DEAR OLD TRAINER: I have not had a dog the last 20 years or so, but I just adopted a mixed breed named Laker. You advise taking dogs to the dog park, but I’ve never been to one and I’m not sure how to proceed. What training does Laker need before I take him?
Frances, Golden, Colo.
A: None. He’s like the champion racehorse Rising Star in The Electric Horseman when Robert Redford releases him into the herd of wild mustangs and tells him, “Don’t worry, you never lived wild like them, but they never won no races like you did. They’re just horses so do what comes naturally.”
Laker may be nervous for a few seconds — most dogs are when they are introduced into a pack of dogs that already know each other — but if you stay calm he will relax. Let him stand by you and observe if he wants. Dogs are pack animals, so it is natural for them to play in a group. Laker knows how to do it and will join in when he feels like it.
All you have to do is give Laker his basic training — sit, stay, come — then make him behave himself around the other dogs. If he gets too excited put on the leash and give him a timeout while he calms down.
Maintain proper park etiquette yourself. Pick up after Laker and make sure the park is clean when you leave.
DEAR OLD TRAINER: My daughter and I are planning a cross country trip by car and I want to take my Shih Tzu, Paco. He is well behaved, but has never taken trips in the car. A woman at church said it is best to keep your dog in a crate while traveling. Is that true, and what training does Paco need for the trip?
Lorraine, Monterrey, Calif.
A: Forget the crate. Anyone who tells you to put your dog in a crate knows nothing about dogs.
Dogs love riding in cars so all you have to do is give Paco a little trip practice. Take him on a few short rides around town. Stop at various parks along the way and let him out for a few minutes, then say “load up” as the command to get back in the car. Pet him and love on him each time he does. In three days Paco will love the trips so much he will beat you to the car.
The next step is to “blanket train” Paco. Take one of his favorite blankets or towels and place it on the floor against a wall. Lead Paco to it, pat it with your hand, and say “on your blanket.” Love on him when he gets on the blanket and practice until he feels at home on it.
Place the blanket in the car, give the order, and he will know his place during the trip. When you arrive at a motel or a friend’s house, put his blanket down against a wall and he will be right at home.
Most motels allow dogs these days so you will have no problem finding one, and as long as Paco has you and his blanket he will be happy. After a few days of travel he will love being on the road as much as Willy Nelson.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.