Road Trips with Dogs

Summer Vacation Road Trip!

Road trips with dogs can be delightful if you’re prepared. We drove through several states, sleeping in hotels in some of them, to reach North Carolina where I spoke at a national conference for animal shelters.  We had fun, shared behavior science with people who need it, and practiced a variety of skills in the process!

Two people and a dog under a sign welcoming people to Georgia. Road trips with dogs can be a real blast!

Dogs in Cars

Dogs need to be very comfortable on long car rides; not just “OK”.  This is why we practice getting into and out of both of our vehicles in a controlled manner.  Learn more about teaching Car Manners here.

This video shows Al getting into his crate in our SUV. We took the small sedan on this road trip so the routine is a little different, but we still stick to it.

The Mercedes hybrid was our vehicle this time, so Al did nice “sit” at the door, waiting for the door to open and to be asked to jump in the back seat.  We expect him to lie down most of the time, although it’s OK if he sits up or stands to move to another position.  We have reinforced these behaviors since puppyhood.  Getting out requires a ”sit” before the door opens and we attach or untangle his leash.  He only hops out when we ask him to so that we can ascertain the area is safe.  Al is expected to come to the side of whomever is holding the leash and not lunge past us to the end of the leash to check out the exciting scenery!

Dog-friendly Hotels

Hotels are basically just like any home or other indoor place.  Mat training is helpful if you eat or watch TV in your room. 

A dog lying on a mat while his owner eats. Mat training is helpful, no matter where you’re eating! It applies to camping trips, hotel stays, restaurant visits, and even eating at home.

Stairs and Elevators

Stairs are everywhere – indoors and out. Leash skills really come into play when you walk up or down stairs with your dog!  The last thing I want is to be pulled down on a staircase.  As you probably already know, I am a stickler for great leash skills anyway.  In a new situation where you have to be watching for new stimuli to pop up around any corner, having built leash skills together with your dog, you can navigate just about anywhere.  Stairs are no different.  Al walks right next to us going up or down.

A dog walking up and down stairs at his owner’s side, with a loose leash. Stairs are everywhere on road trips – indoors and out!

Elevators can be scary for dogs.  Make sure your dog has the leash skills necessary to be able to walk into a small, enclosed area with you and be calm there.  Practice at home, going into a closet!  A treat upon entry into the elevator helps ensure a good association.  Travel just one floor at first, making sure your dog is comfortable and relaxed.  Next elevator trip, make sure your dog wants to go inside. If not, practice just hanging out nearby while the elevator door opens and closes, with plenty of treats to associate that stimulus with good things.

Elevator rides can be pleasant and routine when your dog knows the ropes. Break it down into small pieces and help your dog volunteer to learn. Road trips including hotel stays may involve elevators!

Potty Breaks on a Leash

Some dogs seem to only be able to potty when they are loose in the back yard.  This is something you may have to help them with, preferably before you take a trip with them.  Just like everything else, you’ll reinforce the behaviors you like and prevent the behaviors you don’t want.  With this one, training is a lot like the potty-training you did in the first place.  Set your dog up so that he’s outside on a leash when he needs to potty. Take your dog out on a leash on a schedule, regularly, so it’s likely you’ll hit that combo of being outside on a leash AND needing to go.  When he does potty while on a leash, give a treat and have a party every time!  You don’t get very many chances to reinforce potty behavior – only as many as the number of times your dog needs to go each day.  Make sure to reinforce every time it happens.

Visiting Restaurants on Road Trips with Dogs

Here’s where your “mat” behavior really comes in handy.  Be sure that when you leave a dog-friendly restaurant, it’s still dog-friendly for the next diners!  There are plenty of restaurants that once allowed dogs on their patios and had to change their routine because people allowed their dogs to misbehave.  Make sure your dog has the skills to:

  • be calm in a new and exciting situation,
  • lie down on a mat or under the table (or both) for an extended period of time while you eat,
  • continue to be calm and lie down if another dog is nearby.

Be prepared to move if a dog comes in that is unruly; don’t risk damaging your dog’s good behavior because of a situation she’s not ready for.

A dog lying on a mat by his owner’s table in a restaurant. Italian food in Atlanta, Georgia – a fun part of our road trip!

Dog-friendly Shops and the Humans Inside

We came across a number of touristy shops that allowed dogs.  Watch those tails, and be sure your dog doesn’t sniff delicate things in such a way that he knocks them over or drips saliva on them, as Al is prone to do!

If your dog is well-behaved, people will want to pet him even more than if he’s not.  Decide, based on your dog’s behavior at the time, whether you want to allow that.  You don’t have to let people pet!  Most people will understand if you say your dog is in training and not quite ready for that interaction yet.  If your dog is ready, be sure to have the interaction/petting last for only 10 – 15 seconds at most and then move on.  Don’t continue a perfectly good interaction with a stranger until it fails and your dog jumps up on them!  Stop while it’s going well and you still have control of your dog. We teach polite greeting behavior routines in our Beyond Basic Manners Class!

Visiting People’s Homes

We visited a friend who has a dog.  We hoped the two dogs would play, but although they seemed to like each other alright, they didn’t really want to play and kind of got in each other’s way a little bit.  So the dogs explored her lovely yard and then Al laid down at my feet when we sat down to talk.  I released him to explore a few times and called him back before the two dogs started getting aroused.  If all conditions are perfect, you can just let dogs hang out and not worry about a thing; but conditions may not be perfect.  If Al hadn’t had these skills, the visit would not have been quite as much fun for everyone.

Al & Archie liked each other, but didn’t want to play. They enjoyed exploring the yard during our visit.

Bottom Line for Fun Road Trips with Dogs

Road trips with dogs can be fun and a great source of wonderful photos! The point is that you shouldn’t “hope” for things to turn out well.  That’s never a good way to approach a situation, in my mind.  This is why you train your dog in our Beyond Basic Manners Class:  so you have a plan and the skills to follow it when you need to.  Our road trip from Texas to North Carolina and back was delightful and that was due to our preparation in teaching Al the skills he needed to succeed!

Almost home from our road trip – A dog sitting in front of a sculpture of the State of Texas.

Oh hi there!
It’s nice to meet you.

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