dog get out of whatever it is doing and break it down to a simple action to reaction solution. Guarding is from the first time your dog barks in fear as someone approaches your car and watch them walk away or flee. This rewards and each occasion reinforces to the dog its guarding abilities and it will just get worse as time goes by. The solution is to let people come up to your car with you there and just ignore the barking and eventually it will give up. If it barks when left in the car just start with short periods and then build it up. When you approach the car come from different directions so once out of sight they do not know where you have gone and so as in the wild they must just settle down and wait for your return. Try leaving them in the car at home with the tailgate open then they learn you cannot leave without them.

If dogs do not want to get in a car then find them a reason to want to jump in like a game or feed them in the back of the car. The reverse works for not getting out. If it gets out at home but not anywhere else then take its food with you and then it will get out or find a good game. Instead of issuing commands and thereby make getting out an issue why not just walk or run away and do something exciting at some distance away.

If your dog barks at you to let it out wait until it is quiet or if you have taught the speak command then say quiet and not let it out until it is. If your dog barks when you are getting near a place your dog likes just do not stop but go somewhere else. If you can see a dogs face when you drive right past where it thought it was going it is one of disbelief. If your dog barks whilst you are traveling find a quiet road and when the dog is barking, just stop and ignore the dog. Only when it is quiet do you set off again. Do not try this on the motorways. Remember do not reward bad or inappropriate behaviour.

Dogs will take to any form of travel given the right training but most more important is that your approach should be without showing any signs of concern. Trust in evolution that dogs are capable of being expert survivors.

Next week I have a 7-year-old staffy type dog that fiercely attacks all other dogs, defecates and urinates when restricted to the bedroom and will sit shaking in fear for no apparent reason. We will follow the dog through a behaviourist’s normal approach to these cures. (Not me I am just being nosy and need his bombproof dogs for this one.) If you have any questions or queries, please contact me.

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