Ask the Trainer: Kirstin McMillan On Training A Travel-Ready Dog

Training a Travel-Ready Dog

Don’t let the blond hair and bubbly personality fool you – when it comes to training dogs Kirstin McMillan is as good as it gets – and she’s got the pedigree to prove it! A third generation animal trainer, she now heads the canine enrichment center at LA Dogworks (, where she runs a lifestyle based training program. In her words, the goal of the program is, “to enrich [the dog’s] personality, to stimulate their intellect, to exert them on a physical level … it helps those of us who believe in…taking our dogs with us places out in the world…”


Any dog owner knows that traveling can be a real test of how well a dog is trained. McMillan believes that the basis for good behavior in any challenging situation is a solid foundation. McMillan offered us three tips to reinforce the strong, dominant bond that will enable you and your dog to overcome travel- related obstacles.

The first tip is not to free feed – to leave food in the bowl all day. Instead, McMillan suggests giving your dog two small meals a day. She explains, “Pretty soon your dog is going to learn… [t]hat all the greatest things in life come from you…and not from the dog bowl.” In addition to being great basic training, this will help acclimate your dog to restricted food access during travel.


The next tip offered by McMillan is all about physical contact. She notes that often people “scruff up” dogs. Instead, she suggests using a firm, long stroke from the top of the head moving towards the neck, back and shoulders. This is what McMillan calls a passively dominant gesture; “[T]his reminds your dog of his or her mother’s tongue… this is telling the dog that I’m your alpha.” This touch can be used to calm and reassure your furry friend in even the most difficult travel situations.

McMillan’s last tip is to train your dog to act out a problematic behavior – barking, spinning, jumping – on cue. Travel is especially stressful for canines and humans alike. Just like people react badly to stress, your dog’s naughty habits are likely to escalate during travel, too. Teaching dogs to act out bad habits on cue converts a punishable offense into an enjoyable, reward-worthy trick.

Uga getting ready for a game.


In each of her tips, McMillan never forgets the well being and understanding of the dog.

She clarifies, “I don’t believe in overtraining, I don’t believe in making dogs into perfect little robots… I like to incorporate whatever delivers the best results without sacrificing the happiness of the dog.” Whether you’re headed around the corner or around the world, McMillan’s lifestyle based training is sure to give you a happier, better behaved canine companion.SubSectionTravel_TravelTips

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