dog travel

I wish I could take my excitable dog on family outings!

Do you long to take your tricky dog on family outings? You can! Follow the suggestions here and you can make it work, and really enjoy your family dog | FREE EMAIL COURSE | Reactive dog, problem dog, fearful dog, dog behavior | #problemdog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog |

Yes! You can!

One of the reasons you got a family dog was the enticing thought of outings - to the pub, the cafe, the beach, forest parks … What could be nicer than enjoying a walk in beautiful scenery, and ending the visit in congenial surroundings with everyone tucking in to good food and drink?

But the reality arrived in your fluffy bundle of puppyness, and you soon discovered that your family dog had other ideas about how life should work!

So you may have a dog who’s ebullient, boisterous, loves everyone, and you feel you can’t inflict that on a pubful of people wanting a peaceful refreshment stop. 

Or maybe your dog is reactive - shy, anxious, “aggressive” - and struggles to be in the same space as strange people and - worse - their strange dogs.

Your ideas of family outings with your dog have been put on hold for an indefinite period, until … until what? Until he gets to age 11 and calms down a bit? Until he suddenly decides he’s no longer afraid of people and dogs? Until he’s able to pass a dog on the path without a meltdown?

You could be waiting a long time!

So let’s speed this up - a lot. 

A portable parking spot

One game all dogs should learn is how to relax on their mat. Once your dog knows that if the mat is on the floor, then he should be on it, calmly waiting for you to reward him for staying there, then you can consider going out to places.

For precise, step-by-step, instructions on how to achieve this, go to my Books page where you’ll find that a whole book on calming your dog down is free! Yes, really …

Want to take your dog on a picnic? Follow the suggestions here to prepare, and you can make it work, and really enjoy your family dog | FREE EMAIL COURSE | Reactive dog, problem dog, fearful dog, dog behavior | #problemdog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog |

I can’t tell you the number of students who have found this skill so useful - at home, when friends visit, in cafes, on trains, on buses, at training class, on holiday, at the shops, at friends’ houses, at the vet’s - the list is endless.

If you’re starting with a puppy, so much the better. This can all be part of her valuable socialisation program.

“We thought about delaying getting our new German Shepherd puppy because we had already arranged a short holiday with friends. Our breeder persuaded us that we shouldn’t wait and that a holiday was an ideal time to have our puppy bond with us. So we collected our 8 week old puppy and spent 2 weeks getting to know one another, then headed off with our friends by car and then ferry to the Isle of Skye. Before she was 11 weeks old, puppy Elva had been in the car, on a train, and on a ferry - and she took it all in her stride. People might worry about meeting enough people in the important socialisation phase in a puppy’s life but everywhere we went, she was a people-magnet with everyone wanting to pet her. She loved all the attention and we loved that she was interacting with so many people!

I’d had concerns about travelling with a puppy but we’d started crate training right away. Our travel crate was invaluable in the car and a great place for a tired puppy while we went out for dinner with our friends. By evening, she was more than happy to sleep quietly in her crate until we came back.”

Amanda and Elva, German Shepherd puppy

And Ellen travelled a lot with her Border Collie pup Selkie, even at only four months!

“The games have helped greatly with making puppy trips easier and laying the foundations of good communication. She's particularly great on her mat on buses, trains and in pubs!

Teaching your dog to lie on her mat is an invaluable skill for being able to go on family outings later | FREE VIDEO COURSE | Reactive dog, problem dog, fearful dog, dog behavior | #problemdog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog |

Mat is King!

So matwork will get you part of the way there - and may be all you need for your excitable dog. You also have to make life as easy as possible for your worried dog.

For this you need to work on techniques and strategies to help him adjust to our world - there are plenty here to get started on at Brilliant Family Dog

And the most important thing for your reactive dog is distance. So a good place to start would be an establishment with a large, open, garden where you can get away from other people and be out of their way. If you go to a crowded place and your dog surprises you by being “fine” with all the busyness, think again. It’s more likely that your dog is exhibiting a learned helplessness - he can’t escape, it’s all too stressful, so he shuts down and waits for it all to be over. 

So heading off on this type of outing can only be done when you know there’s a good chance that with all your preparatory training, your dog will be able to cope. 

Forward planning

Either way, you need to plan this trip! 

Here’s a wonderful example of just how effective this can be, from Kerina, one of the students on From Growly Dog to Confident Dog

“We had aimed to go to the pub today and had it planned out to the letter. If either of the dogs got too stressed we wouldn’t stay for lunch, just a drink. We plotted the route yesterday.

I was prepared, had packed toys for the dogs, frozen kongs, coolmat for Spud and blanket for Robin, water from home and some kibble and treats. We chose a table that was at the side, right by the river, and both dogs settled.”

Teaching your dog to lie on her mat is an invaluable skill for being able to go on family outings later | FREE VIDEO COURSE | Reactive dog, problem dog, fearful dog, dog behavior | #problemdog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog |

Later the dogs enjoyed more of their river walk and a swim. They couldn’t have had such fun from the day without the thought Kerina and her sister put into it.

It didn’t take much to take all this stuff with them - think how much a toddler’s family has to pack for a couple of hours! - but it paid off many times over.

An important part of Kerina’s plan was to abort the trip if things weren’t going well. Always be ready to get out of Dodge. If your dog is stressed it’s not going to be much fun for any of you. And if your dog’s having an exciting walk, with lots of running and sniffing, be sure to factor in plenty of downtime. That’s when those prepared foodtoys and the mat come into their own. 

