I had a few days in London booked for over the summer. Plans ended up changing, which resulted in my short stay in London turning into a proper holiday in the South West of England. Which was great. Expect we had to bring our nervous dog along. Today I thought I would share some tips on the whole process because it went far better than I could have imagined.
Aflie is four. We’ve had him since he was a puppy. He is a black Labrador though we think there is something else in the mix too. Just from a few little quirks, he has. He isn’t Kennel Club registered though his parents were. Alfie is a nervous dog.
He is scared of a variety of things, there doesn’t seem to be any logic to his problem. He’s a tad wary of meeting new people. He totally avoids small children. Automatic doors are scary. Really just anything different which he hasn’t encountered before. But the thing which is most terrifying is bicycles. He has pretty much been this way his whole life. And it’s not like we’ve kept him away from bikes. He is around them a lot. But his fear has never seemed to go away.
Over the last year, all his problems seemed to get worse. About a year ago we lost our other dog. He was old, confident and he was the boss. When the other dog was around Alfie was less afraid because he followed the older dog’s lead. But now Alfie is on his own and doesn’t have another animal to reassure him. Sometimes we joke that Alfie needs his own emotional support dog.
PLANNING IN ADVANCE
Now that was the problem. Alfie was a nervous dog and we had to go take him on a train. But we didn’t know if he would get on a train. He’s never been on a train before. Operation get Alfie used to trains started. This was important because he has been in a train station before. And from that, it was obvious he was terrified of trains.
So we started taking him to our local train station. We were fortunate that I had a number of trips to make so we brought Alfie onto the platform so he could sit quietly and get used to the station. This was the point where we found out he wasn’t a fan of the ticket barriers.
Another advantage of this was it meant we could start getting him used to being around people. By this point, Alfie was almost over his fear of people. He wouldn’t try and run away. But it was very obvious he didn’t like people going up to him. And because he is a Labrador people assume he is friendly and wants to say hi. In reality, Alfie is a very nervous dog and would prefer to be left alone.
YELLOW DOG PROJECT
After doing some research I came across the Yellow Dog Project. This is a UK based charity raising awareness for nervous dogs or who for whatever reason need extra space. This could be because they are recovering from surgery, a rescue or are elderly. They sell a number of items like bandanas and lead covers which state quite clearly that the dog needs extra space.
On top of this, we bought a harness from Julius K9. These harnesses are actually better for your dog than regular collars because they don’t put pressure on the dog’s neck. The Julius harnesses have space on each side where you can place patches using velcro. We bought yellow ‘nervous’ patches for Alfie. But you can buy many others. From deaf or blind. To friendly, which can be really useful for bully breeds.
The other advantage of the harness is the handle. It meant in some situations I could hold that and have really good control over Alfie. Especially in situations like when he saw a bike and didn’t want to be anywhere near it.
ON THE TRAIN WITH A NERVOUS DOG
I was amazed by how well Alfie handled the whole train journey. He had never actually been on a train before so we had no idea if he would get on. Fortunately, we managed to have a trial run because we got on a train just to find out it had been cancelled. This resulted in a frantic car ride into Edinburgh so we would make the long train.
The trick we found for getting him on the train was for someone to go first. Then he wants to get on because he doesn’t want to be left behind. Sounds sad but it worked. It took him an hour or so to become comfortable on the train. Not paying attention to everything going on around him. But once he got settled he was totally fine. Slept the whole way.
Making himself comfortable
Because Alfie is quite a big dog we wanted to make sure he was properly under a table. Not taking up any space in the gangway. People still have to be able to get passed. You could tell after 5 hours on the train he was starting to get bored. He wanted to sit in the gangway. Walk about a little. Which was fine so long as he doesn’t get in anyone’s way.
One thing I have to mention about the Birmingham New Street station. We got the lift from platform level up. Before this Alfie had been very wary of getting on lifts. He would go in, realise he doesn’t like it and try to back out. Obviously because its a lift this was a very bad thing to do. Well, Birmingham New Street had this huge lift, appropriate for the large crowd waiting to get on. And wouldn’t you know? Alfie waited patiently till everyone else was on, then walked on with no fuss whatsoever. I’m still amazed he did that.
Take an actual water dish. The attendant on the train actually said how we were the only people she had seen with an actual water dish. The train staff are more than happy to hand out water and a cup. But having an actual water dish is so much easier. Obviously, if you were on a day out this could be different. But Alfie doesn’t like using water dishes that other dogs have used. So taking his own was much easier.
We actually decided to upgrade to first class. It has more space, you get free wifi and food. And it wasn’t too much more expensive than standard class. The long train journey made the extra price worth it. It also meant that Alfie had much more space under the table. On our particular train standard class was standing room only, while there was still space in first class.
If you do have a nervous dog the best thing to help is take them out and introduce them to new things. The harness and the patches don’t fix the anxiety. It just means Alfie has a little more space. But we were also taking him to the train station, getting him used to being around trains. Going on lifts. Just being in large crowds of people.
If you do see a dog with some sort of warning pay attention to what it says. It’s becoming more common for dogs to have this sort of thing. Yellow means need space. Green is for friendly. Red is for aggressive. If a dog needs space just give them it. I didn’t mind if someone came up to ask me about Alfie but don’t go trying to talk to the dog.
It wasn’t easy getting Alfie to the point where he would get on that train. But the whole thing has made such a difference. He’s still terrified of bicycles. But he’s more confident too. The fact that the South-West of England is so dog-friendly really made a difference. He was able to come pretty much everywhere with us and experience things he would never see at home.