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5 Helpful Commands Every Traveling Dog Should Know

5 Helpful Commands Every Traveling Dog Should Know | GoPetFriendly.comAt home, commands like sit, stay, and come may be all you need, but once you hit the road, you may find extra training makes traveling with your dog a happier experience for both of you.

Training Our Traveling Dog

When we got ready to sell our house and move onto a sailboat, I made a list of behaviors we needed to teach Honey to keep her comfortable, safe, and happy on board. You probably won’t need to teach your dog not to fall in a heeling sailboat, but I bet most of our other lessons will benefit you, too.

Here are our five most useful commands, with ideas for when to use them, and tips on how to teach them to your dog:

1. Go To Bed

This is one of the most useful cues to teach any dog! It simplifies life for everyone when you’re making a meal in a tiny RV kitchen or on a campfire. It’s useful when you’re eating out on the patio at a pet friendly restaurant or need your big boy to settle down under your seat on a scenic train ride. And, if your pup is fearful, you can use this cue to help her find a safe place in scary situations.

What It Looks Like

When I tell Honey to “go to bed,” she looks for the nearest rug or mat and lies down. Most dogs will associate this cue with one particular mat or bed, so teach yours to lie on something small and easy to pack, like a towel. You’ll know your training is a success when your dog settles down and relaxes on the towel in your hotel room or on the ground at an outdoor concert.

Honey the golden retriever boat dog lies on the dock.

When Honey hears “go to bed” she plants herself.

How To Teach It

Supplies: A towel, an ordinary treat like kibble, and a high-value treat like chicken or jerky

    • Grab a towel that is new to your dog, and make a big fuss over it like it’s better than money.
    • Place the towel on the floor near you. The instant your dog shows any interest in the towel (steps on it, looks at it, or sniffs it), say “yes” (or use a clicker) and toss an ordinary treat on it.
    • Repeat several times.
    • Once your dog is standing or sitting on the towel, give her a release cue (I say “go play,” but “free” or “okay” also work) and toss a treat off the towel for her to retrieve.
    • Continue to reward your dog for stepping on the towel and for leaving it.
    • When your dog has begun to move to the towel by herself, say “Go to bed!” whenever she steps on the towel.
    • When she lies down on the towel, praise her effusively and give her a high-value reward.
    • When your dog is reliably following your cue to lie down on the towel and stay there, start adding small distractions and reward her for staying put. Build the distractions over time, using high-value treats with situations your dog finds especially challenging.

2. With Me

In the old days, this command might have been called “heeling.” It was a signal to your dog to walk in lockstep with you until released. Honey and I aren’t competing in obedience trails, but I do need her to walk close to me in certain situations, like crossing the street, traveling through crowds, and avoiding other animals, so this is a relaxed version of heeling.

What It Looks Like

When I tell Honey “with me,” she makes eye contact and walks close to my side until I tell her, “go sniff,” her cue to lead with her nose.

Honey the golden retriever walking with me in Cumberland National Seashore.

“With me” is a useful cue to keep Honey from exploring the edge of the live oak forest for armadillos.

How To Teach It

Supplies: A six-foot leash (not retractable) and a treat or toy that interests your pup

    • Start indoors. Put your dog’s leash on him and stand still.
    • Show him the treat or toy near your leg while taking a step forward.
    • Say “yes” (or click) when your dog steps forward with you and give him the treat or toy.
    • If your dog strains at the leash or pulls (hopefully he won’t in your living room—unless you have squirrels in the house), ignore him.
    • Repeat, adding steps and increasing the length of time between rewards, until your dog is reliably walking beside you.
    • Once he is walking at your side, start using the cue “with me.”
    • When your dog goes to your side on leash indoors after you say “with me,” grab your treats and move to the backyard.
    • Add distractions slowly until your dog walks by your side after hearing “with me.”
    • When you no longer need to have your dog at your side, release him with your chosen cue.

3. Wait

When I tell Honey to “wait,” I just want her to stay where she is for a brief moment until she gets further instructions from me. I don’t expect her to sit or stay for a long period. We use it to keep her from jumping off our boat into the dinghy before we’re ready for her, but you may find it useful for getting your dog to stay in the car until you have his leash or are ready for him to jump out.

I also find it useful for putting Honey’s leash back on at the end of playtime on a pet friendly beach. I never call her to come to me to put her leash on because I don’t want her to associate coming to me with the end of fun. But “wait” lets her know I just need her to stop walking away from me so I can put her leash back on and we can go to our next adventure.

What It Looks Like

When I say “wait,” Honey stops walking, looks at me, and stays still until I tell her it’s okay to move again.

Honey the boat dog waits at the dock.

We ask Honey to wait so we can move the boat closer to the dock before she makes her leap.

