Thursday, May 20, 2010

Traveling With Pets, Part Three


Each Dog is Different

Cuddles was a timid little dog who had been raised without much love or attention. He was very eager to please, but he was terrified of riding in the car. Before I rescued him, he had been in a car only once--when he was taken to the pound, where the person he had relied on deserted him, and bigger dogs beat him up and peed on him. I took him home in my car, and the next day took him to the vet, where he was poked and prodded and given shots.

I did think about the fact that his only positive rides were going home from the pound and the vet, while he was still traumatized, so I started putting him in the car when I went to the post office, or on other short trips, so he would learn that not all car rides led to trauma.

By the time I got Cuddles, I figured that it was best for him to travel in a crate. His first long trip was to Michigan, for MediaWestCon. I have no idea what made me think that going to a science fiction convention would bring the little dog out of his shell, but I turned out to be right. What I didn't expect was for him to be carsick!

Before we headed for Michigan, none of our practice rides were long enough for him to get sick. It was a good thing I had him crated for his first long trip--much easier to hose out a plastic crate than to clean upholstery!

But that was the only time Cuddles got carsick. He had a grand time at the convention, where everyone fussed over him and petted him and gave him treats. From then on he was willing to travel in the car, though he enjoyed being new places more than the journey, and he was a regular attendee at MediaWest*Con for the next dozen years.

Cuddles didn't really like riding in his crate, but he wanted to ride in my lap, which of course would not do. I could put him on King's chain if King were not with us, but it was heavy on the considerably smaller dog. Besides, Cuddles didn't want to ride down on the floor.

Eventually I found a harness designed to be fastened to a seatbelt. That worked very well. Cuddles could ride shotgun, sit up, lie down, and get just close enough to me to put his nose on my knee but not interfere with my driving. He happily rode many hundreds of miles that way.

The secret to traveling with dogs who are pets rather than working animals is to make sure they trust you (not hard to do, dogs being naturally trusting creatures), and then try safe methods of keeping them comfortable until you find the one that works best for the individual dog.

Stop every two or three hours at a place where you can walk your dog--and of course stop earlier if the dog gets restless and starts to whine. One of the advantages of their habit of refusing to eat and drink on the road is that they rarely need extra pit stops.

Speaking of pit stops, the one most difficult for Cuddles was when we were guests of a convention in downtown Little Rock. It was the only time we stayed at a hotel instead of a motel. At a motel, I could toss my clothes on when we got up in the morning, and take Cuddles to the dog walk before fixing myself up for the day. But that time we were on the 9th floor of a hotel in the middle of the city--and the hotel didn't have a dog walk.

We were on one side of the freeway, and there was a park with a dog walk on the other side of the freeway, with a walking bridge over the traffic. Like most dogs, Cuddles grasped only "inside" and "outside." He was fine walking down the hotel corridor, riding down in the elevator, and walking through the lobby, but I had to fight with him not to lift his leg on the perfectly manicured bushes right outside. Still, by the second day he got the point that he had to wait till we got across the bridge and down into the park.

Speaking of elevators, Cuddles became quite sophisticated about them, as he rode them frequently both at the university where I taught and in our travels. "Elevator" was actually one of the words he understood--not unusual, as dogs can learn as many as a hundred words. Still, fellow conventioneers continued to be amazed that I could say "elevator," drop Cuddles' leash, and he would lead us directly to the nearest one. Fortunately, he would never go into one without me.

When we got on an elevator, Cuddles would always sit down--that way no amount of jolting would throw him off his feet. But dogs are creatures of habit--they like things to stay pretty much the same, and tend to assume that they are until something out of their experience happens. One time we were driving to Philadelphia, and stopped overnight at a motel in Pittsburgh. Obviously Pittsburgh gets very cold in the winter, so the motel had a sort of airlock for its entrance. I had luggage and Cuddles, opened the outer door, and we were in this little room just the size and shape of an elevator. So Cuddles sat down, waiting to be whisked upward! He was very surprised when I opened the door on the other side, although we hadn't moved.

King's life overlapped the first three years of Cuddles' life with us, and we already had Soolin, the siamese cat, so for a time I drove down to Florida and back with three animals. They all shared the same habit of not eating or drinking on the road, but only after we had settled in for the night. I don't really advise traveling with three animals at once, but it can be done if they live together at home and are good friends.

Next time: Traveling with Cats
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