We have successfully completed our first road trip with our European Doberman, Atlas! Continue reading to see how Atlas fared on his first 6 hour, 700-mile round-trip road trip.
We love to go on road trips. We wasted no time taking our son on his first road trip at 3 months old. It was the same with Atlas. But we had to wait until Atlas turned 6 months before we could take him on his first road trip. Before we could take Atlas on the road with us, there were conditions he need to meet. Atlas had to:
- receive all his core vaccinations,
- learn to walk on a leash,
- need to have good leash and restaurant manners, and finally
- he had to be socialized with other dogs.
I’ll publish a separate “Road trip with your Doberman” guide in the near future as a standalone guide. For now, this article details what made Atlas’ first road trip and hanging out at pet-friendly venues possible.
Mentally Preparing Atlas
When Atlas was younger, he was terrified of car rides. We conditioned him to enjoy car rides by taking him with us on short errands. That is, he comes along with us on grocery trips, a trip to Starbucks, a trip through the fast food drive through and even a trip to pick up / drop off our son at preschool.
We always reward him for a job well done so he associates car rides as a positive experience. He has gotten to the point where he would jump into the rear car seat on his own volition if he knows we will be going on for a drive.
I’ve also trained Atlas to stay in the car unattended with his rear passenger window partially down. If Atlas becomes rowdy at a restaurant, he can stay in the car while we enjoy our meal (which we did at a pit-stop because the establishment wasn’t pet friendly).
Always have an escape plan and this is our plan.
Atlas received his final core vaccinations, including his rabies shot, on March 7th – just when he turned 17 weeks old. Any training that was done prior was limited to our backyard or inside our home.
We started leash training every weekend in our backyard using a 30′ long lead between mid-February to mid-March. After Atlas received his rabies shot, I used his 6′ leash and started walking him in 5 minute intervals. Naturally, he is distracted and curious about his surroundings. I increased his walks an additional 5 minutes every three days. Once Atlas was able to walk for 20 minutes straight, I knew he got leash walking down. I increased that daily 20 minute walk to 40 minutes, then an hour, then 1-hour walks twice a day. Eventually, we started walking him around park and other areas of high distraction such as high-trafficked boulevards and intersections.
With the recent shelter-in-place directive, I had the opportunity to walk Atlas off-leash. I still carry my leash just in case there are passerby’s ahead of us. Before I even allowed Atlas to walk off-leash, I ensured that he has mastered the “Come” recall command.
Teaching Atlas to Sit in a Distracting Area
I believe this is crucial if you want to enjoy a meal or a beer at a pet-friendly venue. Your Doberman needs to learn to sit and behave in a distracting area. We started conditioning Atlas when he turned 4 months old. I started by training Atlas to sit during our daily walks. I would have Atlas hold his sit command while cars drive by, until I release him with a tactile “yes.” We would enjoy a meal in our patio set and have Atlas join us, as if at a restaurant.
We would also pack a picnic basket and have lunch on a bench at the local park. Atlas will sit next to us while we enjoy our lunch amidst the park full of distraction. We practice this routine with Atlas every vacant weekend we have and move around different parks. We practiced this over 4 consecutive weekends before taking him along with us on his first road trip.
While we were not able to enjoy a sit-down dine-in experience due to the current COVID-19 situation, I am confident that Atlas will behave once we are able to do so.
Training Atlas to Get In and Out of Our Car
I started training Atlas to get in and out of our Hyundai Tucson when he was large enough. I can carry him in and out while he’s still 36 lbs. But he won’t remain 36 lbs. for ever. When Atlas reach 80 lbs. or 90 lbs., carrying him won’t be an option.
I applied Robert Cabral’s “Teach Your Dog to Get Into the CAR” video solely to train Atlas to get into our car. I’ve had great result. I still keep Atlas on a leash whenever he leaves the house and I only unleash him once he’s inside the car. The minute he sees our gemstone red Hyundai Tucson, he knows he’s about to hit the road.
After about 6 car rides, he automatically knows how to get in and out of the car.
Bring Along Your Doberman’s Favorite Toy(s)
When going on a long road trip, be sure to bring your Doberman’s favorite chew toy along and have it readily available. When we took Atlas on increasingly longer car rides, his chew toy kept him occupied and alleviates his stress. However, he just sleeps through 75% of the car ride most of the time.
