Three weeks ago, I brought my new puppy home. Wiley was eight weeks old and seriously did not like riding in the car. I held him in my lap, but he screamed like a wild monkey the entire way. This weekend, I took him on a four-day camping trip to Big Sur. He loved every minute of it. Here’s how.
Here’s Wiley on the way back from his first vet visit, two weeks ago. As you can see, he’s not exactly a happy camper. I’ve read various theories about fluid in ears being affected by the movement, impacting their equilibrium, sheer nerves about heading somewhere unknown and just general puppydom. The nerves thing might have some merit, before I got him, Wiley and his litter were on Doggy Death Row.
My big hope for the little guy, aside from helping me pick up Jalopnik editors, learning not to eat my wireless router and always, always, always going to the bathroom outside is that he’ll be able to join me on various camping trips and adventures. That is going to mean car rides. We needed to figure this out.
I figured a two-pronged approach, on top of the rest of his training and socialization, would be most effective. We’d concentrate both on making him more comfortable in the car, while also reinforcing that getting in one equaled fun times, not potential euthanization.
So, with the help of my friends, we started taking him to barbecues and other people’s houses and whatnot. Fun stuff for a little puppy like getting the opportunity to steal sausages, get fussed over by pretty girls and playing with other dogs.
On those rides, we’d take turns holding him, making sure he felt secure, but taking care to not reinforce his crying. Squeezing him tightly, just past the point of comfort, without petting him or otherwise acknowledging him with eye contact or words seemed to work. He’d still alternate being quiet with being incredibly nervous, but he got a little better every time.
The morning of the trip, his behavior was far from resolved though. His ability to not pee or poop all over my buddy’s XC90 was also something of an unknown. So, I nervously packed pee pads to try and keep stuff off the car, cleaning wipes in case it did, plus all the various puppy accouterments we’d need over four days. Mostly, that’s food and poo bags. I also wore him out on a long walk, then a decent session of fetch in the dog park just before Mark picked us up.
My friend Connie had also given me some spray that’s supposed to mimic the pheromones a nursing mother puts out to give the pups a sense of comfort, so that went all over the car too.
Pulling out of the driveway, Wiley started up his monkey antics, squirming and crying but, with the aid of that firm squeeze, he was quiet by the time we got to the highway. I still held him, but he just laid or sat there contentedly, even relaxing enough to poke his nose adorably into the HVAC vents, trying to figure out why they were blowing cold air on him.
That first afternoon, we got as far as San Luis Obispo, eventually found a dog-friendly motel viaDogFriendly.com, then headed to the totally awesome Central Coast Brewing, where Wiley play fought an 80-lb pit bull and made new friends with local weirdoes while we drank brewed-on-site IPAs.
Later that night, while chasing the hotel manager away from our after-hours hot tub, he supermanned into the pool, requiring rescue by his uncle Mark. Back in the motel room and dried off, he proceeded to pee on just about everything in the room, including my bed. Not sure if that was the chlorine or the excitement or the fact that other dogs must have done the same, multiple times, but it’s really been the only incident of that kind, so far.
Things went much more smoothly the next day, with Wiley remaining utterly quiet in my lap all the way up PCH, at least until Big Sur arrived and the road got windy. All those turns had him struggling a little in my arms and emitting some gentle whining, but, all in all, it was still a huge improvement over even the previous day. We continued to squeeze him tightly without eye contact or petting or talking to him, to avoid reinforcing his bad behavior.
Arriving at Limekiln State Park and setting up camp, Wiley immediately made himself at home, cautiously exploring the steep bank down into the creek and all the new sights and smells. First stop was the beach, to see how he’d take to the noise and water. Noise has never been an issue for him since he’s around loud motorcycles day in, day out and the booming surf didn’t bother him either. And, while he wasn’t exactly enthusiastically jumping into the water, he had no problem bolting through the stream that crosses the beach. Laying down contentedly between us as we enjoyed a couple camping beers, a wave suddenly washed over the little pup. He lay there while it did, then looked up at us curiously before going back to sleep. He was enjoying being off the leash, being trusted and just being one of the guys.
His first hike went smoothly too, on the mile or so up to the 100-foot waterfall, Wiley stayed right in the middle of our pack, tackling water crossings, log jams and balancing on fallen trees, feet over the stream, with utter confidence. We just forged ahead without fussing over him and he took the cue to keep up. If there was a rock or climb he couldn’t get up, we’d just pass him up and he carried right on.
That night, by the campfire, he was in puppy heaven as the girls took turns passing him around their laps and stroking his belly. I think they might have snuck him some surreptitious treats, too because now, a few days later, he definitely knows what human food is.
More of the same the next day, just early morning hikes, afternoon lounging and trying and failing to join in with ball games. He gets the idea that play is fun, but doesn’t really know how to do much beyond flopping around and looking happy.
That night, we’d bought out the private hot springs at the Esalen Institute, just up the coast. The only time they’re open to the public is from 1 to 3am and you have to book the day of, only. Totally worth it though, the springs are perched on a clifftop, a couple hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean crashing below. There was even a meteor shower on the completely clear night we were there.
I knew they wouldn’t allow dogs, but had wandered down to the beach with pictured friend for a little too long and, when everyone came to get us, they’d forgotten both Wiley’s crate and my trunks. Wiley had to wait in the back of the car while I bathed in my purple Y-fronts. That was more clothing than the girls had on and Wiley just slept contentedly in the Volvo, not completely destroying the interior, as I’d feared.
When it was time to go home the next day, after more hikes and beach time, Wiley crawled out of my lap and onto a rolled up sleeping bag in the back seat. There, he fell right asleep and stayed that way, excluding bathroom breaks, the entire way home. Now, he knows what it means when I start pulling gear out of my closet or when someone grabs their car keys off the rack. Wiley’s going to be a badass little road trip dog after all, more four-legged adventures to come.
Photography Credit: Alex Hodges.
While rooted in cinematography, Alex Hodges is a published automotive, and extreme sport photographer based out of Los Angeles.