Traveling is always a great idea. It gives us a whole new perspective that can never be found within the four corners of the office, or even at home. It allows us to start new friendships and renew bonds among old friends. Most importantly, it helps us reconnect with nature and transform our lives for the better. However, for some fur parents who can never leave their beloved dogs alone, traveling seems to be a far-fetched dream.  But hey, news flash: Traveling is not just for humans anymore! We at Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours offer you fun things to do in Charlotte NC and a chance to spend time with your four-legged buddies in nature, rather than having to leave them at home. Not only are we dog-friendly; we are dog-focused. We want them to get as much out of the experience as you are!

Demetria Mosley of the Gaston Gazette writes about fun things to do in Charlotte, NC, and in her article about our Howl At The Moon Tour, writes about our humble beginnings and the common love for dogs and adventures that made Happy Tails Tours what it is. It’s an honor to share how our three cherished canine family members transformed our lives and helped us reconnect with nature. We want you to experience the same too, and for that we are organizing a Howl At The Moon tour by North Carolina’s Catawba River. This event will be on September 21 & 22, 2018.


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There are many things that have shaped who I am and how I interact in the world, but none more so than travel, at least not until I started traveling with dogs.

In 1993, Trek America changed my life. I was 24 years old when after a few weeks of training they handed me the keys to a van, 13 young people from all over the world, and $4000 and essentially said “Drive safe, have fun, and bring everyone back in one piece!” I did, and I was hooked, both on guiding and on travel. In 2000, when I loaded my dog Max on the back of my motorcycle, my life took its next big turn! That’s when I began traveling with dogs and really experienced the transformational power of combining travel and animals, and, once we got into the Canadian wilderness a week later, the trifecta was complete! The power of traveling with dogs in nature, and the connection that resulted, was unparalleled in my experience.

Trek America 2018 Reunion Group Picture
Trek America 2018 Reunion Group Picture

Last week I spent 4 days in the Redwoods of Northern California at a reunion of some of the most wonderful people that I’ve been privileged to share my life with. It was reunion where everyone was family, yet almost no one was related. The reunion was of Trek America tour leaders. There were guides from the early 70’s all the way up to folks who have only been with the company a few years now. Everyone there agreed that Trek and travel had had an amazing, undeniable positive impact on their lives and on the lives of the passengers who it had been their privilege to guide for the past 46 years.

And everyone was supportive and thrilled with the idea of Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours. Because we are all intensely passionate about travel and sharing that experience to transform people’s lives for the better, everyone felt instinctively that traveling with dogs was definitely the next step in the genesis of travel and its power of transforming lives.

David Blank of Happy Tails Tours in the Trek America Reunion at Redwoods California

I could go on about what a great experience it was connecting with old friends as well as making many new friends. Or about how Jack, who hired and trained me in 1992 and put the whole reunion together is an amazing person, role model and inspiration for me and many of us who were there. Both of those things are true and I’m incredibly grateful to Jack and everyone for their love, support and energy!

dog hammock adventure tours

But what I really left the reunion with was clarity about the incredible transformative power of traveling with dogs in nature and an inspiring certainty that Happy Tails Tours is the most revolutionary, most appropriate and most important project I have ever worked on. Happy Tails is a culmination of my years of international travel, adventure guiding, studying dog training and learning about people and nature. It’s continued growth and success is a result of not only hard work but also trusting that the roads life has taken me down have been the right ones.

As a guide I have been blessed. I’ve gotten to experience so many amazing new and wonderful things, from cities like New York, San Francisco & Vancouver, to Bison in Yellowstone, to hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail, to spending time on a small uninhabited Panamanian island in the Caribbean watching the Pleiades meteor shower, to the northern lights in Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Even better, I often get to experience those things more than once. And better still, by sharing those incredible things and places with clients, I get to re-experience everything again as if for the first time because I am experiencing it through their eyes. I get to experience the wonder and amazement and excitement, and sometimes even fear, all over again, and it just keeps feeding my soul!

