Tips for Travelling with a Nervous Dog
Sharing adventures with your four legged companion is definitely up there with the best bits about travelling. There’s new sights to explore together, smells to sniff out and everlasting memories to be made. I love the fact the Millie is such a big part of our travel experience, and I’m pretty sure that most of the time she enjoys her on the road life. She certainly is one well travelled pet.
However, she is a rather sensitive soul and there are some aspects of van life that can be stressful for her. Long hours on the road, lots of traffic, and the occasional lack of routine sometimes unsettle her, and no one wants to see their best friend unsettled. As owners it’s our responsibility to ensure we do all we can to help keep Millie as calm as impossible, so she can fully embrace her modern nomad lifestyle.
I’m sure she’s not the only van dog out there with a nervous disposition, so I wanted to share my favourite tips for helping your fur-friend stay as chill as possible.
1) Create a Safe Space
I think this ones probably the most important. We all like to have somewhere to retreat when life gets a bit much; a comfy space to reset our senses and our dogs are no different.
The type of space you are able to create will depend on your van, but whatever size travel wagon you own, make sure you dedicate an area to your dog so that they can feel secure. For us in the Iveco, Millie had a dog cave where she could hang out, but space is limited in the new van, so she has a comfy spot in the passenger foot-well.
A covered crate works excellently, but ultimately a quiet corner with some cosy blankets and a few favourite toys will work just as well. It’s important to remember that that is their space, and giving them time alone, undisturbed will help to relax them.
As well as a hide away that relaxes your dog, the safe space also provides you somewhere to encourage your dog to hang out when you have to undergo the unavoidable stressful situations: ferry crossings or long hours spent on busy motorways.
2) Know your Dog’s Triggers
Yep, that’s right. Triggers. Just like us your dog will have things that trigger them to become unsettled, and just like us those triggers will vary from dog to dog. If you know what the triggers are then you can try your best to avoid them. Or understand that your pooch is going to need some recovery time afterwards.
Millie struggles with heavy traffic, loud noises and crowded places. So we avoid these when we can. Instead we seek out quiet places and make sure she has access to a safe spot. If they can’t be avoided (and sometimes they can’t) then we will plan a bit of quiet time afterwards with lots of her favourite things.
Your dog will tell you what their triggers are if you pay attention. They might change their body language: stiffen limbs or cower, perhaps they might pant excessively or lick their lips. These are just a few indicators that your dog is unhappy with whatever situation they are in.
It’s also important to remember that it’s not just unpleasant experiences that trigger your dog. Millie is an absolute nightmare if she gets too much free reign and tearing around like a lightning bolt really winds her (and us) up!
Everyone loves a treat right? Cake? A glass of wine? Some new van parts? All great, but we will value each of those things differently. Dogs do the same thing. For example, Millie is a total food monster, she’ll pretty much do back flips and cartwheels for a carrot, but you try and rub her belly and she’ll shoot you daggers.
Some dogs like food, some like tennis balls, some like a chew toy or a game of tug and others go nuts for cuddles, kisses and belly rubs. It’s your mission as an owner to figure out what your hound finds most satisfying and dish it out in abundance on the road.
It can help reduce stress (although too much of it can be a trigger), to counteract a negative experience and to strengthen that pooch to human bond we all love so much.
4) Chill Out Time
Stress lingers in the body. I know if I’ve had a stressful experience it can take a while to calm down. I also find that I’m still super sensitive, and little things like knocking over a mug of coffee can start my stress cycle again. It’s the same for your travel buddy, they need time to recover from any exciting/stressful/overwhelming events that occur.
Life in a camper van can be pretty hectic. It’s easy to get caught up in all the travel, adventures and new experiences. But it can get pretty tiring for you and your pooch, so it’s a good idea to try and stick to a routine, ensuring that you schedule in some well earned chill out time. the routine includes some well earned, chill out time.
By now your well equipped for providing a relaxing environment. You’ve got a safe space for your dog, you know what stresses them out and over excites them, and you also know what they enjoy and find pleasurable. Give rover (and yourself) some down time, hang out quietly, enjoy each others company and recharge your batteries so you can face tomorrows adventures with tails a waggin’.
There are times when Millie just can’t settle. No matter how much chill out time she has, or carrots she eats, she is still more than a little overwhelmed at life. This Jack Russell operates on a 100mph basis, which can take its toll on her stress levels - just the way she was made.
So, sometimes she needs a little bit of help to reign it in. We’ve used Scullcap and Valerian from Dorwest herbs for a little while now, especially if we know we have a big adventure coming up. It’s a licensed Veterinary Herbal Medicine that just helps take the edge off for her. We add it to her food in the morning, it’s as simple as that.
If you want to find out more then there’s plenty of information out there on supplements for dogs; Dorwest Herbs is a great starting point to discover more about herbal remedies. It’s always advisable to chat with your vet and a qualified behaviourist as well to find out what you can do for your pooch.
I love every day we spend on the road with Millie, she can be trying at times but she’s just trying to tell us something. At the end of the day, there’s nothing quite like watching your dog have a whale of a time at the beach, or sniffing out new smells on mountain walks.
Here’s to the nervous van dogs conquering their fears.
Travelling with your dog should be fun for both of you and by taking the time to understand your dogs behaviour and needs will help to ensure the everyone enjoys their adventure. For some dogs they need a little bit more help to reduce stress - if this is the case for you then it’s advisable to chat with a qualified behaviourist to find out how you can help your dog. You can find a list of force free trainers here at the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers.