Travel by Train with your Dog
With the summer season upon us and the UK train providers offering discounts on journeys to some of Britain’s best beaches and national parks, you might be hankering after an outdoor adventure. But is it possible to travel on trains with your dog? And how can you make the journey the most stress free it can be for you, for your dog, and for other passengers? In this post, we’ll be sharing some of our tips and tricks for making the most of your journey together.
Are Dogs Allowed on Trains?
The good news is that dogs are allowed on trains, at least all the major providers, albeit with a few restrictions, so it’s always worth checking the website of the company you wish to travel with, before booking your journey. And be sure to check for train connections too, dogs are allowed on the London Underground, but not all buses, coach companies, and trams allow dogs in transit, so be careful of any cross city transfers where restrictions may apply.
What is Your Dog’s Temperament?
Regardless of whether your dog is allowed on the train, the most important thing to consider before you even contemplate a journey, is the temperament of your dog. If you are lucky enough to have an easy-going dog, or a dog that has travelled all its life, then you already have this covered. But what if your dog has never travelled on public transport before, doesn’t like people, or is afraid of loud noises? Train stations can be crowded places, with people who might not like dogs, or worse still, might pounce on your dog and shower him or her with affection without checking with you first. Do as much as you can to socialise your dog beforehand, not just with people, but with other animals, and with children. Get your dog used to crowds and noises and consult your vet or local trainer if you think your dog needs a bit of support before-hand. If you have any concerns at all, you might need to consider purchasing a muzzle for your dog and getting him or her used to wearing it before you embark upon your journey, or investing in things like thunder jackets. If your dog is deaf or blind, or not social, it might be worth investing in a lead and harness which clearly informs others that your dog has specific needs and should be approached with care.
Manage Your Own Stress Levels
Your dog will be sensitive to your emotions, and will pick up on any anxieties you have about travel. Minimise these as much as you can, so that your dog just sees the journey as an exciting adventure. Leave yourself plenty of time for dog toilet stops before you get to the station. Make sure your dog has access to water and think about the best time for giving food and drink before your travel. Try and stick to your normal routine as much as possible, but avoid giving breakfast immediately before travel if you know that your dog likes to poo immediately after their meal, especially if the journey is long. You want your dog to be as comfortable as possible, not worried about needing to go outside for a toilet break.
Most train platforms have designated areas for dogs, usually a water bowl and some stations even have small grassy areas and dog poo bins. These water bowls are great for hydration, but the water may or may not be changed regularly, so it isn’t a bad idea to bring a collapsible dog bowl and to give water to your dog yourself. Make use of the ends of the train platform for stretching legs and for toilet stops, especially on long journeys and when changing trains. Be sure to keep your dog on a lead at all times, and always tidy up after your dog. The last thing any dog owner wants is for passengers to complain, or worse still, for dogs to not be allowed on trains in the future.
At the Train Station
To avoid unnecessary stress, make sure that you arrive in plenty of time, you want your dog to feel calm and curious about the new environment. A well-behaved dog will make it a lot easier when buying or collecting your train tickets from a window and cashier or from a machine. Time to put that perfect sit and stay command into place, and keep hold of your dog lead at all times.
Having ample time will make the first experience of going through station turn styles a lot easier, you’ll need to find a system that works for the both of you (who goes through first?), especially if you have luggage and a handful of tickets to manage as well. Try and keep your hands as free as possible, use a back pack if you can, and take time to put your wallet away so that your main focus is on your dog. You may encounter turn styles at station toilets too, especially ones where you have to pay to use them. Always try and bring your dog into the cubicle with you, never leave them alone, in case someone walks off with them. Getting your dog used to loud noises will help when using things like hand dryers and cubicle doors that bang shut. The more relaxed you and your dog are, the less anxious your dog will be about this new environment.
To get to the platform to catch your train, you will likely need to go up and down stairs, escalators, or use lifts that are crowded with people. Try and plan your journey so that you avoid peak times where people are going about things fast and not paying attention to dogs on the ground. Never take your dog on the escalator (unless you can carry them). Teach your dog good manners so that they learn to go up and down stairs whilst still waiting for you, and don’t let your lead get in the way or cause a hazard to others, particularly if it is an extendable one.