Trek america 2018 reunion with all the tour leaders

Now, with Happy Tails, I get to go deeper! Not only do I get to share the world with people, but also with their dogs. Not only will I be able to experience things again through the human eyes, but also through the pure eyes of man’s best friend. And most importantly, not only have I been so deeply blessed as to have a relationship with my dogs that has transformed my life and who I am, but I’ll be doubly blessed to be of service by helping other dogs and their humans live a fuller life, together, as they have that same intense transformational bonding experience that makes life so much richer. Guiding people traveling with dogs – what more could any one person hope for?

Simply book one of our amazing tours at and show up with your dog. Nature, your dog, and Happy Tails will take care of the rest!

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Today Margie, Dozer & I spent the morning Stand Up Paddleboarding with my friend Jamie and his awesome canine sidekick Keystone at the US National Whitewater Center. Jamie and I have a lot of interests in common, especially dogs and adventure activities, even though we come from pretty different backgrounds. The important thing is that we both have learned that any adventure activity, including traveling with your dog or canine sidekick, can be intimidating if not downright scary at first. Some of us start off slower and some dive in head first. There’s no right way.

dog water adventure tour
Jamie and his awesome canine sidekick Keystone at the US National Whitewater Center.

Jamie has turned into a very active backpacker and outdoor adventurer even though he didn’t grow up doing it. I grew up on a farm, rode my first runaway horse at 5 years old, and spent most of my college career road tripping around the southwest camping in any open space, and eventually ending up backpacking and hitchhiking through east & South Africa before becoming a professional guide.

Traveling with your dogJamie and I both agreed that the key to being comfortable with any adventure activity, whether traveling with your dog or not, is to start off only as far out of your comfort zone as you can handle without making it an entirely unpleasant or traumatic experience for you, or your canine sidekick. Each of us has our own boundaries and we have to be able to take care of ourselves. Sometimes that means getting some help.

Traveling with your dog

For example, when I was 20 I planned a 3 month backpacking trip to Europe with a college friend. At the last minute he had to cancel, and no way I was going alone. Luckily my mother suggested a tour. It was a brilliant suggestion. I spent 2 weeks with a group doing a kamikaze 7 countries in 14 days. After that I was much more comfortable and confident and spent the next 3 months on my own, having an amazing time. Sometimes we just need an opportunity to get our feet wet before we dive in.

It reminds me of my days teaching skiing in Taos, New Mexico. Taos is steep and deep. Its one of the toughest mountains in the US. One day I watched a lady in her 50’s arguing with her husband about going down a very advanced intermediate run. She was still at the top with the option of taking the easy run to the left. He was about 30 feet down, yelling to her: “Come on baby! You can do it!” She kept responding that she wasn’t comfortable. I skied over to her and with my back to him asked if it was her husband. “Yes, it is.” I asked, “Do you love him?” to which she replied yes again. “Do you want to stay married to him?” i asked, to which she said yes, yet again. “Ignore him and go the other way. The runs come together again half way down.” And I skied away back to my friends.

Her husband kept encouraging her even though she was obviously terrified. She kept looking from him to me, and finally turned her back on him and skied away, ignoring his calls. A few hours later at lunch, she found me on the deck and came up and thanked me. “That was the best advice I’ve ever listened to. Thank you!” Like I said, sometimes we just need a little help. She was already pushing her boundaries pretty hard just skiing at Taos. She didn’t need to prove anything and certainly didn’t need to push so much that she’d quit skiing altogether.

That’s a big part of what we want to provide to people, a place to start. We created Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours because we have seen the incredible benefits that result from experiencing travel, adventure, and especially traveling with your dog. We want to share that and help others. Whether you are a novice who wants to gain the skills and knowledge to travel with your dog on your own, or if you just want to bring your awesome canine sidekick on a series of fantastic Happy Tails Tours adventures, you will know how and that you can. Our goal is to help create that relationship between you and your dog so that they trust you, you trust them, and you both have the confidence to explore that relationship and the world in depth, together.


Full moon kayak adventure tour
Join us on an outstanding full moon adventure on the Catawba River at Tailrace Marina.


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How a special dog’s life helped inspire an entrepreneur to launch an adventure tour company that includes man’s best friend.

