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Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Part of my role as puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind is exposing FLD Gus to as many different experiences as possible.  During his "critical" phase before 16-weeks of age, Gus must learn to accept and be comfortable with strangers, new places, and "scary" things.  (See my "training tip" on SOCIALIZATION from July 13, 2010.)

Because he accompanies me almost everywhere I go, Gus is required to travel easily in vehicles.  Leader Dogs for the Blind advises that we train our puppies to sit on the passenger side floorboard when we are in the car, in the same manner as do graduate Leader Dogs with their handlers.

On a recent 180-mile drive to northern Michigan, FLD Gus did just that (click here to read my post about that trip).  Well, at barely eight-weeks old, he mostly slept when he wasn't getting into mischief!  To make things more comfortable for him (and to entice him to sleep), I put his soft bed at my feet.

For the most part, the bed worked to help Gus (and us) survive his first long car trip, but a few other things we did contributed to our success.
  • We stopped every hour for a "park" break and a little exercise.
  • I limited his water intake.
  • He had a variety of toys to stave off boredom, including a Kong filled with a bit of peanut butter.
On our most recent trip north, I transitioned FLD Gus to the large crate, using it in the van to house him with his bed and toys.  This arrangement gave Gus more room to play or sleep.  He did great!

FLD Gus relaxing in the big crate, riding in the van.


  • Leave after your puppy eats and "parks."
  • Before loading your puppy in the car, take a short walk with a few obedience commands to stimulate his mind--this will tire him out so he is more likely to "nap."
  • Save a portion of his meal to use as "treats" during your journey.
  • Plan extra travel time to allow "park" and exercise breaks.
  • Take another short walk with some obedience exercises (use commands your puppy both knows and is learning).
  • Use the held-back food as rewards.
  • During a short drive, practice with your puppy at your feet on the passenger side.
  • Keep his leash on so you can control him when he jumps up.  I put my foot on Gus's leash so he has enough slack to sit and move around, but when he jumps he "corrects" himself.
  • Position your feet on either side of his space so he cannot sneak over to the driver's side, or try to squeeze by on the door side. 
  • FLD Gus at my feet in the van
  • On a multiple hour drive, consider using a crate.  This arrangement proved to be more relaxing for all of us!

  • Plan for extra playtime upon arrival to your destination to burn off excess energy.  At the cabin, I threw a stick for Gypsy and let FLD Gus chase her around.
  • Introduce your puppy to the new surroundings on leash, especially if he is still learning "park" control.  Do not assume that just because your puppy alerts you to "park" when he is at home that he will in the new place.
  • Expect an accident or two.  Remember to bring appropriate cleanup materials!  (Remember Nature's Miracle?)
  • Keep close watch on your puppy.
  • Try to "puppy proof" the new place:  move exposed cords, remove loose rugs he might be tempted to chew, and close off peripheral rooms.
  • Maintain a similar mealtime, bedtime, and playtime schedule during your stay.  I brought our adjustable pen and set it up in the cabin with Gus's bed and toys.  He readily adapted to the new environment.
  • Continue to work on commands.  This is an excellent opportunity to help your puppy "generalize" and learn to respond to your commands no matter what the setting or distraction!

  • Don't be anxious about your puppy's ability to ride in the car.
  • Your puppy will soon love to go wherever you take him...especially if you start when he is young!

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