Seven Cues Every Traveling Dog Should Know

dog in harness in front of mountain landscape Before traveling with your pet, teach them the cues that will make your trip safer and more fun for all of you!

Traveling with our canine companions can be a lot of fun and can really help to strengthen the bond between pet and pet parent.  Before you hit the road with Fido, though, there are a few things you will need to consider, such as finding dog friendly accommodations, selecting activities that are both dog friendly and suitable for your pet and ensuring that your dog knows some basic commands (or cues, as I prefer to call them).

When your dog knows and responds to these seven cues, you will find traveling with them more enjoyable, less stressful and overall more satisfying.  When you and your pet travel with less stress, anxiety or frustration, the bond is strengthened between both of you.   In addition, you are building memories that you will have for a lifetime!

In this blog post, I will share what the cues are, how they are helpful and will share real examples from our recent trip to Colorado with Murphy- my pup. I will not review how to train each cue, as these will be covered in future blog posts.

A Word of Caution:

Before we dive in, I want to give a quick piece of advice.  Training your dog is an ongoing endeavor and needs to be repeated often for your dog to retain what you want them to do.  It is not enough to train your dog these cues a week or two before you begin to travel.

Cues work best when your dog knows what is expected of them and when.  Consistency is the key to a well behaved, well mannered dog. When I am working with a training client, or my own dog for that matter, I remember the following:

  • What we reinforce and reward will be repeated
  • We cannot over- reinforce good behavior

It’s important that you train your dog these cues early,  and give them plenty of time to practice them before expecting your dog to do these on the road.   Generalization (the dogs ability to generalize the cue to a variety of situations and environments) takes time and practice.  I recommend training the cues and using them in every day life!

Not only will your dog have an easier time of learning that the cue “place” means the same thing at home, at a hotel or in a park as you practice, but you will also begin to teach your dog to be well mannered while going throughout their day now.  Plus the consistency and practicing will help you and your dog develop a stronger relationship as you learn to communicate with each other.

The Seven Cues Every Traveling Dog Should Know

  1. Walk Nicely
  2. Leave It
  3. Place (or settle)
  4. Wait
  5. Watch Me
  6. Touch
  7. Come (or Here)

Walk Nicely:

What is it and why is it important:

This is what most people think of as loose leash walking.  Basically, your dog walks next to, or near you with the leash nice and loose.  They are not pulling to get ahead, to go off the sidewalk to sniff (or chase a squirrel) and you are not needing to pull them along for a walk.

Teaching a dog to walk with a loose leash is obviously more comfortable for them and you, but it is also safer.  A dog who is walking with a loose leash is focused on their handler and less likely to be distracted by other dogs, squirrels or other small animals. If your dog is not distracted by these, they are less likely to try to dart into oncoming traffic or to engage with other dogs (who may be reactive and not appreciative of the greeting).  It’s safer for you as well, when you are wrangling with a dog who is pulling or lunging, you cannot be focused on your surroundings. Not to mention,  you could sustain an injury from being pulled down or the constant stress on your body from the pulling.

Loose leash walking in Colorado:Man and Dog hiking down a mountain trail

I am a huge proponent of training dogs to walk with a loose leash.  All of my team are taught to encourage loose leash walking to save them from injury and to keep the dogs we walk safe. Murphy is no exception.  Every walk I take with him, we encourage loose leash walking.  I reward him with a tasty treat when we pass by other dogs or people and he stays calm.  I let him sniff and often we move at his pace (not mine) but I also do not permit pulling; if Murphy pulls ahead, I immediately stop walking and wait for him to check in with me.  We reset and move on.  He knows that every time his harness is on, he needs to walk with a nice loose leash.

This skill came in extra handy as we hiked in the mountains.  My husband and I took Murphy with us for a long hike in the Rocky Mountains.  We passed several people and dogs on the trail, but he was engaged and focused with us, so we were able to pass others safely.  After about 2 hours of hiking up a mountain trail, we were caught in a surprise storm of rain and snow.  The trail was wet, rocky and slippery.  We. were able to descend the trail safely because Murphy is trained to maintain a loose leash and wait for us.  If he had been pulling ahead or trying to pull off to side to sniff, we could have easily been injured.  It took us nearly 90 minutes, but we were all able to descend and get to the car safely.

