Regardless of whether we have a car or not and whether we plan to take public transport with our dog or not, we should make this journey with our dog several times during the socialisation period. You can safely do it, even if you decided that your puppy will not go for walks before completing vaccinations. We, for example, go out for all socialisation on our hands (apart from our friends’ houses and a fenced plot) and so… to the bus, tram or metro and inside we were on our hands. This has its pros and cons. On the one hand, the dog is close to us and learns that in our hands it is safe and immobilisation is not a bad thing. On the other hand, the fact that you hold the dog in your hands is an additional challenge for him – he cannot freely explore the environment (e.g. sniff the floor on the bus) and if you haven’t spent enough time working on making him tolerate longer immobilisation in your hands, it may be extremely difficult for him in the new environment.
The small steps method
As with many other new objects, places and activities, let’s use the small steps method. What is the essence of this method? The fact that we don’t move on to the next step if the dog can’t cope with the previous one, so it won’t be calm and relaxed. The dog has to cope with a given step to move on to the next one – this way, we don’t saddle him with something that is too demanding for him and that he can’t cope with, and we don’t multiply the challenges for him by creating problems instead of overcoming them right away. In this way, the dog gets stuck in a situation that becomes more and more terrible without seeing a solution. What is more, we are with him – we, who do not help, but only throw him into this situation now and then!
Stress and self-confidence
It is hellishly important to work with your dog on building his confidence and ability to cope with difficult situations by equipping him with tools to solve problems and deal with difficult situations. Some of the tools a dog tends to use the older it gets – e.g. puppies, especially of certain breeds, have more trouble controlling agitation than older dogs and so requirements should be set differently for dogs depending on breed, age and mental state we find on the way out. Stress is a natural reaction because it always occurs when there is a mismatch between the demands of the situation and the ability of the dog to cope with them. But… stress is also a motivating factor for overcoming difficulties by finding ways to cope or adopting those suggested by the owner or behaviourist. The problem arises when the dog remains in stressful conditions for too long, without having the tools to cope on its own and without human help. Then it becomes strongly conditioned to a given situation, object or place, being afraid and either calling for help or engaging in substitute activities – the only ones it can think of at the moment to help itself feel better or… acquiring learned helplessness: „nobody helps me here anyway, they make me sit here, and none of my strategies works, so I will sit in a corner and shake, withdrawing completely from the situation. The dog then feels fear, inside, without necessarily manifesting it outside through barking or squealing. And it has a hell of a bad effect on our relationship with the dog – the dog sees us as the ones not helping him! On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with substitute activities, as long as they allow the dog to calm down and do not cause a vicious circle of anxiety and arousal (e.g. when they become compulsions, such as licking itself).
So how …
So how do you go about getting your dog used to travelling by public transport…? Let’s start with the simplest components of what needs to be done to make such a journey at all. You need to leave the house, walk past the traffic and the rest of the road that leads you to the bus stop, stand at the stop and wait for the bus/tram, get on and go. And as long as we’ve been carrying out the socialisation process for a while by taking the dog to different places then the chances are that the steps to standing at the bus stop are already behind us. If not… it is good to gradually familiarise the dog with the traffic, with the sound of cars, first on side streets and then, after a few outings, on busier ones. All the time we remember to praise the dog for its calmness and reward it with treats. At the same time, let’s limit access to the dog to pushy people – it’s an additional source of tension that we don’t need right now.
Remember that a tram and a bus make completely different noises – they creak, hiss, clatter … and you should get your dog used to them independently, separately! It could be that our dog, not being particularly sensitive to sounds, will quickly generalise the ability to travel calmly by bus to the tram or vice versa but… we don’t know.
It’s worth going to the final bus or tram stop first. At the stop we wait for the arrival of the vehicle, praising it when it arrives and occupying its attention. You can also go to the bus stop beforehand and introduce your dog to the quiet vehicle by praising it and rewarding it for being in its presence. Then, when the dog calmly tolerates the time at the stop, and does not limp or whine for the arrival of the tram, we can go on a journey of one or two stops, not allowing the dog to whine or be anxious. Under no circumstances would I put a muzzle on a dog for the first trip. Even though according to the law, we should have it on our dog’s muzzle, it is another challenge for our dog which, combined with the journey, may over-stimulate him and make him unable to cope with the discomfort. Besides… during the first journeys, we are arranging the feeding on the tram/bus. We want to create in your dog a very strong positive association with the vehicle itself and then with the journey. This is why we are grading the level of difficulty. This graduation will also include increasing the length of the journey. A dog, just like a 3-4-year-old child, may be bored with just sitting in one place and frustrated that he cannot explore and get to know the place and that is why he may start to whine. So, we have to take into consideration not only stress and fear of the vehicle but also the dog’s ability to calm down and tolerate frustration related to immobilisation (be it on hands or sitting on the floor in a place) – which can be a problem in puppies. It is good to tire a dog before a journey and take such a dog on the journey so that it will not be overloaded with energy. At the same time distinguish tired dogs from spirited dogs, which come out of the game even more stimulated.
If your dog starts to whine in the car, you can first offer him something to distract him – a favourite toy, dog food or lick, a bone or something else he can chew on. At the same time, we do not give it to him when he squeals, thus not perpetuating this behaviour. At the same time, we can calm the dog down with a touch and a calm tone of voice. If this doesn’t work, we can wait for a while until the dog calms down and then reward it 'without arguing’ with it while it is squealing. If, on the other hand, the dog repeatedly returns to squealing and you can see that he has developed a taste for it, you should get off and work on shorter distances. And start and end the journey successfully, when the dog has not started squealing or raging in the vehicle and you leave the vehicle calmly, without jerking. To multiply your dog’s positive associations with the journey and not go crazy yourself!