Public transport use has massively dipped since the start of the pandemic, and understandably so. While key workers have still been relying on buses and trains to get to work, many of us have set up office at home and ditched the daily commute. It goes without saying that leisurely trips to meet friends in different places have been rare at best.
So, public transport may be a strange experience to pandemic puppies and dogs who haven’t been far from home for a long time. With restrictions lifting, many of us are renewing those railcards and our dogs may be joining us on our travels.
If there’s any organisation that knows how to get a dog safely from point A to point B, it’s the charity Guide Dogs. Many people with sight loss rely on public transport to lead independent lives and having a guide dog that’s confident and happy on buses, trains and even the tube is essential.
Canine behaviourist and Guide Dogs’ Head of Research Dr Helen Whiteside is on hand to explain. As long as you are a responsible and kind owner, she says, travelling with your dog can be easy.
Dr Helen says, “Two key things to remember before any journey are to pack the essentials and to watch your dog’s body language for signs of stress or discomfort. Treats, fresh water and a clean towel for a return journey from an off-lead walk are the basics.
“Our dogs rely on us to keep them safe and comfortable, and this is especially important on the confines of public transport.”
Travelling by bus is a good first step in mastering public transport. These journeys can be very short, and for dogs used to car travel, it’s not worlds away. For those who don’t drive it can also be a really easy way to unlock lovely rural open spaces or parks that are too far to walk to, especially if you have a growing puppy who can’t walk too far.
Whereas working assistance dogs have legal access rights to the bus and all other forms of public transport, with pet dogs it is usually up to the individual company. Transport for London, for example, is pet friendly across its services although on buses it’s generally at the driver’s discretion.
Assuming you’ve been welcomed on board, find a place to sit that has a good amount of space on the floor for your dog. It’s best to pick a quiet time of day for your first journey together. The priority seats are good if they are free (but always offer up this space for those who need it).
When you’re introducing your dog to a bus ride, just travel one or two stops to get your dog used to the idea at first, and then these journeys can be extended.
To prepare for the journey, as Dr Helen says, “All dogs should learn how to sit and wait quietly. You can easily build up your dog’s impulse control at home by getting them to wait patiently for dinner and settle at your feet calmly while your attention is directed elsewhere. Practice and reward this behaviour at home, and eventually you can put it to use in new environments.
“Remember to make sure a bus journey is a positive part of life for your dog. If the only time they go by bus is to the vet, they may not view the experience that fondly.”
Going on the train or tube with a dog can be the start of a great adventure, and it won’t take long for your pet to learn that stepping into a carriage takes them somewhere new and exciting. Perhaps there’s a sandy beach to race around, or beloved family members ready for cuddles at the station exit gates!
It could take a little while for your dog to understand this concept though. Trains can be noisy and crowded, and for first time dog passengers, they may be a confusing prospect. Be aware of the train company’s policy on dogs too; most will accept two pet dogs per human passenger, but to be sure, check online when planning your trip.
It’s a good idea to get your puppy used to a train as soon as possible. Before you take your first journey, Dr Helen says, “If you have a young pup or small dog, you can always carry them in your arms and take them to a station or station bridge and calmly watch a train go by from a safe distance. Keep larger dogs on a safe, short lead. Some dogs won’t like the train noise, and you can assess this before committing to your first trip. Chat to platform staff; they’ll likely let you watch some trains go by from a bench, and you can get your dog used to the comings and goings of a train station.
“Our guide dog puppy raisers will do this regularly, even stepping on and off trains when they can, so they learn that navigating trains and stations are a normal part of life.”
When it comes to making your first journey together, make it short and positive.
Dr Helen says, “To make sure you have lots of space, don’t go at peak times. Have your doggy essentials to hand, including tasty treats.
“Ask your dog to sit on the floor next to your legs, or quietly on your lap if small enough, and praise them. Remember transport petiquette – your dog may lounge next to you on the sofa at home, but train seats are off limits to paws!
“Most other passengers enjoy seeing a well-behaved dog on the train, but ensure you ask if it’s ok to sit next to someone when travelling with a pet. And this communication should go both ways – strangers should always ask to interact with your dog.”
If your dog is cool, calm and collected, you can start being more adventurous with your travels. See you at the beach!