Taking your dog with you on a train journey needn’t be a huge stress. For a lot of people the idea of having their dog with them on a train for what potentially could be a long time is a little overwhelming, but fear not, lots of people do it and with the right preparation, taking your fur baby with you should be no big deal.
This article aims to help you understand the rules regarding taking your dog on a train in the UK and US and will give you some general tips and advice to make the whole thing as smooth and comfortable as possible.
In the UK you are allowed to take up to two dogs with you free of charge onto a train. Depending on the rail operator, some will allow additional dogs but there will likely be a small charge for each extra dog that you take on the train. The following regulations are applicable:
- Dogs must be kept on a lead at all times or contained in a pet carrier. Obviously a basket only applies to smaller dogs.
- Some rail operators insist that all dogs are muzzled so check with your operator.
- Dogs are not allowed to take up a seat and must be carried / sat on the floor. Dogs taking up a seat could result in you being charged an additional ticket.
- If there is an objection to your dog by another customer you are obliged to move to another area of the train.
- Your dog can ride in the luggage or guard’s compartment as long as it is suitably muzzled and has a suitable collar and lead. Alternatively it can be in a pet carrier. This may be a good solution for some people, so do keep it in mind as an option.
- Dogs are not allowed in the restaurant cars.
- Some operators run sleeper trains and state that you must give 48 hours’ notice if bringing a dog with you. Check with your operator to be certain.
- Byelaw 16 allows the train company to “refuse carriage or entry to any animal. If your dog or other animal causes a nuisance or inconvenience to other passengers you may be asked to remove it from the train or railway premises by the Train Company or Rail Service Company staff.”
In summary it is clear that the passengers are the rail operator’s priority so it is in your interest to comply with their regulations. You know your dog and how friendly they are, but the other passengers do not. Among them could be people who have had bad experiences with dogs in the past and who try their best to avoid them. You need to consider the other passengers on the train, so do make sure your dog is suitably restrained and does not become a nuisance.
Different rules do apply for assistance dogs but these will vary per operator. If you have an assistance dog you should consider speaking to your operator to understand their particular regulations. Some operators offer a dedicated advice line regarding bringing an assistance dog with you. Virgin trains for instance have an Assisted Travel Team you can call (03457 225 225)
You are also allowed to take your dog into Europe but different regulations come into force as soon as you cross the channel so be sure to check out our other article that addresses this in detail – TRAVELLING TO EUROPE WITH A DOG.
Travelling by train in the US is a different experience than in the UK. For starters, the distances can be huge in comparison. As such it can be a much cheaper alternative to flying but it also means you will potentially be on the train for an extended time. This comes with its own set of challenges.
The first thing that needs to be said is that regulations vary hugely between the various railroad and railway operators. You will certainly need to check with your operator for their exact regulations and requirements when planning your train trip with your dog, but there are some standard areas that the regulations tend to address:
- Some operators just do not allow dogs, full stop (excluding assistance dogs). I found this very surprising, but some simply state that pets are not permitted to travel on their trains. Make sure you research and plan with plenty of time as your planned train trip may not actually be possible if there are not multiple operators in your region.
- Expect that you MUST accompany your dog. The operator is not offering transportation of your dog as baggage but as an ‘animal passenger’.
- Expect that they may require that your dog must have a collar, leash and muzzle.
- Do not be surprised if the operator insists that your dog is transported in a crate / carrier.
- Some operators have a size / weight limit and only cater for smaller dogs, insisting that they are transported in an approved pet carrier. The ‘approved’ bit is also quite restrictive with stipulations regarding the size, construction and weight including the dog.
- Some operators require proof of your dog’s health so you must provide certificates to prove they have been vaccinated against various diseases such as rabies, distemper and hepatitis. Without these you will not be allowed to board the train.
- Some operators will not allow puppies under 8 weeks old to travel.
- Some operators even mention the dog’s odour and state your dog must be odourless!
- Some operators have a specific coach designated for pets. Others do offer ‘pet friendly’ routes which allow you and your dog to travel in any of the available coaches.
- Dogs are not allowed in any food service coaches
- Some allow dogs on the train for free, others charge a fixed fee, and others charge a full passenger rate. As always, you need to check.
- Some railroads do not allow pets to travel at certain times of the day to avoid rush hour congestion.
In short, it’s a bit of a minefield and the variation from operator to operator means you have to plan carefully and make sure you have all the necessary kit and paperwork. You absolutely must speak to your operator before traveling to understand their particular pet regulations to make sure that both you and your dog are adhering to the relevant regulations that will be imposed.
