Teach Your Dog to Love His Carrier

Kate Naito
by Kate Naito
Have dog, will travel. Just make sure your dog is as excited about the trip as you are! Follow these guidelines to teach your dog to love his carrier.

It’s getting increasingly easier to take your dog with you to hotels, cafes, bars, and all kinds of shopping. If subway, train, or even air travel are needed to get there, first you’ll have to teach your pup how to travel comfortably in a bag.

Choosing a Carrier

Here in New York City, even large dogs are permitted to travel on the subways, provided they are enclosed in a bag, stroller, or crate. Look for a bag that zips fully closed and can handle your dog’s weight. Zipping your dog in the bag ensures he won’t jump or fall out, and also puts dog-averse passengers at ease knowing you’re being a responsible owner. If you must choose the tote-style bag with an opening for the head, ensure the top can close and there is a built-in tether that attaches to the dog’s harness. (For safety, don’t attach the tether to a collar or head halter. Can you imagine the damage to your pup’s neck if he tumbled out?)

Before taking his first ride, your dog needs to learn how to get (and stay) in his carrier. The steps here are just a guide. You may find your dog leaps right into the bag, or on the other end of the spectrum, he might be suspicious of this dog-devouring monster for a while. Work at your dog’s pace, even if it’s slower than you’d like.

How to Teach It

  1. Get your dog interested in the carrier. Sprinkle several treats (or his entire meal, if dry food) in the bag. Put it on the floor, and walk away. If your dog can’t access the opening, rest the bag on its side to make it easier. Let your dog interact with the bag at his own pace for five minutes. Repeat this activity until your dog is confidently diving his head in for the food.
  2. If the bag’s shape permits, lure your dog with treat into the carrier, and then give him several treats while he’s inside. Otherwise, pick him up and gently put him inside the bag. Before he gets fed up, lift him out of the bag. Practice this until it’s smooth.
  3. Put it on cue. Say a word or phrase, such as “get in your bag,” and guide him in as before. Practice several times.
  4. Now, start lifting and briefly carrying the bag with your dog in it. At first, just gently carry it (or roll it, if a stroller type) around your home, dropping a treat into the carrier every few seconds. Release him from the bag before he gets uncomfortable.
  5. Hit the road! For your first outing in the carrier, go somewhere your dog will love: the park, the pet supply store, or a friend’s house… not the vet’s office! Bring a long-lasting chewy to keep him busy, so he won’t get overwhelmed by the sounds or movement on the train. If your dog gets startled by a sudden noise or movement, immediately drop a few pieces of an extremely high value treat into the carrier. This keeps the situation positive. If people want to pet your dog, it’s best to politely decline.

After a few rides to the park, your dog will learn that the travel bag and even the noisy train are to be loved, not feared. Happy travels!

Kate Naito
Kate Naito

Kate Naito, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer at Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY, and author of the training book, "BKLN Manners." She draws upon her experience as an educator and dog trainer to apply positive training techniques to a challenging urban environment. Kate is a rescue advocate drawn to special-needs dogs and currently has two Chihuahua mixes, Batman and Beans.

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