On the Platform
Trains sometimes appear as if from nowhere, rushing by loudly at a hundred miles an hour. Always keep your dog well back from the platform edge and try and find a quiet corner where you won’t get caught up in the flow of passengers in all directions. Let other passengers on and off the train first if necessary so your dog doesn’t get stood on in the stampede.
When boarding a train, take great care when getting on and off, especially where there is a gap or the steps are awkward. Lift your dog onto the train if your dog is small and light enough, or train them to take steps slowly, with care and caution. This is where your ‘stay’ or ‘wait’ command comes in handy. Your dog’s attention should be fully on you, not distracted by the environment.
Finding a Seat
On some trains, you can book your seat in advance, and specify whether you want a forward or rear facing seat, table, and power socket. Try and select a seat where you will have space for your dog to sit on your knee, to lie on the floor out of the way of passengers in the gangway. Try to avoid travelling with your dog in a crate on a luggage rack as these often get full and can get warm. Even if you book your seat, just remember that sometimes the booking system fails and you might not get the seat that you reserved, it can be a free for all, so respond to any changes in a calm way, try not to get anxious and stand in the vestibule until a seat becomes available or the gangway becomes less crowded if you have to.
The journey and needs of your dog will vary incredibly, so think about these ahead of time. If your dog is the kind of dog that’s happy to just sit on your knee and look out of the window, then plan for this and for what you will need to do to feel comfortable yourself. Sitting with your dog on your knee for a 10-minute journey is a whole different ball game than a journey of several hours, especially if you have a table or not much leg room to stretch out. Does your dog need stimulation or quietening down? Do you need to bring treats along as bribes or rewards for times when your dog is getting restless? Does your dog have a favourite blanket that you can put on the floor for him or her to sleep on? If your dog is wearing a muzzle or a coat or sweater, is he or she too hot or too cold? Is your dog in direct sunlight and getting too hot, or is the carriage crowded? Sometimes it is easier to take your dog for a stroll up the gangway or into the vestibule for a change of scenery or to cool down. Rather than getting frustrated at your dog’s restless behaviour, try and focus on alleviating the reasons why your dog is getting restless. What is your dog trying to tell you?
If your journey is unbroken and you don’t have options for toilet breaks on the platform, then training your dog to pee on a puppy pad can really help with long distance travel. But you need to train your dog to pee on a pad beforehand. Many of the new trains have large toilets – ideal for going in to the cubicle with your dog, putting a puppy pad on the floor, or for cleaning up any little accidents, without other passengers being aware, provided that you clean up after yourself properly of course. You want your dog to feel as comfortable as they can, so that the journey is just something that becomes part of their normal life, no big deal. It’s a good idea to have poo bags on you at all times, and to carry puppy pads, hand wipes, and a bottle of water for rinsing hands or topping up a water bowl. If you think your dog is thirsty and you get really suck, fill a dog poo bag with a bit of water, and allow your dog to drink from the bag, but keep an eye on them.
Managing Other Passengers
You will come across all sorts of people when travelling, so you need to mindful of their needs and behaviours as much as your own and that of your dog. Be prepared for how you might deal with different situations and come up with plans. Some people are allergic to dogs, some people are terrified of dogs, others will lavish your dog with affection. If your dog has a sensitive stomach or an allergy to certain foods, then don’t be afraid to politely ask other passengers not to give scraps to your dog. And be mindful of any old food scraps that might be on the floor or under seats. If you need to move seats to accommodate these different scenarios, then move. If that small child seems to be getting on your nerves and your dog’s nerves, then take a walk or move to another carriage. Likewise, if you find that you are sat on the hot and sunny side of the train, or even the cold side, then move. Don’t forget that other passengers might be travelling with their pets too, dogs, and sometimes cats. If you know that your dog struggles with these scenarios, remove yourself and your dog from that environment before things escalate.
Enjoy Your Journey
Train travel with your dog can be one of the most fun and exciting ways of exploring the British countryside, and with proper planning and thought can be a very simple process. There is nothing better than seeing your dog crashed out on the way home from a day of hikes and adventures to places new.
Written by Sarah Weldon
Sarah is a British explorer and ice swimmer, who loves nothing more than hikes in the mountain with her Italian Greyhound and cosy nights by the fire with her three devious cats.