I’m a member of a Facebook group all about people travelling with their dogs. Sometimes someone asks the question: “What should I do to get my dog ready to travel?” and people provide plenty of useful information, usually telling them to teach sit, stay, etc. However, while I think ‘sit’ is a relatively useful command, I’ve probably only used it twice on my trip so far. This post covers what has been most important and useful to Loki and I on our trip so far.
When I taught classes at my home in Australia, I would always go on and on about the importance of socialising new puppies. On the internet, I would jump onto discussions and recommend people socialise their puppies, pointing them to resources and websites. Whenever a new parent at the school where I worked got a puppy, I would tell them about socialising their pup (and that no, “socialising” does not mean just letting their puppy meet a whole lot of other dogs).
Incase you’re not sure, socialising is considered to be the critical window of time in a puppy’s life from about 6 weeks old to 16 weeks when they are absorbing all new experiences in their world, and these experiences are shaping how they will react to situations when they’re older. A bad experience with a loud truck rattling past, for example, could lead to a dog afraid of loud vehicles in the future. The more positive experiences the puppy has of a wide range of different stimuli, the more well-rounded he will be as an adult dog.
Since Loki landed in Europe, I’ve realised just how amazing he is for everything he has been asked to cope with, and how important all the socialisation I did with him as a puppy really is. Off the top of my head, this is what he might experience in a week:
Cars, trucks, motorbikes, scooters, pushbikes, skateboards, garbage trucks emptying bins, street sweepers, trams, trains, horses on cobblestones, horses in general, boats, goats, sheep, cows, pigs, squirrels, deer, other dogs (big, small, excited and subdued), cats, crowded city streets, people of every shape and size you could imagine, kids, babies, different flights of stairs (some you can see through as you go up), different bridges, high places (cliffs), long car rides, strange houses/apartments (and interacting with the people who live in them), being handled (having ticks removed, nails trimmed, knots cut or brushed out, etc., plus the vet-checks to get him here and to the UK), a live band playing music, weird wooden statues in the forest, a light show with hundreds of people watching, clapping & applause, huge loud waterfalls, visiting cafés & restaurants, waiting outside shops, waiting in the van, not to mention the actual flight over.
In the majority of the cases above (and keep in mind that some of them were louder, some made weird noises – one tram for example, was turning a corner, its brakes screeching and whining), Loki was calm and relaxed. He didn’t panic, he didn’t try to run away. Sometimes he looked at the thing, figured it out, and went about his day. Sometimes he looked to me or kept closer because he was overwhelmed.
Commands & Behaviours
So, yes, sit is a useful command, though to be honest I’ve only used it once or twice on the trip. There are certainly some more useful and practical behaviours Loki knows, or that I wish I’d worked on him a bit more with before I left!
Having a reliable and fast recall is right up there as my #1 most important behaviour Loki knows. Of course if he didn’t have one, he could stay on leash the whole time but that wouldn’t be nearly as fun. And, of course, I’m still sensible about where and when I let him off lead and am constantly assessing and reassessing our surroundings. I won’t go into how I taught him a recall here, you can find plenty of great resources online.
Travelling with Loki has seen us go to a few restaurants, cafés and outdoor events, and we’ve only been here a month. I’ve found it really useful to bring a bathmat (super soft and fluffy one from Ikea) along with us when I can, as this gives him a nice soft place to lie down and relax. Unfortunately I hadn’t trained this very much before I left so it can take him a while to relax as he’d rather sniff people’s food or find crumbs on the floor or visit people on the next table over. I’m now using these opportunities to train him to wait on his mat and reward him when he’s calm and settled.
Another one I thought of only a month before we left has been so useful after only a month here. While Loki is brilliant off-lead, as Europe’s trails are a lot busier than Australia’s, Loki needs to not get in the way of bikers, runners and other walkers. His half-brother Badger seemed to pretty naturally understand how to walk at his owner’s side, not in a formal heel, but just going slow for a few minutes, so I decided to teach it to Loki. Luckily for me he understands this behaviour really well too and is quite happy to just hop into “slow” position until I release him to go free again. For me it was just a matter of rewarding in place with food and making it a fun game rather than a chore, and I don’t expect him to be looking up at me or doing anything fancy, just simply walking either at my side or even slightly behind me. When the bike or runner has passed, he is released to go ahead again with an “ok!”
This isn’t so much a “formal stay” as an informal behaviour for Loki, which is – if I tie you up outside the bakery, you just need to chill out there for a few minutes and then I’ll be back. I’d feel pretty confident that if I put him in a stay outside the door of the shop he’d probably do it, but I’d rather not risk him seeing a cat or something and wandering off. All I need him to be able to do is just relax if I go inside a shop or house for a minute and not try and escape or freak out.
Those are definitely the most useful commands so far. While he can do plenty of other tricks and knows plenty more commands, they’re the ones I’ve used the most since arriving. Those, along with his socialisation, have meant that he’s a super easy travelling companion. While I wouldn’t say he’s perfect (wanting to eat EVERYTHING and get in EVERY piece of water he can find), he’s pretty darn close.