By Lisa Cedrone

Sometimes a story grabs hold of your heart, and that’s exactly what happened to me three years ago when I read about David Blank and his dog Max in Wendy Cooper’s animal communication e-newsletter ( When I later reached out to David to share his story in Transformation Coaching Magazine, he wanted to wait until launching an adventure tour company that was inspired by his world travels with Max. Time rolled along, David and I touched base occasionally, and the original email held a steadfast place at the bottom of my inbox, never forgotten.

Good stories, like successful business plans, take time to come together—and this one did when David and his wife Claudia Fabrega, along with their dogs Dozer and Margie, opened Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours in April 2018 ( The Charlotte, NC-based business offers a wide range of canine-friendly outings and trips from a four-hour “Howl At The Moon” full moon kayak and paddleboard tour to an eight-day adventure throughout the U.S. Southwest.

“Max was and is the inspiration for a lot of things in my life. He was a true part of me.” – David Blank

A professional tour guide and canine trainer, David has been to all but one of the 50 U.S. states and 45 countries since starting his travel guide career in 1993. He has lived and worked in countries including Panama, Ecuador, China and France, and he even once hitchhiked from the United States to Guatemala to learn Spanish. While in Panama in 2007 he met Claudia, a native of the country and an attorney with a master’s degree in Maritime Law. At the time, both Max and Dozer were part of David’s family, and Claudia fell in love with them all.

Claudia and David married in 2009, but this story actually begins in 2000, when David was laid off from his job in marketing at Rosenbluth International, a large Philadelphia-based travel management company, not long after completing his MBA at Thunderbird School of Global Management. David was looking for a new job when Max entered the picture, and he helped David to change the direction of his career, fuel his lifelong passion for travel and adventure, and plant the seeds for Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours.

“I had known for years that I wanted an Australian Cattle Dog,” says David. “The rescue organization wouldn’t give me one because I lived in an apartment, but they knew I had done my research. Then one Friday, a woman from the rescue called me about Max. He had been in the shelter for three months as a stray, and no one knew his background. He was about 18 months old and 48 hours from being euthanized, and from the minute we left there together, Max never willingly left my side or let me out of his sight.” 

A few days after bringing Max home, David was offered a job with a new company. It was an excellent opportunity with a stake in the business, but it would require up to 80-hours per week at a desk. David accepted.

Later, when he returned home, David found that Max had destroyed some of his favorite things. David was upset but, after almost two years in a corporate job, he realized that Max was trying to tell him something important: He didn’t want to spend all of his time inside working in an office. And the dog was right. David called the company back and said he had reconsidered and…

instead of becoming chained to a desk, he took off on a one-year motorcycle journey through the United States, Canada, and Mexico with Max in a large crate on the back of his bike.

…They traveled over 20,000 miles on that trip, and it was the beginning of a heartfelt relationship that lasted until Max crossed the “Rainbow Bridge” at 14 and a half years old.

This quote, from the original story posted by Wendy Cooper (, puts it into perspective:

“Max traveled with me through 10 countries in North, Central and South America. He has been rafting, kayaking, tubing on the Rio Grande, and he flew to South America. He protected me at night when we camped out. He attacked the police that tried to rob us in Mexico. And he was my friend. Max saved my life, and he changed my life.”

“Pets often come into our lives as our spiritual guides, best friends and constant companions.”

They can inspire us—and they also can serve as life coaches or even business partners, as in David and Claudia’s case. I had the chance to ask David some questions about his love of the outdoors and animals, what our pets can teach us, and how he turned his soul’s calling into an entrepreneurial business venture. Here’s what he has to share:


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Transformation: Tell me about your passion for exploring/traveling and the outdoors?

David: I have always loved to travel. When I was in college in Boulder, Colorado, I did a lot of road trips around the Southwest to climb, ski and camp. When I was 20, I went to Europe for four months by myself and backpacked. Then the travel bug really hit me when I was backpacking through East and South Africa in 1992 with my friend Celine. We met a 7-foot tall New Zealander named Rob who was an overland tour guide, and once I learned that I could get paid to travel I was hooked. I began working for a company called Trek America in the United States in April of 1993.