7 Top Tips and Advice
1. Ensure your dog is tired
If your dog is well exercised you are much more likely to have a stress free train journey. If they have burned off all their excess energy they will want to rest and so will be calm. If your dog is going into a crate or carrier they are likely to settle and sleep if tired, so the number one tip is get your dog as pooped out as you can before you start.
2. Make sure your dog is comfortable and safe
If your dog feels safe and comfortable they are much less likely to get distressed and exhibit symptoms of stress. See our article on the 8 TOP TIPS TO HELP YOUR DOG WITH TRAVEL AND MOTION SICKNESS for advice regarding the symptoms to look out for.
If your dog is on a leash and sat next to you / on your lap then they will invariably feel safe as you will be able to reassure and comfort them throughout the journey. If travelling in a carrier or crate, something your dog may not be used to, they may feel uncertain. It’s imperative that they cannot come to any harm when in the container so make sure that there are no choking hazards. Pay particular attention to any collar or lead / leash that may be in the carrier with them.
Also make sure if you are using a crate that it is secure and that there is no means of escape. A bolting dog on a train is not something you want to have to deal with.
3. Make sure they have been to the toilet.
You need to make sure your dog has an empty bladder and empty bowels before starting out, so ensure that as well as exercising them you have given them plenty of opportunity to do their business.
It depends on the length of the journey but dogs can only go so long without needing the toilet so consider the possibility that you may need to break the journey up in order to allow your dog time to go to the toilet and eat as needed.
4. Avoid Feeding Your Dog Before And During a Journey
You need to make sure your dog has access to fresh water throughout the journey, but don’t allow them to gorge on water (which they can do if they are stressed) or they will need to go to the toilet that much sooner. You need to strike a balance between making sure they are comfortable and well hydrated, together with ensuring that the journey is of a maximum length or that there are the appropriately spaced stops planned.
There is conflicting advice available, but I personally do not feed my dog on any journeys, preferring instead to make sure they have a good meal on arrival. I tend to give her a meal earlier than normal and give her less than normal. This tends to ensure that when I take her on the final walk before the journey she does her business and is empty before we start.
If your dog is one that responds to and is reassured by treats, you could consider giving them a small amount of treats on the journey, but you risk causing travel sickness if you overload their tummies on the move. A ginger based treat such as these Pumpkin and Ginger Dog Treats (on Amazon) may be appropriate as Ginger has a calming effect on the digestive system.
5. Be prepared – Pack a bag
When on a car journey, it’s easier to be more reactive than it is on a train journey. You need to consider the things that might happen and what you might need so that you are prepared. The following things might be useful:
- A favourite soft toy or blanket that your dog loves
- Fresh water
- A small water bowl (you can get good collapsible camping water bowls)
- Poop bags
- Tissues to mop up any spills / accidents
- Disinfectant wipes – Its important to clean up after your dog hygienically
- Antibacterial hand gel
- Treats (consider using only ginger based dog treats)
6. Think About your other passengers
Other passengers may really not like dogs and if your fur baby is sitting on your lap or next to you and close to them, then they could find it quite intimidating.
Consider purchasing a collar or tag that clearly shows people around you that your dog is safe and friendly (only if they are of course!). I have a Bullmastiff and I’ve known people cross the road when they see us coming because she does look scary to people that are not keen on dogs. Not everyone appreciates the beauty of a dog so try to see the situation from their point of view.
This “friendly” badge (Amazon link) that fits over the collar is well worth consideration. There are a large number of message choices such as “Anxious” or “Do Not Pet” to fit the exact message you want to convey.
Also perhaps consider a muzzle (if they don’t have to wear one already). I don’t like muzzles, but if it makes the other passengers feel safer, it might be worth having one on your dog, or at least you having one in your bag just in case you feel the need to use it.
7. Mind the gap! – The station experience
The station itself will likely be a completely new experience for your dog. Train stations, platforms and trains themselves present a whole new set of sounds and smells that may stimulate or scare your dog. Keep in mind how they might be feeling.
Avoid rush hours as the sheer volume of people travelling by train can be overwhelming for us humans, let alone a dog.
Keep well back from the edge of the platform and reassure your dog as the train pulls into the station. They could easily become startled so keep them from feeling overwhelmed. When boarding the train, if they are not in a pet carrier / crate make sure they are able to easily step over the gap or pick them up so to not take any risks.
The same applies to when you disembark. You may be getting off the train into a platform full of people so do all you can to continually reassure your dog.
The key to travelling on a train with your dog is preparation. Make sure you know what restrictions you are working to with your particular operator and like every good boy scout knows … “Be Prepared!”