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.

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

Traveling with a dog or multiple dogs is one of the most fun and rewarding things that you can do. We’ve been through 10 countries with our dogs and have traveled by car, boat, plane, and motorcycle. It’s not difficult to do once you get the hang of it, but there are some important tips to learn in order to do it effectively, safely, and have a great time doing it.


1. Consistency

Dogs need as much consistency as possible in order to be comfortable. Over the years I’ve tried to get our dogs as accustomed to change and inconsistency as possible without stressing them. Just like us, the more gentle their entry into travel and the younger, the easier it is to adapt. Some of the key things that I found make the biggest difference to them being comfortable are consistent feeding times, frequent and consistent walks, good training and plenty of exercises – both physical and mental.


2. Mental Excercise

As my friend Matt from @TheZenDogLA says, mental exercise trumps physical exercise, meaning when they are stimulated in a positive way and have to think, they get tired without always having to be exhausted physically.



3. Obedience Training

General obedience training and training tricks are great ways to improve your bond with them, stimulate them, tire them out, and have fun. Plus a dog that is well behaved is welcome almost everywhere, and if he/she can entertain with some cool tricks, you’ll both make a lot of new friends. My friend Andres had a dog called Rocket Man. He taught Rocket Man to speak on a secret cue phrase. So when Andres would be in a conversation, he would look at Rocket Man and say “What do you think Rocket Man?”, and Rocket Man would start talking (in a dog of course). Everyone loved it.

Training obedience is also a huge safety issue, always, but especially when traveling. A dog with a great recall and great sit and stay won’t find itself in traffic or chasing something it shouldn’t. It will be welcome in restaurants, bars and at people’s homes, and is much easier to deal with if it gets hurt or needs to go to a new vet. I always take all of my dogs to the vet together, even if only one needs treatment. That way they get used to the smells and Vets and it isn’t always a negative experience. Plus the dog being treated seems to appreciate and benefit from the emotional support.


4. Make it clear that you are in charge

Training also helps with consistency and makes a dog comfortable. As a pack animal, the safety of the pack and of each member depends on a good leader. When a dog knows that the human is in charge and taking care of things they can relax. When they don’t feel that the leader is competent then the dog gets nervous and that is where behavioral issues often start. The key is to understand how dogs think and communicate, because they aren’t going to learn how we do it.

To let them know that we are in charge, we have to be in charge of and provide food, water, shelter, make sure things are safe, and be clear about our place. There are a number of great ways to communicate this. One is being in charge of the food, and so in our home (or car/ hotel/ motorcycle), our dogs don’t eat until we give them permission. Another is making sure that our energy is calm and this relates to safety. It’s pretty difficult to feel comfortable following someone who isn’t calm and stable. Few people would vote for or feel confident following a leader who’s always frantic, stressed or reacting irrationally to people, situations, and events. Dogs are the same.


Our dogs will transform our lives and our friends @keendogtraining in Charlotte get it. That is why they are so dedicated to helping clients to have really well trained, happy dogs that can go everywhere with their owners and enjoy life together. We had a great time with Katrina and her clients on our inaugural trip on April 21st of 2018. Now they have put together a fantastic 31-day event called the Charlotte Scavenger Hunt #cltscavengerhunt which is a special destination every day of the month of May. Check it out at

So before you travel with your dog, especially on an extended adventure, make sure that you are clear about your relationship and that your dog is also.

Keep reading our blogs for more tips on traveling with your dogs safely and how to find great destinations, hotels, activities and the hidden gems that dogs will drive you to find that you otherwise may not have.