How To Teach It

To teach your dog not to move when you say wait, you must help her understand that waiting is the best way for her to get what she wants. Let’s use an example of going out the door, where the reward is being outside.

  • Ask your dog to sit at the threshold of the door.
  • Tell her to wait as you open the door a crack. If she makes a move to lunge forward, gently close the door.
  • Repeat until you see her hesitate, even a little bit. When she waits a second and does not rush through the door, immediately open it to let him out.
  • As she learns that waiting gets her what she wants, ask for longer waits before opening the door.

Once you and your dog have mastered this with a door in hour home, build on your success by moving to the car door.

Honey the boat dog goes aboard the sailboat at the dock.

Once we’re ready for her, we tell Honey to Go Aboard.

4. Watch Me

I tell Honey to “watch me” when I see something ahead I know she’ll find tempting. This cue allows me to direct her attention to me so she doesn’t get into things she shouldn’t. Of course, it only works if you see the temptation before your dog. Good luck getting your dog to make eye contact with you once she notices the big bucket of fried chicken someone left on the park bench!

I rely on this cue a lot now that Honey has discovered the free-range armadillos of Georgia’s sea islands. Five seconds of eye contact is enough time for even the laziest armadillo to waddle back to her nest. Of course, if Honey spots the armadillo before I do, the armored creature moves much faster.

What It Looks Like

When I tell Honey “watch me,” she looks up at me and maintains eye contact.

How To Teach It

Supplies: An ordinary treat, like kibble or favorite toy

    • Hold the treat in front of your dog’s nose.
    • Once you have his attention, take the treat up to your eye. If you keep the treat pinched between your thumb and second finger, you can use it as a silent hand signal later.
    • When you have at least two seconds of eye contact, give your dog the treat or toy.
    • Repeat, adding the cue “watch me” if you don’t want to rely solely on the hand signal, and build the length of time your dog will hold eye contact.
    • Teach your dog to respond to the cue without a treat by praising her, but not treating her every time. Slowly decrease the treats over time.

5. Touch

Teaching a dog to touch your hand with his nose is the first step to training lots of other behaviors — turning off a light switch, shutting a door, even some intricate moves in doggy dancing. But I find it useful just to lead Honey’s body where I want it quickly and easily.

Honey the golden retriever touches the hand.

When I tell Honey to “touch” I can lead her where I need her.

What It Looks Like

When I put my palm out and tell Honey to touch, she moves so her nose touches my hand. I can use it to direct her around hazards or to move her to the side of the restaurant table farthest from the server. I have not yet had a hungry golden retriever upset a server’s tray in a dog friendly restaurant, and the touch command is one reason for our success!

How To Teach It

Supplies: Small treats or a favorite toy

Because dogs are so curious, this is an easy cue to teach.

  • Put your hand in front of your dog. As he goes to investigate it and touches it with his nose, say “yes” (or click) and give him the treat.
  • Put your hand behind your back and wait a moment until placing it in front of your dog again. Reward him when he touches your hand with his nose.
  • Repeat until your dog touches your hand every time you place it in front of him.
  • When he is doing this reliably, say “touch” as he goes to touch your hand with his nose.
  • The more your repeat this, the more you will find your dog touching your hand with his nose as soon as you use the cue/command.
  • Practice with both hands so your dog “touches” whichever hand you present to him.
  • Reward every touch, using praise and treats intermittently.

How To Be A Successful Trainer

Don’t forget these important principles for training your dog:

  • Use frequent, short training sessions
  • End them while they’re still fun
  • The more difficult the behavior for your dog, the more appealing you must make the reward
  • Add distractions gradually
  • If your dog has a setback, slow down and go back a step

My training tips are fairly simple. But if you’re interested in learning how to train more behaviors, visit positive training sites like Karen Pryor’s on clicker training or Victoria Stilwell’s Positively.

The Benefits of Training Before Traveling

Taking extra time to train before traveling with your pet means you’ll both be more relaxed and allows you and your dog enjoy being together even more. Training also builds your bond and helps keep your dog safe in unfamiliar places and situations. On top of all that, it gives you a fun activity to practice on the road – when everyone is feeling squirrely after hours of driving, there’s nothing like running through your training cues to work your dog’s brain and help tire him out!

Honey the golden retriever puts her paws up at Jekyll Island.

If Honey became a centerfold, we could afford to visit more beaches.

And maybe you’ll love it so much you’ll start training your dog to pose for pretty pictures or do fun tricks. A viral video of your adorable dog showing off for the camera might just pay for more exciting trips!

Planning a pet friendly trip of your own? We’ll make it easy:
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  • We’re training our dogs everywhere, all the time, Ally!

  • Where’s isn’t your training located ?

  • Thanks so much, Sharon! Pamela has some great insights and a wonderful way of explaining how to teach these cues. Waggin’ trails to you!

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