Leave it:

What is it and why is it important:

Every dog training client I have, is encouraged to teach their dog the “Leave it” cue.  Leave it means just that- leave that thing you really want, leave it where it is and do not pick it up.  I find this very helpful for dogs that want to eat everything on the ground, but also for dogs who want to sniff things they shouldn’t, dogs who want to chase a squirrel (oftentimes “leave it” can be enough for dogs to not chase- some dogs require more encouragement, but that too is a different blog post).

When we travel to new locations, we don’t have the knowledge of which parts of town tend to have more trash, or discarded food, we don’t know what areas to avoid and which are safer for our pet.  Teaching your dog not to pick up everything they desire keeps them safe from ingesting food or items that can make them sick.  It also keeps you safe by reducing the chances that you will have to try and get a coveted item from your dogs mouth.

“Leave it” in Colorado:

As many of you know, my Murphy is deaf.  We sign our cues to him, so saying “Leave it’ really does us little good.  However, he does know the sign for leave it, and it came in handy one afternoon while shopping.

We stopped at Woof Gang bakery in Boulder, CO.  (if you have never gone to a Woof Gang Bakery, you need to, our experience was wonderful).   Walking through the store full of yummy. tasty treats for dogs of all sizes, we allowed Murphy to sniff, but not sample the treats in open bins.  He found a bin of bully stick and went to help himself- my husband signed “leave it” for him and he did- albeit,  a bit begrudgingly.  He was rewarded with a bag of bully sticks as we left the store.  While it was not a safety issue, it did save us from the embarrassment of a dog with no manners!


What is it and why is it important:

Place is a great cue that I teach many dogs.  It is a cue that tells them to go to a specific spot and wait, or relax until released.  I often teach owners to put a mat, or blanket on the spot we first start training Place (usually a bed or crate) so that they can take the mat with them.  By teaching your dog to learn to relax on a blanket or mat, and pairing that action with high value treats, your dog begins to associate that mat (or blanket) with relaxing and settling down.  It calms them.

We have a blanket that we bring with us.  When we are home, we will often take Murphy and his blanket to parks, Beer gardens or outdoor dining patios.   Having a place that your dog associates with relaxing and settling makes time in public more enjoyable.  Your dog learns that they cannot run, jump and pull when you are trying to have a drink or eat a meal.  It can reduce your dogs stress because they know what is expected of them when the mat comes out. Let’s be honest, traveling can be stressful for dogs, having a mat that they associate with relaxing, is calming and stress reducing.

Using Place in Colorado:place training with dog

As I mentioned earlier, we use Place all the time in our daily lives with Murphy.  He is deaf and naturally more nervous or anxious than some dogs.  Teaching him place has helped tremendously.  We used his blanket in the car to help with his car anxiety (something we spent years working on and really pushed in the months leading up  to this road trip).  We also used the blanket when we went to outdoor patios for meals.  It was a great way to keep Murphy calm, have him settle and relax and allowed us to enjoy our meals without worrying that he was eating items off the ground or that he was going to pull towards a table of food (he’s very food motivated, as many of you already know!).


What is it and why is it important:

Wait is a cue that tells your dog to wait (Shocking, I know).  We often use a wait cue at street corners when walking dogs, but there are other uses as well.  Teaching a dog to wait when opening doors is key for their safety and the comfort and safety of others when traveling.  Dogs need to wait to ensure their safety.  A dog can run out a door, or out of the car and right into traffic.

We also often use wait when we are giving the dog food or water.  We have all had the experience of an over excited dog that jumped up as we are putting food/water down only to hit the bowl spilling the contents all over.  It’s not fun, but it can also be a safety hazard for you.  Dogs need impulse control, and training a “Wait” cue is a great way to teach impulse control.

“Wait” in Colorado:

When we travel, Murphy wears a harness, but we unclip his leash in the car.  Every single stop, we open the door, give him the sign for wait, and he patiently. waits while we get his leash, clip it to him and make sure that it safe for him to exit the car.  We also use wait before we leave hotel rooms.  We open the door, sign for him to wait, and check that there are no other dogs in the hallway before we proceed out the door.   This action is easy for us, and prevents any unwanted interactions with other dogs.

Wait is a daily cue in our home with Murphy- to be honest, I feel that every dog should not only know this cue, but should be very strong in responding to this cue.

