It all began with my recent re-reading of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Then I kept hearing about more hotels and resorts amending their rules to allow pets. Now I am entertaining fantasies of taking my very large dog, Lady Piazza, on an incredibly ambitious road trip across America.
Sadly, in order to successfully travel together, your pet must have a certain level of decorum.
Lady Piazza does not know what the word decorum means.
Lady Piazza is no lady.
By virtue of being so large—105 lbs, in fact—Lady is relatively scary when she barks, growls, leaps, jumps quickly or just looks at you funny. These are all things that she does on an hourly basis. Lady is half Labrador Retriever and half Rhodesian Ridgeback. This means that she loves her belly rubbed, but also wants to hunt lions.
As a longtime fan of Cesar Millan I know deep in my heart that Lady’s issues are really just my issues. That’s why I invited him over to help me train her [me] for traveling. Cesar, whose show Cesar 911 premieres Season 2 tonight on Nat Geo Wild, firmly believes that all dog problems are just human problems in disguise. When I tell people that my dog is a little neurotic, I’m probably just self-diagnosing.
Don’t let this face fool you.
“Your levels of excitement are very high,” Cesar tells me with just an ounce of judgement. “We really need to work on harnessing your calm energy.”
I’ve never seen anyone as calm as Cesar Millan. He exudes the charisma, confidence and serenity of a love child between Bill Clinton and Pema Chodron.
Lady started out skeptical. Cesar eventually won her furry heart.
Humans often say things like, “traveling makes my dog anxious,” or “my dog hates going in the car.” According to Cesar we’re really just anthropomorphizing. The dog has absolutely no idea it is going on a trip or a vacation. For the dog, who is much more successful at living in the present than we are, everywhere they go is a vacation.
“The dog doesn’t have to be somewhere we find exotic. They find everything exotic. For them exotic isn’t just getting on a plane. It is getting from point A to point B. They live in the moment. They enjoy the little things—the little trips,” Cesar explained to me as we started our journey together in the lobby of my building.
According to Cesar, this is everything you need to know about traveling with your pet:
1. Be calm. Seriously. Your dog wants you to be confident, prepared and in control of the situation. That means planning how the two of you will travel in advance. When you get anxious, your dog gets anxious. Make sure you have everything you need—food, toys, leashes, water—before you head out. Plan your route. Know where you’ll stop for walks along the way. The calmer you act, the calmer your dog will be. “Most people don’t know how to plan and they become frustrated and stressed out and the dog will feel like the travel experience is about being stressed out,” Cesar explained.
2. Exercise. Before you take your dog on any kind of trip take them for a very long walk. “That way when the dog goes into any vehicle they are in the highest level of calmness. They don’t know they are going from one place to the next unless they travel on foot,” Cesar said. “When they go on a plane or in a car it is like they are teleported somewhere. They don’t know that they have traveled. Make them feel like they have traveled before they actually go.”
3. Introduce new places slowly. Don’t let the dog get too excited about the new environment. As soon as you get to the new destination show him or her the new digs. “The dog doesn’t know they went from New York to Boston. They have no idea. You have to do things in a way that animals understand the transition,” Cesar says. “People always say my dog becomes anxious when we travel. Think about who is really anxious here. Let them get used to the new place.” If that place is a hotel then show them around the lobby and the grounds before taking them around the room. This gives them confidence in their new surroundings.
4. Don’t feed them right away. “Dog lovers might think this is a little mean,” Cesar admitted. “But if he has any kind of issue and is hungry, hunger overrules everything else. When you are hungry you forget to be afraid.”
5. Give them a job. Cesar is a big advocate of encouraging the working spirit of dogs. “Dogs love having a job and a focus,” he said. When traveling with your dog, have them carry a bit of the luggage. Strap on a backpack and let them take care of their own accessories and snacks.
This is her “listening” face.
I was surprised at how quickly Lady took to Cesar. She didn’t jump or lick or growl at him. She simply stared up at him adoringly. When I gripped the leash too tight he corrected me.
“Take a breath,” he instructed. He was talking to me, not my dog. I did. As my shoulders relaxed I saw Lady’s begin to slump.
We even practiced walking alongside another dog, a small marshmallow of a Pomeranian. Lady, who has a particular disdain for small breeds, didn’t flinch.
Is she ready to hit the road? Not yet. But, soon. After a few more weeks of practice I think the Lady and I can proceed on our Steinbeckian adventure.
Video shot by Tracey Steinberg.
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