So get everything ready, do all the training first, plan a trip, plan your exit strategy, and enjoy the family outings you were so looking forward to when you decided to get a dog to share your life. 

Yes, it can happen.




You’ll find a week’s worth of tips for calm walks and outings here in this free Workshop!  

Check it out here


Dogs in cars: what's the safest way to travel?

How can I make sure my dog is safe in the car?  Read the post to find out what’s best, and why! | FREE EMAIL COURSE | Dog car travel, puppy car travel, dog behavior | #dogtraining, #newpuppy, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior | www.brilliantfamilydog.comld my dog travel in a car crate.png

I’m often asked to advise on the best way to travel a dog in the car. Now I’m no lawyer, so you’ll have to check any legal fine print yourself, but I do have some ideas and I’m going to put them forward here. And I’m going to break them down into these main categories

1. Safety of dog
2. Safety of others

Dogs and the law

First of all, what are the legal requirements? These will vary from country to country, but I’m hoping that most civilised countries have something similar to what we have in the UK - or, indeed, something better!

In the UK this subject is covered principally by these acts:

  • Control of Dogs Act 1992

  • Animal Welfare Act 2006

  • Road Traffic Act 1988

And if you're not familiar with Rule 57 of the Highway Code, now's the time to brush up. It states that drivers are responsible for making sure dogs (or other animals) are suitably restrained in a vehicle so they can't distract or injure you - or themselves - during an emergency stop: “When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”

What you use is up to you - but you must use something! Your dog must be restrained while travelling in a car. It’s commonsense, and furthermore, your insurance company may find a loose dog in the car the perfect excuse to refuse to pay out on your policy. This could be very, very expensive.

I’ll look at the different types of restraint mentioned here further in this article. I’m not going to compare brands or models, as there’s such variation around the world. 

For more advice on car protocols for dogs, get our free email course here!

1. Safety of the Dog

Safety first. A loose dog is considered an unrestrained load, and as a projectile could do a lot of damage to driver and passengers in the event of a crash. You need to restrain your dog so that any impact from a collision is minimised. A dog doing pirouettes on the end of a car harness is not a good idea.

Your insurers may be happy to negate your insurance if the dog could be presumed to have interfered with car safety.

Your dog needs to be able to shelter from direct sunlight, or to keep warm in a cold car. Having a crate you can cover with cloths also prevents the dog seeing out and becoming motion-sick as a result, and may minimise car-barking.

A tethered dog would be easy to see in a car, and easy to steal as you’ve obligingly put him on a lead already. Basically - don’t leave a dog tethered. The risk of getting tangled, breaking a leg, or being strangled is too great. 

When you arrive at your destination, you need to be able to get your dog out of the car in an orderly fashion. So your dog will learn to wait till the lead is fixed to his harness before being allowed to jump out of the car.


2. Safety of others

Dogs travelling in cars - what’s the safest way? Read the post to find out what, and why! | FREE EMAIL COURSE | Dog car travel, puppy car travel, dog behavior | #dogtraining, #newpuppy, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior |

The driver needs to focus on the road, not be distracted by a dog licking his ear, or hanging out of the window, or be worried about whether the puppy has got his paw caught in the strap again …

In the event of an accident, rescuers need to be able to help the people in the car, and the dog too. Not easy with a loose - or tethered - terrified, injured dog.

There is also the danger of the dog escaping from the car in an accident. Dogs have been lost for ever this way.

Now to the types of restraint you can use. You have to balance safety, convenience, and budget. But will the convenience and the money-saving be worth it if something bad happens? You'll see that all these methods specifically exclude dog-on-lap, dog bouncing from front to back of the car, dog on parcel shelf, dog hanging out of window, and so on.

Car crate

  • Crates must be restrained or fixed in some way

  • Crates can be removed to free up space when you’re transporting other things - even people, perhaps!

  • Much better for carsick dogs as the mess stays in the crate

  • Reduced danger of injury

  • No need to release dog when you leave the car

  • Easier to allow proper ventilation and protection from heat/cold

  • If your dog has never been in a crate, you must teach him first in the house. Here’s a good method

Loose crate

  • An airline crate is good and well-ventilated

  • Metal crates for the home are usually too rattly, and too flimsy to give any protection

  • Fabric crates - dogs can overheat in these. And your dog must be acclimatised to a fabric crate out of the car first. Not suitable for puppies.

Custom car crate

  • Best solution

  • Shouldn’t rattle

  • Will have escape hatch to the inside of the car in case you're rear-ended

  • You can have a hole to pass the lead through.

  • Can fit your car exactly without wasted space, possibly with storage space below or above


  • Car harness - not suitable for puppies or wriggly, excitable, dogs

  • Don’t tether to a collar: this will cause stress and possibly injury

  • Tethering anywhere in the car: ensure dog can’t leap out and hang himself.

  • A car-sick dog will make an awful mess of your upholstery …

Dog Guard

  • The dog is restrained in one area of the car and can’t interfere with the driver.

  • If the dog is small and the boot large, they have too much space to race and jump about.

  • Nothing to prevent them leaping out into the road as you raise the boot.

Dogbox fixed to the towbar

  • The mind boggles at what will happen to your dog in the event of a car running into the back of yours …

As you can see, a custom crate is my preferred solution. Yes, they cost money. But so did my dogs. And the amount of love, care, and money that has gone into them since they arrived is massive. So what’s another few bob to keep them safe?

But who cares about the money? I want my dogs to be as safe as possible when I ask them to travel in my car. I provide approved protection for my human passengers, the least I can do is provide appropriate protection for my precious dogs!