Watch Me:

What is it and why is it important:

Watch me teaches your dog to focus on you.  I often use Watch Me when teaching loose leash walking, working with reactive dogs and when I want to build a dogs confidence.  Watch me means that the dog offers and holds eye contact with you.  It can be trained for longer periods of time, or shorter time periods, but you want your dog to be able to focus on you when there are other distractions around.

The watch me cue can be used to navigate crowded areas, to help your dog focus on you in areas that may be tough (I use watch me often in elevators to prevent interactions with other dogs, or while walking down our buildings hallway and needing to pass people or dogs).  A dog that is focused on their owner cannot be focused on distractions in the environment.  That doesn’t mean that your dog should only look at you and be focused on you, but  they should be focused on you when you need them to be.

“Watch Me” in Colorado:

Due to Murphy. being deaf, we have trained a very strong watch me cue.  He is trained to check in regularly and offers eye contact easily.  We used this cue when we needed to pass other dogs on hiking trails- especially if Murphy was feeling particularly anxious.  We step off the trail, give him the sign to watch me, and hold the cue until the dog passes.  It has taken us a while to get here and we practice it daily, but Murphy can hold a “watch me” cue for several minutes.  He is always rewarded with a tasty treat to continue to encourage him to focus on me when I need him too.


What is it and why is it important:

Anyone who has worked with me knows that one of the first cues I teach a dog is Touch.  Touch is when you  hold your hand out and your dog touches your palm with his nose.  It’s a great way to redirect, or guide your dog.  Touch is a building block cue- we use it to teach many other cues, tricks, etc.  We also use it to guide our dogs where we need them to go in a manner that is force free and positive for the dog.

Touch is a good tool to keep your dog focused on you, to keep them distracted as they pass a potential trigger (for example, another dog across the street) and to safely move them where we need them.  Touch is rewarding for the dog and easy to train.  It’s another cue that I use daily with my own dog.

“Touch”  in Colorado:

Since Murphy has some anxiety with the car, he does not always like to get into it when it’s time to go.  That leaves me with the choice of picking him up and placing him in the car, or encouraging him to get in on his own.  I believe that when we can, we  should give dogs a choice.  I use the touch cue- I place my open hand inside the car and sign “Touch” for him.  Most of the time, Murphy jumps right in!  What if he doesn’t jump in?  Well, since I know that 9 times out of 10 he will, if he chooses once not to voluntarily go into the car, we take a 10 second reset and try again.   By giving him a cue and a choice, he is less stressed and better able to handle the car ride.

I also use touch when Murphy needs to move from, say the sofa, to his bed.  It’s an easy way to get him where I want him to be without using force.

Come (or Here)

What is it and why is it important:

“Come” or “Here” is also known as recall.  It tells your dog to come to you.  This is a cue that must be taught well in advance and at home before you ever expect it to work while traveling.  It keeps your dog safe and is one of the most important cues you can teach your dog before traveling.

Imagine if your dog got out of his harness or slipped past you and out the door- a strong recall will bring your dog back you and may stop them from running into traffic. “Come” is also effective if you are visiting a dog park and need to go because a not so well mannered dog has entered the park.  A word of advice that I give all my clients: when training recall, be sure that coming to you doesn’t always mean the fun ends.  I train clients to call the dog to you, reward and send them back to play often.  This is key if you want a strong recall.  If “Come” means we are leaving and the fun ends, your dog will learn quickly not to come back to you until they are ready.

“Come” in Colorado:

For this one, I do not have a great example.  Murphy is never off leash when we leave the house because he is deaf.  He is trained in recall, and we do practice it on a long lead that is 40ft, but we did not need this cue in Colorado.

Putting it all together:

If you take the time to train your dog these cues and use them often, you will be rewarded with a stronger relationship with your pet, a more enjoyable and satisfying vacation and a dog that is so well mannered, you will be proud to take them anywhere.

Training and consistency is key, so is finding the right motivation for your dog. For most dogs, food motivates them sufficiently, however, some dogs are more motivated. by play, praise or toys than food.  Take the time to find the right motivation for your dog- it will pay off in big ways.

By using these cues in your home life, you may also find that you are able to enjoy activities with your dog that you were not previously able to!


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