One Woman and her Dog | Trains & Tubes
Little Rea is the customary blogger of our duo but this is one part of our time together that she isn't able to account for: she has no idea about all the thought-planning involved when travelling with her. The wonderful thing about dogs is that they live in the moment, entirely free of all the luggage us humans carry on their behalf.
For a little background, Rea came to me in March 2016 as an eight-week-old puppy. She was a fluffy bundle of constant excitement who had monstrous nipping teeth. I don't say that with irony or humour ... I'm sure I could hear the theme tune from the infamous 'Psycho' shower scene when she came near me; they were so sharp that I often found myself in tears from frustration and pain. I had never had a dog so intent on breaking the surface of my skin, nor one that didn't know where her off switch was. Duracell would have been a much more appropriate name for her in those days. Evil evil teeth.
Despite her teeth, and as she started to mature, I realised Rea was a game little thing. From just twelve weeks, she was commuting from Southend to London on a daily basis to the university where I worked. One of my reasons for specifically bringing a Cockapoo into my life was that I could take her to work: non-allergenic, cute, non-shedding, and known for being friendly. She was also small enough for me to pick up with one hand (I often had no choice as her teeth were embedded).
Travelling on the train for an hour and half with a small wriggly puppy wasn't the easiest thing to achieve. She wanted to sit on everyone – not just me – and sniff everything, eat everything, and obviously explore every sound and smell. Train and tube floors are covered with dirty chicken bones and worst of all, chewing gum! Oh yes, Rea had a skill for getting that welded-on-chewing- gum off the floor and into her mouth. My fingers were chomped on, lanced, lacerated and gagged-on most mornings.
If she wasn't sucking on the thing that could possibly kill her, she was trying to wiggle her way onto the lovely crisp black suits of commuters who were far too busy on their phones or laptops to fall in love with my new little bundle of joy.
These were my first travelling experiences with Rea: the little fluffy blob that had wrecked my kitchen, eaten my loo rolls, weed and pooped on every floor surface, ripped every single piece of clothing I had, and almost starved me because I daren't make a sound in the kitchen once she had fallen asleep for a few minutes. These were my first travelling experiences with the nipping fluffy-monster-blob that became (and is) the best travelling companion of my life so far. Through travelling, we became companions that worked in sync with each other ... and we learnt to trust (and train) each other.
When I first started train travel with Rea, I would take everything I could possibly think of for those just-in-case moments. As a little puppy she had a bladder the size of a walnut so I was never sure when she would relieve herself, or whom she would possibly poop on if she had the chance.
My lovely leather work bag was replaced with a cheap material backpack that was stuffed full with everything; the bag bulged and was so disorganised that I often felt stressed when hunting in it for something, especially on a busy tube where there is no space to move, and everyone can be quite impatient. Handling a small exploring puppy that is pulling on the lead while rummaging around in a deep backpack is something that tested my resolve on a regular basis. Why oh why did I think it was a good idea to commute via train and tube with a little thing that had no concept of travel etiquette. Who was I kidding that it was easy to pull off? Utter madness ... but we had made a commitment to each other, and she was mine to nurture and take care of so I had to learn new ways of doing things, just as she was learning things for the first time too.
Over time, I slowly slimmed down the amount of doggy luggage I carried for her by working through different methods, and different doggy kit so there was at least a little bit of space in Rea's bag for me to slip in a banana (just so I COULD eat at some point).
Even now, I always carry:
Collapsable travel bowls;
Extra poop bags;
A snack bag of kibble;
Natures Menu treats;
Hand gel; and
A Mummy Clip.
I am often asked how I managed to train Rea to be comfortable travelling on the train, tubes and buses, and how she copes with the crowds, the masses of feet, the escalators, and barriers. I am also asked how I manage to cope as a solo traveller because it's so much harder than having a second pair of eyes and hands to help when things go wrong ... and they do go wrong, even now when we have travelled all over the UK together.
