At home, commands like sit, stay, and come may be all you need. But once you hit the road, you might find that teaching your traveling dog some additional commands makes your trips a happier experience for you both!

When we got ready to sell our house and move onto a sailboat, I made a list of behaviors we needed to teach Honey to keep her comfortable, safe, and happy on board. You probably won’t need to teach your dog not to fall in a heeling sailboat. But I bet most of our other lessons will benefit you, too.

Woman walking two dogs on leash under the trees in a waterfront park

5 Commands For A Traveling Dog

Here are our five most useful commands for a traveling dog, along with ideas for when to use them, and tips on teaching them to your pup.

1. Command: Go To Bed

This is one of the most versatile cues to teach any dog! It simplifies life when you’re cooking in a tiny RV kitchen, or trying to keep your dog safe around a campfire. You can use it when you’re eating on the patio at a pet friendly restaurant, or need your pup to settle down on a scenic train ride. And, if your pup is fearful, you can use this cue to help her feel safe and build confidence in situations she finds scary.

What It Looks Like

When I tell Honey to “go to bed,” she looks for the nearest rug or mat and lies down. Most dogs will associate this cue with one particular mat or bed, so teach yours to lie on something small and easy to pack, like a towel. You’ll know your training is a success when your dog settles down and relaxes on the towel in your hotel room or on the ground at an outdoor concert.

READ MORE ⇒ Can You Travel With A Reactive Dog? You Betcha! 

Honey the golden retriever boat dog lies on the dock.
When Honey hears “go to bed” she plants herself.

How To Teach It

Supplies: A towel, an ordinary treat like kibble, and a high-value treat like chicken or jerky

    • Grab a towel that is new to your dog, and make a big fuss over it like it’s better than money.
    • Place the towel on the floor near you. The instant your dog shows any interest in the towel (steps on it, looks at it, or sniffs it), say “yes” (or use a clicker) and toss an ordinary treat on it.
    • Repeat several times.
    • Once your dog is standing or sitting on the towel, give her a release cue (I say “go play,” but “free” or “okay” also work) and toss a treat off the towel for her to retrieve.
    • Continue to reward your dog for stepping on the towel and for leaving it.
    • When your dog has begun to move to the towel by herself, say “Go to bed!” whenever she steps on the towel.
    • When she lies down on the towel, praise her effusively and give her a high-value reward.
    • When your dog is reliably following your cue to lie down on the towel and stay there, start adding small distractions and reward her for staying put. Build the distractions over time, using high-value treats in situations your dog finds especially challenging.

2. Command: With Me

In the old days, this was called “heeling.” It was a signal for your dog to walk in lockstep with you until released. Honey and I aren’t competing in obedience trails, but I do sometimes need her to walk close to me. So, this command is a relaxed version of heeling and can be useful when you’re crossing the street, moving through crowds, or tying to avoiding other animals.

What It Looks Like

When I tell Honey “with me,” she makes eye contact and walks close to my side until I tell her, “go sniff,” her cue to lead with her nose.

Honey the golden retriever walking with me in Cumberland National Seashore.
“With me” is also helpful when Honey wants to explore the edge of the live oak forest for armadillos.

How To Teach It

Supplies: A six-foot leash (not retractable) and a treat or toy that interests your pup

    • Start indoors. Put your dog’s leash on her and stand still.
    • Show her the treat or toy near your leg while taking a step forward.
    • Say “yes” (or click) when your dog steps forward with you and give her the treat or toy.
    • If your dog strains at the leash or pulls (hopefully he won’t in your living room—unless you have squirrels in the house), ignore her.
    • Repeat, adding steps and increasing the length of time between rewards, until your dog is reliably walking beside you.
    • Once she is walking at your side, start using the cue “with me.”
    • When your dog is reliably moving at your side on leash indoors after you say “with me,” grab your treats and move to the backyard.
    • Add distractions slowly until your dog walks by your side after hearing “with me.”
    • When you no longer need to have your dog at your side, release her with your chosen cue.

3. Command: Wait

Wait is one of the most important commands for a traveling dog. When I tell Honey to “wait,” I want her to stay where she is for a brief moment until she gets further instructions from me – I don’t expect her to sit or stay for a long period. We use this cue to keep Honey from jumping off the boat before we’re ready. You might use it to keep your dog in the car until you have him leashed and are ready to go.

I also find it useful for reattaching Honey’s leash at the end of playtime on a pet friendly beach. I never call her to come to me to put her leash back on because I don’t want her to associate coming to me with the end of something fun. Using “wait” allows me to collect her so we can continue on to our next adventure.

What It Looks Like

When I say “wait,” Honey stops walking, looks at me, and stays put until I tell her it’s okay to move again.