A friend once asked me why I do all the crazy things I do. After some serious consideration, I responded:

“I do the things that others are afraid to do because I’m afraid to do the things that others do!”

I’m not made to sit at a desk. I grew up on a farm and I guess that my love of animals, and being outdoors is part of me.

I remember my first week of graduate school. They put us in cohort groups, and the first day we had to tell the person next to us who we were in two minutes, and then that person did the same, and then we introduced each other to the rest of the group. My partner Aaron stood up and said: “This is David, and I don’t know what else to say about him other than he’s been doing what we all wish we had been doing with our lives for the past three years!”

At that moment I felt the weight of the world come off of my shoulders. While living the life of my dreams, traveling all over North America, I had been hearing my father’s voice in the back of my mind saying, “That’s great! I’m glad you are having a good time. But when are you going to get a real job?”

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the confidence or self-awareness at that time to realize that what he should have said and—more importantly—what I should have said to myself was,

“You seem to be really good at this, and you obviously love it! Why don’t you see if you can figure out how to make this gift your life’s work?”

It would be another six years before I would go back to guiding, working as a raft guide and ski instructor in Taos, New Mexico in 2003.


Transformation: Tell me about your relationship with Max and dogs in general?


David: Animals are incredibly powerful beings that help us to connect with nature and with our true and often better Self. People often say of rescue animals, “Who saved who?” There is no question that Max transformed my life. Taking off on a motorcycle with him one month after the adoption was an amazing adventure. I don’t think anything can be a better bonding experience for a dog and a human than traveling together.

Dogs in beach adventure tours
Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours founders David Blank and Claudia Fabrega, along with their dogs Dozer and Margie (in front)

Dogs, like humans, are pack animals. They are always testing us to make sure that as the leader we can be in charge and take care of things. It’s in their nature. They do it in their own packs in the wild. In the Mask of Masculinity, Lewis Howe writes: “If you don’t [project an image of strength or confidence that other people can lean on], the people around you feel anxious, scared or unprotected.”

A weak leader is a danger to the pack, just like a weak mind is a danger. Over the years I’ve often heard that negative voice in my head, which I see as a self-protective construct that develops in childhood. It’s always testing to see if it needs to protect; if I am not in charge, it can and will take over—and nothing good seems to come from it. So it is with dogs. Many times dogs’ behavioral issues develop because we don’t know how to communicate clearly to the dog: “I have this. It’s no big deal. Everything is cool.” That’s why Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours is so transformational. It’s all about building that strong relationship through clear communication with our dogs and our true Self—and really connecting.


Book now for our Southwest Tour, FOX Hiking & Wine Tasting Tour, Asheville 2 Day Tour


Transformation: How was Max the inspiration for starting Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours, and what other factors played into starting the company?


David: Max was and is the inspiration for a lot of things in my life. He was a true part of me. But the company is bigger than even Max because it’s about our relationship and about helping others to have that same type of experience, that type of relationship. It’s about my amazing wife Claudia and how we are creating our vision of spending our life traveling with our dogs and sharing our passion with others, transforming their thinking and their lives. It’s about me finally coming out of hiding, letting go of trying to be what I thought I was supposed to be and do, and instead embracing who I am as an adventure travel guide and a person.

I have been blessed in my career as a guide to frequently have clients tell me things like, “You were the best guide we’ve ever had.” For me, being a good guide is easy because I love it so much. However, I never really took those compliments and my gift into my heart. I guess I always felt I was doing something inferior because I wasn’t in an office making big money, living up to my “potential.”

“I never realized until now that doing what I love and utilizing my gift is actually important and is a service of great value to people.”


Transformation:  What advice can you give to other people looking to merge their passion with purpose into a business?


David: Never give up on your dream and never quit. I’ve tried a lot of things in my life. I gave up a lot. Recently, I realized that the only way we could fail with Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours is if I give up. I keep reminding myself that successful people move from one failure to the next with enthusiasm. And they write—a lot. Write about why you want to do it. I’m not talking about a business plan. Just write and eventually your true passion and dreams will come out.

