Traveling When You Have A Fearful Dog

fearful dogs May 03, 2022
Dog missing owner

If you've won the trust of a fearful dog, congratulations! Your patience and hard work has paid off.  But if you're the ONLY person that fearful dog is comfortable with, traveling away from home can become a stressful, complicated affair.  Recently I shared some general strategies for introducing your fearful pup to a pet sitter. This week, I talk about ways to prepare to leave your fearful pup at home with family while you travel, and share our dog Pancake's recent experience being left behind while I was away.  


Prepare Before You Go

What will be involved in your dog's daily care, and how can you make sure your family member can do what needs to be done?  Here are some steps we took with our dog Pancake. If you're not sure how to do this for your dog, a one-on-one training session with an R+ trainer might be a good place to start. 

  • Anti-anxiety medications:  Consult with your veterinarian, or even better, with your veterinary behaviorist. Are there any medications that might help your dog adjust to your absence?  For Pancake, we increased dosages of a couple of his short-acting medications, on the recommendation of his veterinarian and veterinary behaviorist. 
  • Teach skills:  What can you teach your dog to do, that would make their care easier for your family member?  For Pancake, we focused on him going outside, going into his crate, and going into his pen where he sleeps.  These skills were already trained, and before I left, my husband practiced using food lures to get Pancake to do these behaviors for him. (We focus on skill building for fearful dogs in our monthly training membership.) 
  • Prep the house: What supplies will your family member need to take care of your dog? Make sure everything is ready and easily accessible, and in the locations your family member will be using them.  For example, we had treats ready by our back door and next to Pancake's pen, so that my husband could grab them to use to encourage Pancake to go outside or into his sleeping area. Don't forget to lay out any medications and stuff food toys too!
  • Plan for things to go wrong:  You can pretty much count on something not going as planned. For example, we had contingency plans ready in the event that Pancake refused to go outside, or if he wouldn't leave the bedroom at all. What is plan B that your caretaker can fall back on? 


After You Go: Monitor & Adjust

Even if you carefully prepared and left your dog's caretaker with Plans A, B, and C for every situation, there's a good chance they'll need your feedback on something.  For example, Pancake wouldn't leave the bedroom during the first day I was gone. My husband and I discussed whether to increase some of his medications further, and where I'd stashed extra potty pads. Your family member is doing you a big favor by taking care of a special needs dog, so make sure they know you're there to help! 



If you are trying out reinforcers with your fearful dog, we want to hear about your successes or struggles. Join our Facebook group and post your questions or comments there, or email us at [email protected]