Keep the Treats Handy
If you’re planning to take your Doberman to pet-friendly restaurants, be sure to pack some treats. The best case scenario is your Doberman will sit next to you in a well behaved manner. However, if your Doberman gets fidgety, then treats may be a necessity. I find amazing success with Best Bully Sticks’ Beef Trachea chews and his absolute favorite, KONG Digestible strips. Not only does it keep Atlas occupied, it also takes Atlas about an hour to finish a 12″ beef trachea. This is enough time for us to leisurely enjoy our meals.
Proper Car Gear
A backseat cover is a must if you plan to take your Doberman on a road trip. If you plan on doing outdoor activities with your Doberman, such as hiking, wading in lakes, running along sandy beaches, then it’s required to keep your car clean.
We use 4Knine’s Dog Seat Cover with Hammock. It snugly fits the backseat of our 2019 Hyundai Tucson Limited.
To ensure that your Doberman enjoys its first road trip, always consider safety first. That is, invest in a doggie seat belt and compatible safety harness.
When we took Atlas on his first road trip, he just turned six months old and weighs a little over 60 lbs. To keep Atlas safely secured in the car, we used Mighty Paw’s Dog Seat Belt, size medium, and Mighty Paw Car Dog Harness, large.
In the past, we used a webbing-based safety restraint belt and Atlas chewed right through it with his puppy teeth. This new Dog Seat Belt by Mighty Paw is made of steel cable, eliminating Atlas’ tendencies to chew it. We started with a medium size safety belt, 24″, which is the perfect size for Atlas. It prevents him from wandering all over the backseat but provide him with a degree of freedom so he can peer out the window.
Stick to the Familiar, to Start
Atlas was incapable of staying completely focused when he was younger than six months. That is why we started our first road trip together as a family to the beautiful coastal town of Cambria, CA. We’ve been visiting Cambria yearly for over 10 years. We’re actually planning to retire there, but that is another story. This is the first time we are bringing a dog with us in our trip. Our first dog on its first road trip with us.
Cambria is far enough to be a road trip but close enough to home such that it isn’t too taxing. Plus we know the town very well. We know where to dine, the activities around the area, trails and dog friendly beaches. We wanted Atlas to experience his first road trip in an area we are familiar with. After a 3 night stint in Cambria, we head up north to our next familiar and favorite destination, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA. We stayed in Carmel for 2 nights before returning home.
In Case of Accidents
Accidents, they will happen. In our case, it happened on our second night. The thing is, it was entirely our fault for not taking Atlas out for his evening break and not recognizing the telltale sign he exhibited earlier.
We usually take Atlas out at home one last time at 8:00 PM for him to relieve himself, but we were preoccupied and thought his earlier break at 5:00 PM was sufficient. He circled around and sniffed at the lodging’s floor, until he could not hold it any longer. Long story short, he squatted and left some memories on the lodging’s carpet and then proceeded to pee. Fortunately, he peed in the bathroom with tiled flooring instead of the carpet! Also fortunately due to his diet, his poop was firm and left minimal stain.
We were prepared and packed a new bottle of Nature’s Miracle Stain and Odor Eliminator and a whole roll of paper towel. The stain and odor eliminator removed all traces of stain and odor within 10 minutes, saving us the cost of pet clean-up fee.
Know your Doberman’s schedule and don’t neglect to stick to it, even away from home! We learned and made sure to be mindful of Atlas’ schedule. We also made sure that it was his first and last accident in the entire road trip (and upcoming road trips).
Results From Atlas’ First Road Trip
Here are photo highlights from our first road trip with our European Doberman, Atlas!
With the success of our first road trip with our European Doberman Atlas, we intend to take him on more road trips. These subsequent trips will be further, longer duration, new places and with new activities to explore. Our immediate destination in the coming weeks is in the desert, Joshua Tree National Park. Our upcoming destination once the whole COVID-19 situation settles down are Sonoma county, CA followed by Sedona, AZ.
- Sonoma County, CA
- Sedona, AZ
- June Lake, CA
- Lake Tahoe, CA
- Humboldt County, CA
- Telluride, CO
- Moraine Lake, Calgary, AB, CA
Road Trip Guide
As mentioned earlier, I will publish a separate article detailing the logistics of going on a family road trip with a Doberman in the form of a guide. This guide will go into the details of what to pack, travel related pet products I recommend, looking for pet friendly venues and more. Since going on road trips is a passion of ours, this will be one of the longer and more comprehensive guide I will write. If you have never traveled with your dog before, consider this guide as a starting point. Stay tuned!