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Call us at (262) 622-6463 to set up a private group tour, find out about one of our corporate incentive/ team building adventures, or just to get some great free tips on how to travel with your dogs. Like our Facebook Page and Follow our adventures on Instagram.


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Lisa Cedrone is the editor of Transformation Coaching Magazine and a freelance editor, writer and graphic designer based in Sarasota, FL. She also currently serves as the executive director of the C. G. Jung Society of Sarasota and was an editor in chief for two of the “Top 10” business-to-business publisher in the United States. Contact her at Lisa@

View this article in Transformation Coaching digital magazine July 2018 issue.

Dog parks are a great and necessary concept, especially as more and more apartment dwellers that don’t have a yard become dog owners. Dogs need a place to run and get exercise and its great for them to socialize with other dogs as long as its in a structured environment. But, over my years as a dog owner and dog trainer I’ve had more knowledge and experience than I would like of the negative side of dog parks. That’s yet another reason that the subject of last week’s blog, “Dog Communication; Calming signals and Dog Body Language” is so important. It’s essential if you are going to take your dog to a dog park to be able to understand what’s going on with them and the other dogs.

Another must if you are going to visit dog parks with your dog is that a dog park is a place for people to go with their dog and enjoy time with them off leash. It’s not a place to take a dog and sit on the phone or chat up friends and ignore their dog, which way too many people do. As a result, dogs can get hurt or traumatized and that trauma can be permanent. We experienced it with our own dog Margie. She was always sweet, friendly and passive, excited to see and meet other dogs, both known and unknown, welcoming and introducing herself in proper dog speak. She’d had a few scuffles with other dogs, but none that were severe or traumatic.

girl and dog at the dog parkThen a woman came with her very ball aggressive dog to play fetch. No one realized the issue and the woman was completely irresponsible about it. A responsible owner should and would never bring a ball or toy with a dog with a ball aggressive issue like that. When Margie approached the dog to say hello, a white Lab at least twice here size, the dog exploded with no warning and attacked her. I was there in an instant and she wasn’t physically injured, but there was a very clear shift in her personality after that. She’s still sweet, and gentle, but she’s a bit more standoffish now and doesn’t tolerate any inappropriate behavior from other dogs.


Full moon kayak adventure tour
Join us on an outstanding full moon adventure on the Catawba River at Tailrace Marina.


Seeing a trauma based shift like that in my own dog was really heartbreaking. It’s something no dog should ever experience and so while dog parks are great and a relatively safe way to spend off-leash time with your dog on a daily basis, make sure to pay attention, have a good recall and voice control over your dog, learn dog communication, and error on the side of caution. I always encourage dog owners that if they feel or sense any issue at the park, keep your dog close and if you can’t be sure, leaving is a good option.

A few years ago a dog trainer that I was with in Los Angeles told me of a quote by George Bernard Shaw that completely transformed my perspective on dog training and not only dog communication, but communication with people as well. “The single greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” It’s really quite brilliant and accurate. My wife and business partner Claudia and I experience this first hand on a daily basis since her native language is Spanish and mine is English. The beauty is that if we study dog communication by looking at dog body language and the calming signals that dogs use, the basics are actually pretty simple.

Turid Rugaas is a dog trainer from Norway who has studied and written a book and created a fantastic video called Calming Signals. Calming signals are the universal language of all dogs and as Turid explains, there are about 30 different calming signals that all dogs use and understand, and they use them with us as well as other dogs. If we understand this type of dog communication and respond appropriately to these calming signals we can have great relationships with our dogs. Unfortunately, if we don’t learn this dog body language, there is the potential of causing harm to our dogs. They may give up on using the signals and then not be able to communicate with other dogs clearly. They may become confused, perpetually nervous and stressed because we aren’t responding appropriately to their clear dog body language.

A perfect example that Turid gives is that when a dog perceives another dog or person as being aggressive, his instinct is to give one or several calming signals, such as licking his lips or turning away to stop the aggressive behavior. But a human who is giving the dog a command to come in a loud voice and doesn’t understand the signals may interpret them as defiance or disobedience, and become louder or more aggressive, confusing the dog even more.

