Calming Canine Travelers

Help clients prepare their dogs for summer road trips.
By Tom Wien, Director of Marketing, Cardinal Pet Care

One canine behavioral issue we’re asked about a lot here at Cardinal Pet Care—especially this time of year—is how to keep dogs calm, happy and well behaved when they’re taken on family vacations. This should come as no surprise, because traveling with pets is becoming increasingly common.

In a recent survey by TripAdvisor, more than half (53 percent) of 1,100 travelers said they take their pets on vacation with them. This trend is spiraling upward, too. Research by the American Pet Product Association found that nearly twice as many owners include their pets on road trips compared to 10 years ago (37 percent vs. 19 percent). The balance has shifted, according to market research firm AYTM, and people are now actually more likely to travel with their pets than board them at a kennel.

Taking a pet on a road trip will be more enjoyable for all concerned if dogs are good travelers. This means they shouldn’t be fearful of riding in a vehicle and going to strange places. They should remain calm and well-behaved during long drives, and accept whatever safety constraints are used, such as crates, in-vehicle harnesses or car seats. In addition, they should readily adjust to new environments such as hotels, and friends and relatives’ homes, as well as new routines (e.g., eating outdoors at a park or campsite, etc.). And, of course, traveling dogs must be extremely obedient.

Like all desired canine behaviors, being a “good traveler” doesn’t come about by accident; it is best achieved through training and practice. Even the best-behaved dogs can benefit from some coaching prior to a trip. As a training professional, you can help your clients prepare their dogs—and themselves—to go on vacation together by holding a “Traveling with Your Dog” seminar. Doing so is a win-win situation: You will generate additional revenues for your business, while helping your clients achieve a fun and memorable vacation experience they are hoping for.

There are many ways to structure a travel-prepping seminar. One approach is to include a simulated mini motor trip as part of the agenda. After some classroom instruction, have your two- and four-legged attendees get into their cars (equipped with dog safety restraints) and head off to a fun destination, such as a beach, dog park or pet-friendly downtown area.

This is a good idea for a couple of reasons. One is that it prepares dogs (and their owners) to handle the challenges they’ll encounter during a motor trip. Getting “paw’s on” experience of a car ride, using pet safety gear and being exposed to unfamiliar people and places will give dogs a better sense of what to expect when they go on the actual trip.

Second, taking a short simulated trip is an effective way to help dogs overcome any fears they might have of riding in a vehicle. The most common reason dogs are afraid of car rides is because the only time they get into one is when they’re taken to the veterinarian. The best way to conquer this fear is to associate a ride with a pleasurable experience. Suggest to your clients that they continue this practice at home, taking their dog to nearby fun places before going on the vacation itself.

Begin your travel seminar by reviewing basic training commands such as “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Come,” since starting out with an obedient dog will lay the foundation for a smooth trip. The next step is to get them accustomed to the safety restraint system that will be used in the vehicle.

There are a number of devices for keeping canines safe and secure while riding in vehicles, including pet car seats and restraining harnesses, as well as a well-ventilated crate placed in the back cargo area. Generally, crates are more suitable for smaller pets, while larger dogs will be most comfortable in a restraining harness.

Whatever type of restraint system an owner chooses, getting their dog adjusted to using it is best done through positive reinforcement training. Instruct your clients to gradually guide their pets to get into and out of the crate, harness or car seat, rewarding them every step of the way with tasty treats.

Once the dogs feel comfortable with the restraint system, your clients are almost ready to embark on the “trip.” It’s highly advisable to exercise dogs before a motor trip, since this will burn off energy, making the, more calm, relaxed and well behaved on the ride. Having dogs play together before leaving will impress upon your clients the importance of pre-trip exercise.

Travel seminar attendees should also bring along a serving of their dog’s regular food for the “road” trip. Upon arrival at the destination, owners should immediately feed their dog “dinner” in an outdoor area. This will accomplish two things: it familiarizes them with eating in a new environment outdoor and provides positive reinforcement, associating the vehicle ride with an enjoyable event.

Other tactics to suggest to clients for keeping their dos calm on the road: Bring along a familiar object such as a favorite blanket, pillow, toy or bone. Playing music might help relax dogs, too. A recent study conducted by the SPCA in Scotland found that canines exhibited lowered signs of physiological stress when any type of music was playing, with reggae and soft rock having the biggest effect.

Another way to ease a dog’s travel jitters is to administer a calming spray, which works by releasing aromatherapy vapors that have a relaxing effect. Your clients should make sure any calming product they use is formulated specifically for dogs.
Cardinal Pet Care recently introduced Remedy+Recovery Calming Lavender Mist, which is formulated to help dogs stay calm and relaxed in situations where they might get overly stressed and excited. It contains two botanical relaxing agents, lavender and valerian oil, which are gentle and extremely effective. Lavender has recently been shown in studies to produce “significant antianxiety effects,” according to the National Institutes of Health. Valerian oil is also known for having a deeply calming effect as well as improving sleep quality. Easy to apply, the mist comes in a 4-oz. spray bottle that’s convenient to take along on trips.
Of course, the ultimate goal is to make traveling itself a fun and pleasurable experience for dogs. With a little advance preparation and training, dogs will come to enjoy vacations as much as their human companions do.

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