This is Syl – our Husky/German Shepherd x Malamute/Lab pup – and the third (and arguably most popular) member of our family! She’s a nearly two year old delightful mix of extremely stubborn, occasionally naughty, greedy, loving, happy lump of joy in our lives and nearly three months in she seems to have adapted to living in the van perfectly.
Travelling with Syl was one of the parts of this trip I was simultaneously most excited and most nervous about. How lucky was she!? To be setting out on such an adventure with her people, to be seeing the world with all the walks and smells a yellow dog could dream of – there was many times when we were working on the van AGAIN on a sunny evening when we’d ordinarily be biking or walking when I wished I could explain what was in store for her, all these new places we’d be seeing. But in the back of my head there was admittedly a nagging worry – what if for some reason she didn’t enjoy it? What if we messed up her paperwork somehow or didn’t get her wormed in the right timeframe, what then!?
A few people did suggest that we leave her with either of our parents for the duration of the trip, words that of course were met with exclamations of shocked horror and incredulity from the pair of us and resulting in us casting them from our friendship group (jokes… kinda). Undoubtedly though it would be easier and one less thing to think of without her tagging along – we would be able to visit museums, castles and other places that don’t allow dogs without having to decide against it because it was too hot to leave her in the van. We wouldn’t have to be up (generally before) seven every morning to let her out for a wee and breakfast. It would be a lot cheaper – dogs are an additional charge on ferries, plus the cost of having to visit vets, of dog food and all those other little additional bits that add up with pup ownership.
But of course – as with most dog owners – the thought of leaving the third member of our family behind was ridiculous, and would decrease our enjoyment of the trip massively. As us doggy people know there’s nothing quite like a walk in the countryside with a furry companion bounding alongside, exuding joy with every tail wag. We were looking forward to conquering mountains, camping in the wilderness, paddle boarding lakes and biking single track and none of things would be half as fun without that happy face alongside. Plus there’s definitely only so many museums and castles you can visit afterall!
So, what did we have to do to bring Syl!? Read on:
Passport: To come with us Syl would need her own passport which we picked up from our local vets, plus a rabies vaccination (which must be administered 21 days before departure) plus a microchip (which she already had as it’s now law in the U.K). With worries that a dog passport would be as expensive as a human one I was pleasantly surprised to find that it, plus her rabies jab came in just over £50. Her jab would now be valid for the next three years and her passport until all the sections are filled and we were free to travel anywhere that supports the Pet travel – stage one complete!
Crossing Borders: For most countries a quick Google showed that travelling with a dog should be pretty straightforward, no additional vaccinations or worming and so far we’ve found it to be ridiculously easy – there is very little border control in Europe and this is the same whether you have two legs or four. I was nervous about Norway however, we would need to visit the vets before entering (in our case from Denmark) for Syl to be wormed and this would have to be done 1-5 days before travelling and if the passport had been filled out incorrectly we’d be denied entry. Scary! It was however much easier than Google led me to believe. We visited the Anicura Hjørring Dyrehospital in Denmark (everybody lovely and very helpful) over 24hrs before our ferry to Norway and Syl even got pâté with her pills – you don’t get this kind of service in the U.K! The cost was 320.55 Krøne which comes out at about £32 – this was purely for the service and the passport stamp as we provided our own worming pills. Then all we had to do was wait a day and we were off to Norway! Upon docking in Larvik we headed towards the ‘Goods to Declare’ queue (which saved us over an hour of waiting by our reckoning) and the man in the booth gave the passport a cursory glance, stamped it and waved us on without even looking at Syl. Where was the microchip scanner, the double-checking we’d been led to believe would happen!? Nonetheless we were pleasantly surprised at quite how easy it was and glad we wouldn’t be waving Syl off on a solo trip back to Denmark or visiting her in some sort of doggy prison.
Roaming Free: The time of year we were in Norway meant that unfortunately Syl would have to be on a lead for most of our exploring (leash laws in force from 1st April – 20th August to protect wildlife). We have a long piece of rope that we occasionally attach her to the van with when its not safe for her to wander so we used that for our longer walks though I think investing in an extendable lead would have been worthwhile. Keeping a length of rope from tripping both dog and us up was quite hard work when walking up steeper terrain. We had a tip from a friend on Instagram that as long as you were sensible and were in a quieter area then Norwegians do let their dogs off for a good run which we did do (it’s impossible to exercise Syl properly when she’s on a lead) so altogether Syl didn’t seem to mind too much though honestly we found it to be a bit of a pain as we’re not used to it and it was disappointing not to be able to see her trotting about exploring and enjoying herself as much as usual. Though if it means protecting wildlife the sacrifice of a few explores for Syl is well worth it!
Ticks: One thing I definitely have to mention is the number of ticks we’ve experienced. There was SO MANY in Denmark (we travelled through in early June). They’re quite easy to spot on Syl’s coat so we tend to keep an eye out during our walks and then flick them off but despite this we landed back at the van and ended up pulling EIGHT out of her fur. She had been treated for ticks and we did it again after this and luckily I think we only found one or two actually attached but it’s definitely something to keep in mind. We didn’t spot any in Norway, Sweden and Finland but we have seen the odd one in Latvia and Lithuania but nothing on our experience in Denmark. It’s definitely worthwhile keeping their treatments very upto date!
Ferry Crossings: We’ve been on three ferries so far – U.K to France, Denmark to Norway, Finland to Estonia and Syl has had to stay below deck in the van for the first two and finally above deck for Finland to Estonia which was a nice change. She seems to have taken these journeys in her stride really well and greets us with her customary exuberance when we get back to the van after the trip though they do still worry me nonetheless. We chose times that we thought would work well for her too – later ones are best we feel as that’s when she’d normally be asleep and dinner and wees/poos have happened for the evening, plus it’s more likely to be cooler for her in the hold – they’re also good for us as they’re cheaper!
Other Dogs: Unfortunately for Syl and something that’s been on our minds quite a bit is the fact that she’s not had much opportunity to socialise with other dogs. She had a good play with a lovely rescue pup way back in Germany and met the dog of a French couple in Latvia not long ago but with the language barrier and us moving on regularly the plays she was used to with friends dogs at home haven’t been happening. There’s not much we can do about this and we obviously take the time to play with her but nothing beats the company of another pup. We’d really love to have another and the strays we’ve coming across in Poland are definitely tugging our heartstrings but unfortunately our budget won’t stretch for bringing another mouth on board (plus the cost of passports/travel etc)! Fingers crossed we find a friend for her soon though as we really miss seeing her have a good play and it’s probably not doing much for her social skills. One thing we have noticed though is the fact that small dog owners are more willing to let their dogs over for a sniff of Syl – this has been really nice to see actually as we’re used to them being dragged away or swept up off the floor away from her so that’s been a positive.
Food: With a quick Google finding pet food shops to top up on dog food hasn’t been too difficult. We haven’t been able to keep Syl on the same food as she had at home, but she eats anything and we just make sure to slowly introduce the new food to her old over the space of a couple of weeks and she hasn’t suffered with a bad stomach at all. We always make sure to get as high quality as we can manage and similar ingredients and so far it’s worked ok for her and she maybe appreciates her diet not being so monotonous! Before leaving I had been looking into into feeding her raw but with living in a van this would be impossible so for now she’ll have to make do. She’s what you could describe as a ‘good eater’ so she loves the odd egg, piece of carrot, courgette, celery, apple and has even been known to eat spinach, plus a bit of any meat we may have treated ourselves to, so I’m sure she’s getting enough nutrients!
Leaving her in the van: Well apart from the odd supermarket shop we haven’t really. As at home we don’t really leave Syl anywhere so this hasn’t changed for this trip, this is helped by the fact we’re spending most of our time in quieter areas way from towns and cities. We also plan our activities round her most of the time which maybe seems like a sacrifice to some but is something we don’t really think about: if it’s hot we head to water or tree cover, cooler then we head out on a bike ride or a bigger walk. I think with all the insulation the van does keep cooler than a car but we’d rather not risk if for any length of time but when we go food shopping we make sure to leave her with plenty of water plus windows and roof vents open and curtains closed to stop most of the sun. We also have a heater in the van that we switch onto the blower which circulates the cooler air from underneath the van. We’ve also been wondering if she has the added bonus of being quite a good deterrent to potential break-ins, as when she does get left she tends to sit imposingly in the drivers seat, maybe a plus-side of having a dog along on your trip! We’ll maybe leave her a bit more when it gets to Autumn/Winter but I can’t imagine it somehow!
Minor Celebrity: For some reason Syl has been suuuuper popular on this trip, she doesn’t get that much attention at home but on our travels she has had SO much. On the ferry to Estonia I had a crazy experience (while Alec studiously buried his face in a book and ignored my plight) of a group of about 30 students from Bejing crowding round wanting to stroke and meet her and ask me questions all at the same time. She’s also had her photo taken a few times and so many strangers have stopped us in the street to say hello. Thankfully Syl takes all this attention totally in her stride as there has been a few moments where little children have rushed over without warning or people in the street have reached out hands to pat her head as we walk past which would be really overwhelming if this sort of thing worried her. In that regard it’s really something to think about if you’re contemplating doing the same with your dog as they could end up having a really miserable time and massively putting back any progress of a reactive or nervous dog.
Apart from the ticks then so far it’s been pretty smooth sailing with Syl, fortunately for us she’s been a really good traveller since the day we picked her up so there was never any worry she might get van-sick. She’s also quite needy and doesn’t like to be separated from us so we knew she’d like the opportunity to be with us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the foreseeable future (God knows how she’ll adjust back to normal life!). While we drive her preferred spot is by my feet – despite her bed being less than two feet away behind me and despite her being a larger dog we don’t find her to take up masses of room when we park up and she has to be inside for whatever reason – though she does have a tendency to lie in front of the cupboard doors!
Finally then I’ve made a list of things we’ve brought along :
- Bags of food – we try and keep one spare most the time
- Worming pills for the whole trip
- Flea and Tick treatment for the whole trip
- Vet wrap (self-adhesive bandage) and first aid supplies with Syl in mind
- Short and long leads (for attaching her to the van when we’re parked up/walks when she’s not allowed off lead) plus carabiner to clip her to the van if it’s not safe for her to wander
- Pop up dog bowl for big walks/ensuring we have water on hand for city sightseeing
- Doggy backpack for big walks/overnight camps
- Dog towels
- Treats/toys and many many poo bags of course!