I was wondering if anyone had any experience of long train journeys with dogs in tow? I'm planning on taking my dog up north over Christmas to see friends, we'll have an hour journey into London, then go on the tube, then on a three hour trip to our destination.
I'll take her for a long walk beforehand to ensure she's totally tired and will try to give her toilet breaks wherever possible. My concern is that she is a Labrador-Collie cross so I can't exactly place her on my lap during the journey, how easy is it to take dogs on public transport like this?
Mary Scott, Kent
Karen Wild, behaviourist, advises...
It might be worth calling ahead to make sure that you know dogs are welcome on the trains you plan to use. They will have a policy on what is permitted so I think it is a wise move. They may advise you on other aspects of travel too such as quieter times of day to travel particularly on the tube, as a crowd will probably be very difficult for you both to manage.
Take a comfortable blanket for your dog to lie on - this will not only help her to feel more secure with a homely smelling place, but it may also stop her rolling on the floor with the inevitable train movements.
Take something she loves to chew, and have a few of these ready as you have a long journey. It will help her to de-stress and enjoy herself a little more.
Trains are very noisy, and in the tube especially it can be hot with huge gusts of air down the tunnels. I'd start teaching a good sit stay as soon as possible, so that if there is anything likely to spook her you can replace this with a predictable and easy behaviour that will also help her to settle.
You may attract a lot of attention with a lovely dog in tow, so be prepared for polite ways to ask people not to disturb her. Even if she is very friendly, she will find the journey tiring so I would not ask my dog to put up with attention under these circumstances unless I was confident that she was still relaxed. Use a high-vis lead and jacket, perhaps, to make sure people see her and don't trip over her. My own dogs always wear these when out like this if they are on the ground (I am lucky that I can pick up my dogs!).
As with any new experience your dog needs to build up to it gradually, so practising your sit and down stay training around the local train station is something I would make a priority, even with short journeys to accustom her. Take plenty of high-value food rewards (chicken, or ham for example) with you and offer them whenever the train is nearby, to form a happy association.
There are so many aspects to this that it is hard to do it justice in an answer of this nature. The noise from the train, the bustle of the platform, the people moving about, the attention, the sway of the train and the unfamiliarity of the journey all have elements that need consideration and it might be worth making a huge list of these. At each point of the list, you know your dog best of all, so mark what you think needs doing against each point. You will be able to identify the things that can be solved and those that are unlikely to be a problem, and this will in turn build your confidence and sense of control. And a confident you means a happier travelling dog!
Have a terrific trip!