I used Rea's travelling time as training sessions ... I had to. Rea is an exceptionally friendly little thing and wants everyone to love her. For this reason, she found (and finds) it difficult to understand that not everyone she meets is going to love her. In her world, people are there for love and tummy tickles; she has always been this way. To stop her throwing her muddy paws on commuter suits, or onto humans who just don't get our love for dogs, I used Natures Menu treats. They stink. They stink so bad that I remember sitting next to a man on the tube and wanting to tell him he needed a shower ... then I realised the smell was me. It was wafting from my coat pocket. I'd become one of those smelly people on the tube that no one wanted to sit next to. This did of course, have some benefits! The meaty pong not only kept commuters at a distance, but they kept Rea's attention on my pocket and when I retrieved one from the stinky pit of my coat, her eyes would stay with me. This is the command I initially taught her when commuting, to 'look at me.' We learnt together that Rea had the capacity to sit and wait for a lengthy period of time while eyeing up the much desired treat between my fingertips. Commuters could walk past her, come and go, and her eyes would stay focused while she sat in salivating anticipation of receiving one of the stinkiest treats I have encountered (before experiencing tripe that is).
Using travelling as a training tool was the way in which Rea and I began to really bond and develop our trust in each other. Much of her basic training was undertaken on the 7.12 a.m. commute from Southend to London.
When it comes to buses, Rea isn't overly keen; I can't blame her. London buses are notorious for throwing themselves around corners sharply and hurtling passengers out of their seats. If they aren't doing this, they are jerking the brakes and shooting everyone forward like the best ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Fab, if you're into that kind of thing to wake you up on the way to work but when you are training a little puppy, all you want is a slow lap on a dilapidated dodgem car from the 1970s. To help Rea on the buses, I pick her up and put her on my lap. I don't care what other passengers say, or even think; she sits on my lap happily and gazes out the window. If the bus isn't busy, I often put my coat on the seat and she sits next to me.
It wasn't easy commuting with a small puppy: for all the reasons mentioned above, and so many more! Feet came at Rea from ever direction, as did discarded food waste on the London streets. I learnt to pick her up at certain points of the journey, and to read her body language when she needed to relieve herself, but most importantly, I learnt more about myself. Before Rea, I was an overly polite commuter, letting people tread on my toes or getting their stinky armpit a little too close to my face. Sometimes I felt like I would inhale arm-pit hair if they got any closer. But Rea, she changed all that; her need to be protected overrode everyone else and the typically English politeness bred into me. With just me, just my pair of eyes, my pair of hands, and my body to protect her, I learnt to find silent ways to ensure she was never in any danger.
The tips and tricks I have learnt for travelling on trains and tubes:
Rea never EVER goes on an escalator unless she is in my arms. I've seen little paws damaged by the metal monster, and most dogs find them far too stressful.
She does jump on and off tubes with ease but I always step back to let everyone out first, and to assess the gap before she jumps.
I do the same on the stairs ... stepping back to let everyone else go ahead.
I never rush when I travel with Rea. Rushing stresses me out, which then stresses Rea out.
Keeping treats in my pocket which are cut up so small that it doesn't impact on her otherwise healthy diet (I'm ignoring her constant blogging about how many sausages she gets).
I have a 'Rea Bag' that is always packed and ready to go, with the items listed above. This bag goes everywhere with us now. If she were ever to have an accident on public transport, everything I need is in there to clear it up as if it never happened.
I don't mind telling someone to leave her alone if she is focused on me for training.
Although Rea is still little, she is all grown up (thankfully, the Psycho nipping stage didn't last beyond five months old), and she commutes easily on the tube and trains. I commute easier with her too, although we don't do it as often as we used to as I changed roles and locations. We both know the rules when when travel this way together.
So when I am asked how Rea and I came to be so easy travelling together in one of the busiest cities in the world, I want to say it wasn't easy. It wasn't easy at all. Rea took it in her stride because that's what she seems to do but I was full of anxieties, being the neurotically tired new puppy-mother that I was. What we didn't do was let the anxiety beat us. For any reader wanting to travel more with their pups and adult dogs, our advice is don't overthink all the possibilities of what could go wrong. Our natural instinct is to protect them and that will always kick in.
All you need is a well-packed doggy bag, stinky treats in your pocket, and a pair of free hands to scoop them up if needed. Once you and your dog get used to doing it together, it opens the world up for more adventures to come.
If you have any questions about travelling in London, you can always email us direct at firstname.lastname@example.org