Honey the boat dog waits at the dock.
We ask Honey to wait so we can move the boat closer to the dock before she makes her leap.

How To Teach It

To teach your dog this command, you must help her understand that waiting is the best way to get what she wants. Let’s use an example of going out the door, where the reward is being outside.

    • Ask your dog to sit at the threshold of the door.
    • Tell her to wait as you open the door a crack. If she makes a move to lunge forward, gently close the door.
    • Repeat until you see her hesitate, even a little bit. When she waits a second and does not rush through the door, immediately open it to let her out.
    • As she learns that waiting gets her what she wants, ask for longer waits before opening the door.

Once you and your dog have mastered this with a door in hour home, build on your success by moving to the car door.

Honey the boat dog goes aboard the sailboat at the dock.
Once we’re ready for her, we tell Honey to Go Aboard.

4. Command: Watch Me

I tell Honey to “watch me” when I see something ahead I know she’ll find tempting. This cue allows me to direct her attention to me so she doesn’t get into things she shouldn’t. Of course, it only works if you see the temptation first. Good luck getting your dog’s attention after she notices the big bucket of fried chicken someone left on the park bench!

I rely on this cue a lot now that Honey has discovered the free-range armadillos of Georgia’s sea islands. Five seconds of eye contact is enough time for even the laziest armadillo to waddle back to her nest. Of course, if Honey spots the armadillo before I do, the armored creatures move much faster.

What It Looks Like

When I tell Honey “watch me,” she looks up at me and maintains eye contact.

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How To Teach It

Supplies: An ordinary treat, like kibble or favorite toy

    • Hold the treat in front of your dog’s nose.
    • Once you have his attention, take the treat up to your eye. If you keep the treat pinched between your thumb and second finger, you can use it as a silent hand signal later.
    • When you have at least two seconds of eye contact, give your dog the treat or toy.
    • Repeat, adding the cue “watch me” if you don’t want to rely solely on the hand signal, and build the length of time your dog will hold eye contact.
    • Teach your dog to respond to the cue without a treat by praising her, but not treating her every time. Slowly decrease the treats over time.

5. Command: Touch

Another of the essential commands for a traveling dog is touching your hand with his nose. This is the first step to training lots of other behaviors, like turning off a light switch, shutting a door, even some intricate moves in doggy dancing. But I find it useful to get Honey to move her body where I want it quickly and easily.

What It Looks Like

When I put my palm out and tell Honey to touch, she moves so her nose touches my hand. I can use it to direct her around hazards or to move her to the side of the restaurant table farthest from the server. I have not yet had a hungry golden retriever upset a server’s tray in a dog friendly restaurant, and the touch command is one reason for our success!

Honey the golden retriever touches the hand.
When I tell Honey to “touch” I can lead her where I need her.

How To Teach It

Supplies: Small treats or a favorite toy

Because dogs are so curious, this is an easy cue to teach.

  • Put your hand in front of your dog. As he investigates and touches it with his nose, say “yes” (or click) and give him the treat.
  • Put your hand behind your back and wait a moment until placing it in front of your dog again. Reward him when he touches your hand with his nose.
  • Repeat until your dog touches your hand every time you place it in front of him.
  • When he is doing this reliably, say “touch” just as he touches your hand with his nose.
  • The more your repeat this, the more you will find your dog touching your hand with his nose as soon as you use the cue/command.
  • Practice with both hands so your dog “touches” whichever hand you present to him.
  • Reward every touch, using praise and treats intermittently.

How To Be A Successful Trainer

Don’t forget these important principles for training your dog:

  • Use frequent, short training sessions.
  • End them while they’re still fun.
  • The more difficult the behavior for your dog, the more appealing you must make the reward.
  • Add distractions gradually.
  • If your dog has a setback, slow down and go back a step.

My training tips are fairly simple. But if you’re interested in learning how to train more behaviors, visit positive training sites like Karen Pryor’s on clicker training or Victoria Stilwell’s Positively.

The Benefits of Training Before Traveling

Taking time to teach these commands to your traveling dog these commands means you’ll both be more relaxed and allows you and your dog enjoy being together even more. Training also builds your bond and helps keep your dog safe in unfamiliar places and situations. On top of all that, it gives you a fun activity to practice on the road. When everyone is feeling squirrely after hours of driving, there’s nothing like running through your training cues to work your dog’s brain and help tire him out!

Maybe you’ll love it so much you’ll start training your dog to pose for pretty pictures or do fun tricks. A viral video of your adorable dog showing off for the camera might just pay for more exciting trips!

READ MORE ⇒ 6 Simple Steps To Get Your Dog Posing For Photos

Honey the golden retriever puts her paws up at Jekyll Island.
If Honey became a centerfold, we could afford to visit more beaches.

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  • Category: Travel Tips / Tagged with: Health and Safety