Some of the calming signals that she discusses that are so subtle that you would not even notice them if you don’t know what to look for are also the most commonly used. Besides lip licking and turning away or turning the head, there is yawning, sniffing the ground, sitting down and even wagging the tail. So the next time you are trying to take your dog’s picture and you’re getting frustrated because she keeps turning away from the camera or licking her lips, respect that and try to make it fun for both of you.


Full moon kayak adventure tour
Join us on an outstanding full moon adventure on the Catawba River at Tailrace Marina.


Studying dog body language and Ms. Rugaas’ book and videos on calming signals was transformational for my relationship with my dogs as well as my work as a dog trainer. I think that they should be required material for all dog owners and highly encourage everyone to study them. We share our world with our dogs. It’s imperative that for a successful relationship with them that we understand their needs and are able to communicate with them. Once you understand calming signals, not only will your dog be able to communicate with you, but you will be able to use the same signals to communicate with, and if necessary calm your dog when they are stressed.

So please check out Turid Rugaas. It will change your relationship with your dog and make both of your lives better. You can google Turid Rugaas Calming Signal or her website.

In the last blog, entitled Dog Obedience Training! Do I have to be a “Dog Whisperer”?, we discussed the importance of consistency in training. And no, you don’t have to be a dog whisperer or professional trainer in order to have a well-behaved dog.

You do have to set yourself and your dog up for success. Start your dog obedience training in a closed environment, with little to no distractions. This environment is ideal to start off leash dog training. You want to keep control of their focus, which will be easier if you keep sessions short and make it fun, with lots of praise and enthusiasm. Once they are focused on you and consistently performing the behavior well, take it to the next level. Go into the living room with the TV on. Once you have success there, go into the backyard where there are more but limited distractions. Next may be the front yard. Remember to never do off leash dog obedience training in any open environment. No matter how good they are doing we don’t want to risk them running after a distraction like a squirrel or a cat.

If an environment turns out to be too much (you might barely get them to look at you let alone obey a command), take a step back to the last environment where you were successful. We do this all the way to the point where they can sit and focus on you even when outside a dog park. And remember, set them up for success. Make yourself the most exciting thing out there. If you can’t get focus and obedience, don’t keep saying a command. Give a command you are sure they can follow and then release them, and then stop for the time being. It’s time to take a break.


outdoor dog obedience training
“Every adventure I take with my puppy Miah turns into some sort of training trying to get her to pose just right. Sometimes, having a little help from others can make the scene so much more mesmerizing.” Photo by Wyatt Ryan


Eventually, you will be able to get focus and obedience even inside of a dog park, which can be a good place to do more off leash dog training. But remember that even in a dog park, you have to pay attention to your dog and what’s happening at all times. Too many people go to the dog park and are on their phone or distracted talking to other dog owners rather than making sure the dogs are all ok.

Positive reinforcement or reward-based training is great in dog obedience training, meaning that they obey the command and they get a reward, be it a treat, love, and attention, or the opportunity to play with you like with a tug toy. Play is a huge part to success.


Most importantly, keep sessions short, fun and positive for both of you. Training is as much about building and strengthening your relationship with your dog as it is about them following commands. Make sure that you stop the session before your dog loses interest and then reward them with a good play session. Training sessions should always start and end with play. Then training itself becomes a reward and they look forward to it. It’s all part of setting them up for success.

Lastly, dogs learn at different speeds and in different ways just like people. Don’t get discouraged and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Even the best and most successful trainers still take seminars and ask for help from others. To achieve success in dog obedience training, we can’t let pride get in the way.

My experience is that many of us get a dog because we desire that sidekick that accompanies us everywhere, sitting patiently outside of shops or work or school for us to come out for another chance to be with us. My dog Max was that way. It came relatively easy, not because I’m some sort of dog whisperer or expert at dog obedience training, but because Max and I spent a year traveling right after I got him, and we were constantly together.

