Training is what determines whether traveling with your pet will be easy and enjoyable or no fun at all. A calm, well-mannered pet who likes to be around people is a joy to be with. Dogs and cats are social animals, and training helps your pet to communicate with you by putting human words to dog and cat behaviors. If you think your pet needs some travel training, start a few weeks before your trip to give both of you ample time.
Both cats and dogs should know how to be friendly with people and how to relax and calmly accept travel. They should know how to settle down in different situations, especially when left alone in a safe place. They should also be house-trained or litterbox trained. Dogs should know how to come to you when you call (cats can learn this, too!), to walk politely on a leash, and to stop barking when asked.
Take your pet out into the world and let him or her become accustomed to new sights, sounds, and people. Introduce him to people at your home, then take him with you on errands around town. Never push your pet into a situation where he feels uncomfortable. Take along some treats and offer them as a way of praising your pet for calmly accepting new experiences. He will soon associate new experiences with good things.
Start teaching your pet at home that meeting people is a safe and fun thing to do. The more good experiences your pet has with people, the more comfortable he will be around people. Take him to meet people all over town: at the local shopping mall, in the park, and on the streets.
You should also teach him to sit to greet people. To do this, invite friends over and have each of them ready with a handful of treats. Have your dog on a leash and when they approach to greet him ask him to sit. While he is sitting they can give him a bit of food. Then have them vary from occasionally giving food to giving praise alone when he sits. He will learn that saying hello to people while sitting is a rewarding experience.
For your cat, you can have people gently hold him and offer him a treat.
Speaking and Shushing
To teach your dog to be quiet on command, you first will have to get him to bark. Set up a situation that will get him to do so. Say “speak” and have a friend ring the doorbell. Praise him for barking once or twice, tell him to “shush” and waggle a treat in front of his nose. He will stop barking to sniff the treat. When he is quiet for just a moment give him the treat. Repeat this process a few times a day and he will start to understand that being quiet when you ask him to means he may get a reward.
When he masters this exercise at home, practice at friends’ homes so you have reliable control in many places.
Walk This Way
Your dog should be able to walk calmly by your side, even in crowded areas. To teach this, start by walking her first in relatively quiet areas around your home and garden. Take one step, ask your dog to sit, and reward her with a bit of food. Repeat this many times until your dog sits automatically when you stop. Now increase to two steps in between each sit, then three, four, and so on.
Pretty soon your dog will be walking attentively by your side for many steps and sitting automatically when you stop. This is walking nicely on a leash.
Most people think cats can’t be trained to walk on a leash, but they can.
If you plan on traveling with your cat it is a good idea to get her used to wearing a harness and leash for safety. You can teach your cat to enjoy wearing her harness by slowly acclimating her to it. To begin, put it on her for short periods of time. Each time she wears it give her a special food treat. In a short while she will associate wearing her harness with something great — food.
Coming When Called
Teaching your dog to come to you when called is the most valuable emergency safety command. Imagine he’s gotten loose and is headed toward a road. It’s imperative that he know to respond immediately when you call him. Unlike when training at home, where the objective is to phase out lures and rewards for obedience, it is a sound policy to always have a reward handy when on the road. Let your dog know he is highly likely to get a couple of treats and lots of praise when he comes when called.
It is dangerous to have a dog who won’t come when called while at home, but it is disastrous to lose your dog in an unfamiliar setting.
Start by having your dog on a leash in a calm environment without too many distractions. Call him to you. When he turns your way, praise him, and give him a treat when he gets to you. You can also enlist friends and family to play recall games. Call your dog back and forth between you and a friend, rewarding him lavishly each time. When he responds reliably at home, try new areas to train, but always keep him on a leash. You can use a longer leash and practice having him come when you call from a farther distance.
With this reward system, your dog will learn that coming to you always results in something great: your praise and/or a treat. This means you shouldn’t call your dog to you when you are going to do something to him he doesn’t like, such as give him a bath. In those cases, go and get him.
No matter how reliable a recall you teach, please try to keep your dog on a leash as much as possible when traveling. Remember, his attention and obedience will probably not be as dependable in unfamiliar places.
