Sweep has been travelling since he was four weeks old, which is when we found him secreted in a hedge with a tick the size of a toffee on the side of his tiny nose and a stomach full of insidious worms.
In his short life, he has travelled more than many English people do in a lifetime, having covered Macedonia, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France, and Spain before he is even two-years old.
Dogs – like humans – are creatures of habit. They like to wake up at pretty much the same time every day, eat in the same spots, they have their favorite snooze locations and they guard their territory well, leaving special tinkles in suitable locations lest anyone doubt whose territory it is.
Taking a dog on the road brings with it a number of problems. Firstly, poochy will be potentially waking up in different locations every day, their territory will decrease to the size of whatever vehicle they are in (15 – 25ft for most vans), their life will go from one of consistency to an arbitrary life of never really knowing where they are going to wake up or how long the next trip in the van will be. And being as our furry amigos understand some of what we are saying and we understand even less of what they are saying, you can’t really explain to them what’s going on or how long they are expected to lie down and be quiet and not complain as the van traverses endless potholes or navigates the flexuous roads of mountainous Spain.
Even when you arrive at your destination, firstly, if you are staying in a campsite, then pretty much all of them require your best friend to be tethered at all times – regardless of how well behaved your fluffy is. Although, we have found a couple of places that didn’t seem to mind Sweep being unshackled during low season.
We can’t leave Sweep off the lead without keeping a watchful eye on him anyway, as he has a bit of a wanderlust and will be in the nearest town making friends with people and trying to hold conversations with French people about Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoire before you know it. The things some dogs will do for a bit of croissant.
If you are wild camping, unless you are in a particularly green, dog-friendly area ie no cars etc, your friend will also need to be tethered. This can often mean long periods of time.
During the very hot summer months, Sweep was so hot that he sat under the van anyway, but keeping him tied up like this breaks my heart and I make sure that I interact with him often and that he gets plenty of time off-lead when we go for walks. But in honesty, he doesn’t get nearly enough time completely untethered to spend running around like a furry bullet.
Unfortunately our van has a bulkhead and therefore when we are actually travelling, Sweep has to stay with us in the cabin. Foolishly, on a few occasions, we travelled for long periods, and this was unfair of us to put young Sweep through it. There is only so much a dog can sleep.
Night times inside the van, he actually seemed ok. He had a bit of room at the back where he could hide under the bed and had various cushion configurations and access to the bed.
Despite all my best efforts to keep the little hairy fellow happy he did start acting distinctly out of character. He became aggressive towards other dogs, regardless of how soppy the other dogs were, he seemed depressed and showed other signs of stress such as overlicking his tinkie, losing his appetite and scratching himself excessively.
So we have had to learn to be less selfish and to keep our travel distances short and our periods of times in campsites and wildcamp locations longer, if possible.
Advice for travellers with dogs
- Keep travel distances short and stop and give them time for exercise and play frequently. I recommend stopping every 45-60 minutes.
- Try and make them feel comfortable with favourite bedding, blankies and toys.
- Interact with them often and speak to them in calming tones.
- Avoid travelling during very hot periods of the day.
- Keep the van ventilated.
- Make sure they get adequate exercise, particularly on days when travel is planned.
- Try and stay for longer periods in each location. You might be desperate to move on, but as a responsible dog carer, think about what is best for your hairy kid as well.
- Ensure that every day the furry youngster gets at least a few hours outdoors unleashed.
- Play comforting classical music in the cabin.
- Ensure he or she has adequate room and is comfortable.
- Keep a constant supply of clean cool water on hand.
- Keep a supply of chews and treats.
- Keep their routine. Walk and feed them at the same times each day.
The more you follow this advise, the better chance you have of staying on the road and off the grid longer. When the happiness of your four-legged friend is in jeopardy, then perhaps life on the road is not ideal.