In order to be able to really have that kind of relationship with your dog, you have to invest a lot of time and energy. Even after a lot of dog obedience training they will likely be far from perfect but will be surprisingly easy to deal with, whether you are traveling on your own or with us at Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours. Whether staying at pet friendly hotels, flying with your dog, or exploring amazing new places like the U.S. National Whitewater Center or Dog Friendly Asheville, or simply having them relax calmly next to us while we eat at a great dog friendly restaurant, dog obedience training is the most rewarding and most important gift that you could give to your dog, and to yourself.


Full moon kayak adventure tour
Join us on an outstanding full moon adventure on the Catawba River at Tailrace Marina.


Traveling with your dog is a great way to deepen that relationship including your communication, and that’s a big part of why we created Happy Tails Tours. But for most people with a limited amount of vacation time, they will have to start at home before hitting the road. There are different modalities or schools of thought in dog training, and again, you do not have to be a dog whisperer! Any good dog trainer that you work with will be able to give you a “set of tools” or techniques that require little to no expertise as long as you use the tools correctly and consistently. So whether you are a proponent of positive reinforcement training (such as clicker training), a follower of the dog whisperer, or any other method or combination of techniques, the key is to commit 100% and follow through.

The most important thing is consistency. Dogs are going to constantly test you both during dog obedience training and throughout their life. As hard as it can be, our rules have to be non-negotiable in order to achieve success. If you don’t want them to beg at the table, you can never break the rule of not feeding them at the table. You could enforce it 9 times out of ten, but that tenth will let them know that there’s always a chance that this time could be that one time when begging and bad behavior pays off. The same goes for any other rule. If you tell them to sit, they need to sit. If you don’t follow through, then they will think to themselves, “It’s ok, she isn’t serious. I’ll do it next time.” And if you have to tell them twice, or as some people do, five times, then they learn that “I don’t have to sit until the 5th time.” Or “…until he gets that loud voice.” Sound familiar? I know enough from my own experience with our three dogs that I could probably write more on dog obedience training don’ts and mistakes than on what to do.

So the question is how do we get consistency. It starts with the simple basics and in my next blog, I’ll go into detail, such as the importance of setting your dog and thus yourself up for success!

More in Dog Travel Tips

I spent time working and attending private sessions with Matt from The Zen Dog in LA who works with people whose dogs often have pretty serious behavioral issues. One principle that he stresses is the importance of mental exercise and that “mental exhaustion trumps physical exhaustion every time”. While physical exercise is undeniably important, mental exercise and stimulation result in a dog with more mental and thus emotional self-control and discipline. Dogs that have substantial physical but limited or no mental exercise are like pro athletes…  but that is insane.

There are a number of ways to keep dogs mentally stimulated. There are great puzzle games available where you place treats inside and the dog has to figure out how to open the various compartments. Teaching dog tricks can be another great way to challenge them mentally, especially if you use a technique called shaping. Shaping can be challenging at first because you essentially are waiting for the dog to perform certain actions and then marking or rewarding little steps towards the behavior that you want. For example, if you want your dog to open the fridge and get you a soda, you might tie a towel to the door so the dog can pull the door open. Then when the dog makes any movement towards the refrigerator you would mark that behavior with a word, like “good”, or a sound, like a clicker, and then follow the mark with a treat. It’s like a game and every move by the dog that takes it closer to the towel is rewarded with a marker and a treat. Dogs will generally learn after doing shaping a few times that they can just start offering movements, actions and behaviors until they hit on the right one, and then they continue to perform it and adding other behaviors.

Many dogs have been bred to perform specific tasks. If you can get them to use those traits in a mental as well as physical way, you will be way ahead of the game. For example, if you have a retriever, rather than playing fetch you can also add in games of hide and seek where you hide treats or toys and have them find and retrieve them. Just remember to keep it under control so that they don’t get obsessive about the game. If that is an issue, keep switching it up. Remember that you are in charge. Games are another form of reward and should be played when they are behaving.


Basic obedience training is another great form of mental exercise and has the added benefit of shaping a dog that is a pleasure to be with and easy to travel with. There are a number of different methods of training obedience that are effective. The main thing is to find one that works for you and your dog to create a common language so that you are able to communicate and keep them safe and happy. One trainer told me a quote by George Bernard Shaw that is amazingly relevant – “The single greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Obedience training is not only about teaching your dog discipline but also about creating a common language to better communicate and avoid confusion and the accompanying stress. It’s important to remember that we humans really need to find and teach our dogs a common language in order to communicate, just as we would teach a child oral and then written language.

