We’ve just returned from six weeks in Europe, living in a VW T4 with our big, old, black dog. It’s the first time he’s been abroad (think he’s only been out of Cornwall once or twice previously) and it’s the first time either of us have taken a pet abroad. And in all honesty it was great – the black dog was better than we could have ever imagined, but there were a few tips and tricks we picked up on the experience, which I thought would be handy for anyone else considering doing similar.
1. PETS – first things first
To take your pet from England into Europe you’ll need to get him/her a passport, which involves having the animal chipped, inoculated against rabies and issued with the relevant paperwork. You’ll need to wait 21 days from the rabies vaccination before crossing the border, the jab lasts three years and in total cost me about £100.
2. Check your chip – old Mr. 2 Chips
The black dog is a rescue dog – we got him about six years ago. He’d had just one careful lady owner, and came with all the accessories – bed, blankets, brush, high vis, bowls… and apparently chipped, which I didn’t even consider when it came to getting his passport processed – so we got him chipped, again. Something we didn’t discover until we got to the obligatory vet visit in France two days before returning to the UK – the vet scanned the black dog’s neck and the number that came up was different to what was in his passport. I speak a little French, and understand even less, the vet didn’t appear to speak English, which made it all the easier. Following a second scan we discovered the secondary chip, and the vet updated the passport. It wasn’t the end of the world and passport control understood at the port, but it’s not ideal. So my advice? If you haven’t had your dog since a pup, check for an existing chip before shelling out and doubling up on identification.
3. The ferry crossing – black dog aboard
We took the ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff with Brittany Ferries. We really had no idea how the black dog would handle it and I became increasingly anxious when told by a work colleague that this crossing is notoriously rough. So in my anxiety riddled state I invested in some very expensive Adaptil spray, which is meant to ‘mimic the pheromone produced by a lactating bitch’ and put your dog at ease. After being told by the sales assistant that I could spray it just under his nose I did so at home a few days before departure – unfortunately the sound of the spray and perhaps even the smell actually freaked the black dog out, so having mentally scarred him I was hesitant to use it again on the crossing. Luckily he’s used to being in our van and on the outbound journey we had booked a night crossing, so I suspect he slept most of the way, probably on our bed. For the crossing you’re issued with a big pink ‘paw’ printed sticker for your windscreen, your pet must stay in the vehicle but you can request to visit them during the crossing – which we did. Apparently the Santander ferries have a few dog friendly cabins.
4. Supplies – catering for the black dog
The black dog is far from fussy, being a Labrador cross he’ll eat pretty much anything whether it agrees with him or not. And travelling in Europe is far from being off the beaten track, there are loads of well stocked supermarkets where you can buy food and treats for your pets. If however your pet needs a special diet or is particularly fussy it’s best to take ample supplies with you.
5. Accessories – wherever we lay his bed is his home
Living as we were, in a small van for six weeks, we tried hard to limit our luggage, however it turned out that the black dog had as much to pack as either of us. High vis jacket, bowls, bed, towel, food, treats, flea treatment, poo bags, walking lead, long tie-up lead etc. All of which were needed, the best of which turned out to be his bed, understandably. We were moving about quite a bit and found that a soft padded bed that we could put down wherever we stopped gave him a sense of security and place – wherever we laid his bed was his home. A Kelly’s Ice Cream container ended up being a bit of an unlikely winner too – on the first couple of days, when we were covering ground quickly, we found we were wasting quite a bit of water (a valuable commodity when you’re free camping) by constantly throwing the un-drunk remains of the black dog’s water away whenever we set off – the Kelly’s container allowed us to seal up the remainder of his drinking water and stow it away until he next needed a slurp.
6. Climate – the day I almost killed the black dog
Research your destination climate. As goes his name, the black dog is black – he likes the heat, but extreme heat is obviously not good for him. We were on the hunt for some sun after a dismal Cornish winter and Almeria – Europe’s only desert and the hottest part of Spain – was one of our goals. April was however the latest we could have possibly visited with the black dog, summer temperatures reach about 40 degrees and even when we were there a unexpected heatwave hit and temperatures got up to 30 degrees. If it’s too hot, and you’re living in a van, you can discount doing anything during the day – it’s too hot to take the dog out and about and it’s too hot to leave them in a vehicle. The black dog did adapt really well, lying in the shade, cooling down in any nearby water and observing a ritualistic siesta, unless of course we were dragging him out on a near death hike to San Pedro.
7. Ticks – creepy crawlies
We took some flea treatment with us, so we could top up the black dog whilst we were away. We didn’t however account for ticks – in the south of Spain this wasn’t a problem, as the desert landscape doesn’t accommodate ticks, but up north in the lusher (and wetter) regions of Galicia and Asturias they were rife. Ticks are not a huge problem, there is a small risk they can carry diseases such as Lyme disease, but they can irritate your pet and look quite revolting. And as we were living in a small van, I was constantly paranoid they’d start latching on to me – which they didn’t. There are lots of tips to removing ticks, so do your research – I started to use tea tree oil on them, which I thought would be good as an antiseptic for the black dog’s skin, I also inadvertently found that it killed the tick and I could brush it off about 20 minutes later – I have no idea how ‘sound’ this technique is and no doubt will be inundated with horror stories as to it’s application.
8. Accommodation – con el pero?
Dog friendly accommodation wasn’t an issue for us, as we traveled snail-like with our home on our back. And wild camping was ideal for travelling with a big, black, over friendly dog, we’d generally rock up in remote little spots, where he could roam free and please himself. The one campsite we looked at and stayed at was dog friendly and there are lots of options out there – poo bags and a long tie-up rope are essential.
9. Dog friendly destinations – peros prohibido
After booking our ferry tickets and sketching out a route we suddenly stumbled across a few online forums which said that in Spain dogs can’t ride up front in vehicles – our van is open plan and the black dog is a terrible back seat passenger – and they aren’t allowed on a lot of beaches – the black dog ‘loves’ the beach and it factored high on a lot of our preferred destinations. In reality we were never stopped by the Guardia on account of the black dog being up front in the van, and despite the ‘peros prohibido!’ signs on most of the beaches we found Spanish people with their dogs on the beaches, so we followed suit. The lax attitude to dogs on beaches could well have been due to the time of year we visited, which was distinctly out of season.
10. The return journey – watch your back!
Before re-entering the UK your dog must be seen by a vet and given tapeworm treatment between 1-5 days before departure – this is recorded in their passport and then checked at passport control. We did a bit of research during our trip, found a recommendation for a vets about 40 minutes from the port and booked an appointment well in advance. It was all pretty straight forward, apart from not speaking a common language, discovering the black dog had two id chips and the man putting his back out whilst lifting the black dog up onto the examination table.
And now we’re home, older and wiser in the ways of travelling abroad with my dog. And as the black dog is certified for another 2 1/2 years or so, we’re planning the next trip.
If you decide to do the same let me know and have a great time.