Your dog should be able to settle down at the drop of a hat. Start in your calm home environment by teaching him that the word down means to lie down and relax until you release him. Have a blanket, towel, or scrap of rug as the dog’s settle-down spot. Ask him to lie down on it and use a bit of food in your hand to guide his head down, in which case his body will follow.
When he is lying down, give him the treat and praise him. Let him know when he can get up by saying a word or phrase such as “all done.” Start with very short periods of time and gradually build up. By repeating this you will be teaching him that lying quietly on that spot is the best way to get two of the things he likes most: your attention and a treat.
Be sure to practice in different places — by your side, at the dinner table, while you’re watching television or reading a book. Practice with the dog out of sight in a different room to prepare him for a time when you may need to leave him alone in his carrier while traveling.
When your dog will lie quietly in your home for a few moments, you should begin to use the settle-down command on walks. Stop every 25 yards or so to train him to quickly lie down and relax even when he is excited (as most dogs are when going for a walk). Use praise and food the same way you did in your home. Offer him a bit to get him into the “down” position by using your hand with the food in it to guide his head to the floor. When he is lying down, occasionally give him the treat and praise him.
Relaxing to music
At home, put some music on every time you feed, stroke, or massage your pet. After a while your pet will begin to associate this music with positive and calm experiences. Then you can take the music with you when you travel to help calm your pet.
Whether you want your dog to go outside or on paper inside, training him or her to go on cue will make traveling much easier. “Pit stops” often are meant to be fast, and waiting for your dog to find just the right spot can delay your trip.
With a small dog who goes on paper, the act of placing the paper on the floor usually is enough to get her to go. But larger dogs who eliminate outside are often taught to go for a long walk before they eliminate.
Change things around: When you take your dog out, wait for her to eliminate before you walk around the block. When she begins to eliminate say something like “go potty” in a happy tone and praise her. This way she’ll learn to go immediately on command and see the walk as the reward. For the first week or two this training may seem tedious (just standing in one spot), but it will be well worth the effort when you are on the road or when you must take your dog out on a rainy night.
Most pets only travel when going to the veterinarian, groomer or kennel, all of which are not conducive to your pet enjoying travel. If your pet hasn’t traveled much, you should dedicate at least a few weeks before your trip to getting him accustomed to car travel and carrier training.
When your pet is calm and relaxed in the carrier at home, you can repeat the training process with the carrier placed in your car. After a few days take short trips in the car and make the destination a place that will please your pet. Most dogs will learn to love car rides if they believe they will sometimes be going to play ball in the local park.
Carrier and Crate Training
Crating allows you to relax while your pet is safe and secure in a familiar place. The first step is to teach your pet to accept and even enjoy time spent in his carrier. If used properly, a carrier is a fantastic tool for training and helping your pet to feel at home anywhere.
How long should this process take? Training puppies takes very little time. Older dogs and cats usually require a little more time, depending on your pet’s temperament. The more laid-back your pet, the quicker he’ll respond. On average, it should take no more than a few weeks to teach your pet that his carrier is a pleasant place to spend a little time.
To begin, place the carrier near your pet’s feeding and/or resting area. Let him investigate it on his own. A great little trick is to put food inside the crate and close the door with him outside the crate. When he shows a strong interest in the food, open the door and let him go in to get it. Then begin to have him spend time in the carrier by gently placing him in it and offering a food treat.
Slowly increase the time your pet spends in the crate, from a few seconds to a few minutes.
Make sure every encounter is a pleasant one and never use the carrier to punish your pet. Continue to have your pet spend time in his carrier doing things he enjoys (such as eating). To ensure that your pet sees his carrier as a safe place, don’t let people bother him when he is in it.
Choosing a Carrier
There are three main considerations to keep in mind when choosing a carrier: size, quality, and comfort.
The carrier should be big enough for your pet to stand up, turn around and lie down in. Don’t make the mistake of choosing one that gives your pet too much extra room. Animals are more likely to be injured in a carrier that is too big.
Airline-approved carriers are a wise choice, because they can be used for both air and car travel and offer the best assurance of durability.
For most pets you should line the carrier with a mat, towels, or shredded newspaper. However, if you are still house-training your dog, a liner may make him more likely to use the crate as a toilet. So until he is house-trained, keep the carrier floor bare.