Training also requires spending time one on one with your dog and is a powerful way to build and strengthen your bond.  They are very intuitive and perceptive beings and are often very vigilant to our behavior, mood, and actions and looking to us to see what is next and if everything is ok. By creating that common language combined with strengthening our bond, they are able to relax much more and that makes life a lot more fun for everyone.

More Dog Travel Tips


More On Consistency As A Keystone To Successfully Traveling With Your Dog

Dogs generally prefer and thrive in situations where they feel safe, and one of the things that creates a sense of safety and security is consistency and familiarity. It’s the same for us as humans, especially for children. Consistency can be experienced in many different forms. It could be as basic and specific as being fed at the same times every day, to following the same route on a walk, to having the same people and dogs to interact within our lives, or even an old blanket to sleep on.


When we are traveling, consistency can be more of a challenge. For this reason, people often prefer to stay at the same hotel chain where rooms, policies and property layouts are often familiar. Or we eat at the same chain restaurant where we know the menu and layout. Some of us even have our favorite (or lucky) suitcase, briefcase, etc.

dog in restaurant

For dogs, their sense of safety is based in a large part on the consistency of the family or pack. To put this into context with regards to my 12 months 20,000-mile motorcycle journey with Max, I was the constant, the keystone of his world. As long as I was there, he was ok. The only other constant was our motorcycle, which by default played a huge role. To demonstrate my point, in the summer of 2000, we were visiting a friend in Boise, Idaho. We planned to spend the afternoon at a local minor league baseball game and decided to leave Max at my friend’s girlfriend’s house with her dog, 5 blocks from his home. Max had never been there before. We left in the morning, drove about ten miles around Boise on errands, and then went straight to her house, where we picked her up and dropped off Max in a backyard with an 8-foot fence made of block walls. 3 hours later we returned and he was gone. My friend was devastated, but I suggested that before we panic we head to his house. When we got there, Max was lying calmly but attentively in the driveway next to my motorcycle. It must have taken some serious determination to get over those walls because the only thing he had to jump on to get a boost up was the Rottweiler’s back. My friend’s father said he had been sitting there for two hours. I don’t know how he found his way there, but he knew that if the bike was there, I would be back, and he just hung out.

You being that keystone, along with a few other tips, is what your dog needs in order for traveling with them to be a success. In other words, as long as you are there and cool, calm and “in charge”, the rest is no big deal. It’s very much like if you were to travel with your child. In my travels, I have met many people traveling with young children, from toddlers to adolescents, and the one consistent thing was always that the parents were there, guiding and supporting while also giving them the opportunity to learn and explore. Those children have never failed to impress me with their confidence, maturity and the ease with which they interact and communicate with others regardless of age, culture or language barriers. Dogs like Max and those of many travelers of all kinds are equally impressive in their balance and calm. To the point, Cesar Milan talks in his books about the healthy balanced dogs that he often sees with the many homeless in Los Angeles


It’s important to remember that any way and anywhere that you can create consistency, you will be helping your dog to adapt and stay calm, even at home. Pretty much everything that follows in this series of travel tips is, in one way or another, based or focused upon this concept of consistency. Again, be as consistent as possible with the simple things, such as feeding times, scheduled walks, and of course, your vehicle if it is safe to leave your dog in while doing activities that they can not join in on. For years the back of our truck has been our dog’s favorite place. In New Mexico, they would happily hang out in the back of the truck all day other when they needed to pee or went off to chase rabbits, coyotes and prairie dogs. If you are backpacking or otherwise depending on transportation from others, a portable crate or kennel, even a super lightweight mini pop-up tent, kennel or kids dollhouse is a fantastic tool that I will talk more about later. Dog’s love dens, thrive when they have a safe place of their own where they can go that will minimize sensory overload, and need a place where others have to respect their privacy.

dog back of the truck