A lot of RVers today travel with dogs. I forgot the exact number, but I remember reading that more than half of full-timers travel with a dog. Today, I am going to speak with a veterinarian about things people can do to make RVing easier when traveling with their furry family members.
Dr. Lynne Swanson is a retired veterinarian who founded Safe Harbor Farm, a canine rescue and rehabilitation center in coastal North Carolina.
She grew up living with around 20 dogs at a time and has invested three decades – more than half her life – working with large groups of dogs. She calls them the best teachers because, once you learn their language, they can tell you everything you need to know about what they are thinking or experiencing.
Safe Harbor Farms is a 61-acre facility dedicated to helping dogs and their owners learn ways to control behavior so everyone is happy.
There are two things that pet owners can do with dogs to make their lives better. The first is to create positive associations with RV travel and the second is to introduce dogs to new environments, people and situations in ways that reflect a canine culture instead of human culture.
She compares it to traveling to Montreal, Quebec. If you know a little French and understand the culture, you’re going to have an easier time adapting to that community. But, if you don’t speak the language or understand any of the customs, visiting there will be frustrating.
A lot of people own and love their dogs, but Lynne said many of them don’t really know their dogs.
For example, when it comes to associations, the experiences are either positive, neutral or negative. They all work to raise or lower your dog’s energy level. Creating positive associations keeps dogs calmer and more relaxed while negative associations work to get dogs excited and anxious.
Many dogs take their cues from the owner. If the owner is reactive and excited about something, the dog will be, too.
For example, if a dog owner yells “squirrel” or says “oh my, look at the squirrel,” the dogs will respond by being just as excited and interested in the squirrel as the owner. However, if the owner simply observes the squirrel without reacting, the dog learns to observe it without reacting, as well.
One thing that is common in many RV parks is barking, yipping dogs. Lynne said that’s to be expected because dogs instinctively bark when people or other animals enter their space because they are alerting the rest of the pack that something has changed in the environment.
If owners start yelling at the dog to shut up and react with negative energy themselves, that just encourages the dog to bark even more. They feel they are being rewarded for alerting their owners to the situation.
Dogs communicate through posture, position, movement, energy and voices. So, is a shouting voice high energy or low energy?
When an owner is upset with a dog for barking, the dog will not relate that his owner is frustrated with the dog’s behavior. The dog will sense that the owner is also frustrated with that other dog walking through his neighborhood.
What you do is train the dog not to yip or bark by rewarding them for doing something else, such as sitting on a blanket or coming to your side rather than standing on the sofa barking out the window.
Learning how dogs communicate and interact not only within their own family or pack, but with similar creatures, can go a long way toward ending unwanted behaviors. Like Lynne said, dogs want nothing more than to please their owners.
I also liked Lynne’s advice for getting dogs ready for travel day by giving them a special toy or treat that they only get on travel days. That way they associate something pleasurable with being in the crate or moving. Then it becomes part of the dog’s routine.
It’s good advice for owners to remember the five Cs of training dogs to be calm, clear, consistent, confident and canine intuitive. Always reward good behavior and stop rewarding bad behavior.
Lynne literally wrote the book on dog behavior. You can obtain a copy of Smile! and Other Life Lessons Your Dogs Can Teach You While You are Training Them at www.givesmiles.us.
You can learn more about Dr. Swanson’s training programs at www.safeharborfarm.org.
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