Holiday Vacations

“Did you know that there are over three hundred words for love in canine?” – Gabrielle Zevin, Elsewhere


Porter sporting his holiday bandana… about as dressed up as he gets.


All of my family lives in CT. Holiday season is always crazy for me. There’s a lot of traveling and not much sleep. It’s crazy and hectic, but worth it, so I can spend the holidays with the people I love. Which, brings me to why I feel so guilty a few days before I leave: Porter doesn’t come with me.

As you can tell by now, I’m pretty no nonsense with my dog. Sure, he wears a bandana every once in a while, and he’ll also wear a coat if it’s too cold out, but I’m not the type to dress him up because “he’s my little boy”.

If he gets hurt, I don’t baby him.

I don’t cry when I leave him somewhere.

I don’t rearrange my day for him.

However, leaving him on the holidays makes me feel like the biggest jerk and the worst dog owner there is.


Okay, so he has his days where he likes to dress up like a Russian Grandmother…. it’s totally normal

I brought him home one holiday season. It was a 9 hour drive both ways. Although he was amazing on both legs of the trip, he wasn’t happy. It was stressful to be in one place that long without the option of getting some activity.

We then found our preferred boarding place. He loves it. He can’t get out of the car fast enough.

(Here’s some tips on how to say goodbye properly)

Every time there’s a holiday I start to feel guilty again. We spend the holidays with the people we love, and well, I love Porter, so shouldn’t he come with me?

I looked into if he could fit on my flight this time. Not because I actually thought bringing him on a flight would be a good idea, but because I just needed to know my options. If I could somehow shrink his legs, make him less anxious, and suddenly make him okay being cramped in a small place for hours we’d be all set!

Ok, so not the greatest option. Then I started thinking about how the holidays can get stressful. What would make Porter’s holiday the least stressful? What would be his ideal holiday?

-          Room to run

-          Hours and hours of outside time

-          Other dogs to play with (although dog reactive, he’s mostly dog reactive in the Mom, can I play with him now?? Pleeeasssseeee??? way now. See, Piloting does work!)

-          Food

-          People to give him tons of pets and attention

The easiest way to make his holiday come true is to make sure he’s not at mine. I can’t offer him those options when I’m running to visit relative after relative.

A picture that was sent to me from Porter's sleep away camp! He loves it there!

A picture that was sent to me from Porter’s sleep away camp! He loves it there!

We need to start reevaluating how we measure our love for our dogs. Some people measure it by how much time you spend with them, sacrificing lots of things to make sure you’re together. But guess what, sometimes loving your dog is making the decision that’s best for them in a logical and rational way. We need to let the judgments of other people stop clouding our mind. We have to learn to think with our hearts and minds instead of thinking just with our heads.

Same goes for Piloting. We learn to say no to our dogs because we think with our hearts and our minds. Sure, we’d love to give our dogs nothing but happiness…. But although they think that chocolate would make them happy, we know better.

Porter beyond tired after a week of playing with new friends

Porter beyond tired after a week of playing with new friends

Never feel guilty for making the decision that your dog must stay somewhere else for the holiday. Whether it be at a boarding setting, a friend’s house, or through Make the decision that will make the holidays the least stressful for you and your four legged friend. Start thinking with your heart and your mind.

Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH

Creating a Great Co-Pilot

Every pilot needs a co-pilot, and let me tell you, it is awful nice to have someone sitting there beside you, especially when you hit some bumpy air – Eric Wald

- Pete and Tank, Brittany, from Brittany Graham Photography's own dogs!

– Pete and Tank, Brittany, from Brittany Graham Photography’s own dogs!


When we first got Porter, car rides were not so much fun with him. There was constant whimpering, some occasional barking and just general hyper activity happening in the back seat. However, now, he’s not annoying to have in the car. Of course, he likes to look out the windows, but there’s less noise, less barking and less anxiety.

Here are some steps that I took, along with Tall Guy, to help him get to this point:

We Kept Taking Car Rides

Sure, he was annoying, but it didn’t make us stop taking him places. If we had just chosen to never drive him anywhere, we would have missed out on a lot of great adventures. Not to mention the fact that the more he’s in the car, the less scary and new it is. Good things happen when he gets in the car. Yes, there’s the occasional dreaded vet trip, but the park, family, friends trips outweigh the vet trips by far.

Positive Reinforcement for Positive Behavior

The moments that Porter was quiet and relaxed in the backseat he received positive reinforcement. Now, for Porter, treats only add way too much energy to the situation. So he received praise and a pet when he was calm in the backseat. Think, Touch, Talk, Treat. A pat, “good boy” and then if your dog is less of a jerk than mine you can pop a treat in his mouth. What we’re letting him know is that good things happen when he’s calm in the car.

Negative Reinforcement for Negative Behavior

When Porter would bark, he would get a negative. For him, that’s a snap from me since we’ve worked on a lot of Piloting in the house already. If you need to, have someone else drive and sit in the back with your dog. You can Pilot your dog the same way you do in the house, just use your upper body as opposed to your whole body. Use whatever negative sound you have correlated with your negative body language. If you feel like you’re giving a negative way too much and nothing is coming of it, then ignore the situation for a while. No positives, but no negatives either. Make sure you are not going to become angry or vocal with your dog. That won’t help the situation. Find your zen place in the backseat.

Shorter Trips

If you’re planning on working with your dog, try not to work on the car behavior while you’re on a long road trip. Go in short spurts to work on it. This will keep your temper in check and make sure you don’t get too frustrated. We’re looking for improvement, not perfection after the first time.

Exercise First

Make sure your dog is getting Activity before you work on the car behavior. This will release excess energy and the endorphins he will be feeling will help you in the long run. Do things to set yourself up for success. Make sure your pup has gotten a lot of PAW that day before working on the car situation.

 - Brittany Graham Photography

- Brittany Graham Photography


Improvement can take time, lots of time. But if you work on it, little by little you’ll realize that your dog’s car behavior has improved tremendously. Stick with it, and soon you’ll have the best four legged co-pilot ever.

Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH