Tips for going on holiday with a nervous dog

My dog hasn’t always been anxious, but as he has grown older his confidence has waned, and today, he can be a little skittish and nervous around new dogs and strangers. This has certainly made travelling a little more challenging – gone are the days we can rock up to any dog-friendly beach and set him free to run about in the height of summer – but it doesn’t make it impossible. And I’ve had a lot of fun seeking out the more remote and quiet places for us to enjoy together on research trips for my dog-friendly travel books. I’ve now been travelling with an anxious dog for around two years and I’ve learned a lot, so here’s my best advice for you and your travels with a nervous pup.

Written by Lottie Gross

There’s a time and a place

Half of the success of travelling with a nervous dog is in the timing – when you go really does matter. And if you can’t be flexible about when, be sensible about where. Low season is always a great time to travel with any dog, but especially anxious ones, as there are fewer people and therefore fewer dogs. In the low season, more beaches become dog-friendly as summer restrictions end, and so there’s more space for all to enjoy relaxing walks.

If you do need to travel in peak season, choose the less-visited destinations or those with sparse populations. For example, skip the Yorkshire Dales and head to the flat fields of Norfolk, or swap Cornwall for the Northumberland coast instead.

Go self-catering

I love a fancy hotel, but my dog isn’t always comfortable in busy resorts where there are going to be lots of other dogs or kids. That’s why we go self-catering most of the time, so we can both relax in our own space when we need to, and we have the option of dining in or out whenever we like. Plenty of the Paws & Stay places come with enclosed gardens, too, meaning your nervous dog will have their own outside space for sniffing and doing their 'business'.

Build in routine & decompression breaks

Dogs need a bit of routine in their lives, and when you’ve got an anxious dog, it’s especially important to keep that up on holiday. Bring the same food they eat at home and be sure to feed them at the same time. If they’re used to a 7am walk at home, try to keep it up while you’re away, even if it’s a little shorter. A little routine goes a long way to reassuring your dog.

Don’t do too much too soon

If you’ve never travelled with your nervous dog, don’t go all guns blazing to the busiest beaches or into noisy cities. Start small and simple, and perhaps stick closer to home so you can get back if all goes awry. Be aware of the kinds of activities your dog has been conditioned to. If they’ve never been on public transport, your holiday probably isn’t the time to introduce them to it on a steam railway. If they’ve not yet been on a boat, consider hiring a small boat you can drive yourself before embarking on a public wildlife watching cruise.

When taking your dog to the pub or dining in a hotel restaurant, try to find a table in the corner or out of the way of passing public and waiting staff.

Bring calming aids

One of the most effective ways I help my nervous dog chill out on holiday is with calming aids, such as long-lasting chews, bones, puzzle toys and Lickimats or Kongs. Licking and chewing are both stress-relieving activities for dogs, so if we've had a particularly busy day, I'll give him a chew or a Lickimat in the evening to help soothe some of the stress from the day's adventures. For an even longer-lasting experience, I'll freeze a Kong filled with dog-safe peanut butter (I favour Nuts for Pets) and natural yoghurt, perhaps with some tinned fish in there or pumpkin puree, too. Freezing it makes it harder to get at the food, so it takes even longer. 

When I give Arty his kibble in the evenings, I'll often scatter it on a microfibre towel, roll the fabric up and then tie it in a knot to give him a challenge. Sniffing is another great stress reliever for dogs and it'll tire his little brain out, too. 

Finally, one of the best things I've ever done for my dog is purchase a Yellow Dog UK label for his lead. It reads "anxious dog please give me space" and these allow others to understand that your dog needs more space than others might, and it could save a stressful situation for all.

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Written by Lottie Gross

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