Image: Victoria Stilwell
Animal Planet
Victoria Stilwell, host of "It’s Me Or The Dog" on Animal Planet, says early socialization in different environments and basic training is key to sucessful travels with Fido.
By contributor
updated 12/3/2008 12:57:59 PM ET 2008-12-03T17:57:59

As more shops, restaurants and hotels put out the welcome mat for Fido, it’s important for all traveling pets to have good manners. Jumping on the food table and chowing down seafood canapés at a hotel cocktail party or putting muddy paws on the front desk at reception at a five-star resort is certainly not going to add any more points to your hotel rewards card.

Popular English dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, host of the new reality show "It’s Me Or The Dog" on Animal Planet, travels around the country helping pet owners with unruly pets and behavioral problems. Stilwell says the basic rules of petiquette need to be instilled in a dog from puppyhood.

“Its important to have a young puppy well socialized with other dogs as well as with people, and to ensure that it’s had good experiences in different kinds of environments,” explains Stilwell. “A lot of the times when dogs act out, there’s nothing wrong with the dog, its what they do that's considered unacceptable in a particular set of circumstances."

“If you plan to take your pets places, it’s important to expose them to as many different environments as possible so that they will always feel comfortable. That way you are setting yourself up for success from the beginning.”

Stilwell believes that one way to get a dog to enjoy socializing in different environments is to take them to a local hotel for an afternoon and expose them to the busy lobby with its noises and foot traffic.

“Then when you actually do travel, your dog has done it all before.”

Stilwell points out that dogs don’t necessarily view staying hotels or visiting other public places the same way we do.

“Particularly when you are traveling, a different room and a different bed can be very unsettling which can make a dog extremely unconfident and thus, act up.”

Stilwell who travels regularly with her chocolate Labrador Sadie and her Main Coon cat Angelica, says that although most pet-friendly hotels do accommodate pets by providing beds and bowls and other necessary paraphernalia, it’s a good idea to take your own to help your pet settle down quickly.

“I take beds and toys and try and make environment as similar to what they are used to so that they feel at home.”

Behaviorists and dog trainers say that the period between eight weeks and 16 weeks of a puppy’s life is the most impressionable age for them to enjoy good social experiences.

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“I know a lot of people worry if their dog hasn’t had its final vaccinations. But by keeping it housebound, you are losing out on a very critical time. It’s better to carry the dog than miss out on this time frame. There’s nothing wrong with holding them and giving them lots of treats so that they will feel at ease,” says Stilwell.

Stilwell says for a dog to be socially accepted in a wide circle of public places, some basic training is important.

“The first command I teach is ‘come’,” says Stillwell. “That’s very important for the dog’s own safety. Next I teach ‘sit’ and ‘down’. Basic training is all about imposing rules and boundaries. It’s not that much different to teaching a young child socially acceptable manners."

Tom Smalley, General Manager of the very pet-friendly Wyndham Orange County in Costa Mesa, Calif., says, “We expect the same behaviors from our pet guests as we do our people guests — no loud noises, no jumping up on the furniture, no leg dancing, no licking others, no wandering around aimlessly and clean up after yourself."

The Wyndham hosts its famous Paws and Claws buffet with special pet dinnerware provided, on the hotel’s lakeside patio every weekend, and pets are welcome to dine alongside their owners — a popular canine event frequented by both travelers and locals. Fortunately, Smalley says that the hotel has never had an incident of a pet helping itself to bacon and waffles from the buffet tables.

Steve Leonard, director of marketing at the pet-friendly Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City, host to hundreds of dogs during the Westminster Dog Show, agrees with Smalley.

“Sometimes we can have over 1,300 dogs in the hotel. They rank amongst some of our best guests — they never bark and they never mess — and unlike people, they never get drunk.”

Stilwell says that if you can’t take your pets with you and need to leave them with a relative or a friend, it’s considered good manners to not only take their personal belongings, but also pack a throw for the couch in case your pet decides to make himself at home.

Other items that should be included are a pet towel, poop bags, and some piddle pads just in case your dog-sitter is not used to getting up in the middle of the night.

“Once again, if you set your pet up for a successful stay, they will be welcomed back in the future.”

"It’s Me Or The Dog"airs on Animal Planet Saturday nights.

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. She is the recent recipient of the Humane Society of the United States' Pets for Life Award. Her work appears in many national and international publications.

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