Tips for commuting with your dog

September 30, 2021 - 5 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
dog in travel bag

As people in the United States consider returning to the office part- or even full-time, we wanted to find out what this means for their pets. For the most committed of pet parents, this may mean taking their dogs to work with them on trains, subways or buses.

A lot of US cities have robust public transit, particularly railroads and subways systems. These include New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston, Seattle, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and more. The problem is, many dog owners believe public transportation doesn't have the right facilities for pets; they're anxious about traveling with their four-legged friends in a crowded space; or they're worried other passengers will think their canine companion is a nuisance. So we asked dog behavioral experts Oli Juste and Sarah Dawson, who is a qualified Vet Nurse at ManyPets' sister company Bought By Many, for some tips on traveling with a dog.


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And since we don't believe owners should have to settle for trains that aren't pet friendly, we've also teamed up with a transport design company to come up with a concept for a dog-friendly train. (Scroll down to see it!)

Dog running in field

Give your dog a last-minute potty break

Before you take your furry friend to work with you, you'll want to make sure they've done their business as shortly as possible before embarking on their public transportation adventure. It's true that dogs may choose to hold it in even when in a strange environment, but sometimes they'll simply do their business if their nerves get the better of them. Giving them the opportunity to go in advance will help.

It's also a good idea to give them some last-minute exercise. It'll help keep them calmer and less anxious during the trip.

Bring an enclosed carrier or bag

Different locales have somewhat different rules, but in most US cities with major public transit systems you'll have to place your pup in some kind of container before bringing them on board. So whether it's the NYC  subway, the San Francisco Bay Area's BART network, the Long Island Railroad, Chicago's Metra trains, New Jersey Transit or any number of other rapid transit and light rail systems, rules and restrictions will dictate that you bring your pup on board in a pet carrier.

By the way, the same rules usually apply for ferries (like the Staten Island Ferry), aboveground trains like the MTA's LIRR or Metro North Railroad, trolleys and even taxis.

There are a couple of exceptions. First, if you have a small pet, you're in luck! Small animals generally get the green light ride around in small bags on your lap.

Oh, and service dogs — e.g., guide dogs or signal dogs — never need to be in a container. But they will have to be clearly identified as service animals, which usually means wearing a labeled vest. (Just FYI: Emotional support or therapy dogs are generally not allotted the same privileges as service animals. Even most airlines began eliminating this exemption in 2021.)

Plaintive dog

Check your dog's body language

When you take your dog with you on a bus or train, look at their body language to assess how they're feeling. Are they calm? Nervous? Confident? This can help you decide the best approach in helping them have a better experience.

If you feel your dog needs extra space, give them access to a calmer place away from other commuters. Ideally, you want to create a safe space for your dog, and this may mean moving their carrier under your seat.

Reassure your dog and remain calm

It's always fine to reassure your dog, and doing so definitely won't reinforce feelings of fear. Yes, we know some people say that it will, but rest assured, that's a myth. In fact, if your pup is getting truly agitated, it's vital that you reassure them to help them settle down,

A crucial part of successful socialization during commutes and public transportation is behavior in a calm and polite manner throughout the journey. Ultimately, this has to start with you.

So stay relaxed and try not to get your dog excited. Remember, if you're calm, it will be easier for your dog to mirror you. Also, try to stay away from high pitch voices and noises where possible, as dogs can be sensitive to these sounds.

Reward them!

Reward any positive or relaxed behavior with treats or attention. And make a judgment call as to whether the situation calls for an immediate reward, or one that comes when the journey is complete. Also, just be sure to use your normal tone of voice just as you would in any other circumstance.

Offer distractions

Sounds can be scary to dogs, especially the types of loud, strange noises that may only be encountered on a train. You can help ease this fear by distracting them with their favorite toy and getting them to focus on you instead instead of those scary sounds.

But this is important: Do not try to feed them treats if they're stressed, anxious or fearful. Doing so could get them to associate treats with being scared and spoil their relationship with food. Yikes.

Drinking dog

Keep your pup hydrated

Your dog will need access to water, especially on long trips or in warm environments. You should definitely bring bottled water and something  for your pupto drink it out of.

But some dogs can be wary of where they drink, especially in new surroundings, so providing a familiar bowl can help encourage them. Getting your dog used to a pop-up bowl in advance is a good idea if it’s not something you currently use. These bowls can be compacted and easily stored for days.

Pick your traveling time

Avoid traveling during peak hours and busy times, especially during your first few commutes together. That way your dog will have the chance to get used to the sounds and smells of the train without too many humans crowding their space.

Another way to help your dog is by giving yourself some extra time to travel; you don’t want to be rushing and having to run with your dog in tow.

Preparing for the trip

If you know you're going to be returning to work, make it a priority to habituate your dog to small journeys now ahead of the big day. Also, if you're planning to take your pup on a drive, check out our guide to training your dog for stress-free car rides.

Dog-friendly train car

In an ideal world, public transportation would be adapted to accommodate our four-legged co-workers. So just for fun, we've taken on the challenge of designing a dog-friendly zone in a train that offers a positive commuting experience. You won't find any anxious pups in enclosed carriers here:

Dog-friendly train car

We worked with travel design firm PriestmanGoode to come up with this concept. It includes:

  • Safe covered space: Dogs can sit between the seats, and we used acoustic material to shield them from the noise of the commute. This space can also be used for luggage when not occupied by dogs.

  • Further safe spaces under passenger seating: The seats can be lowered for smaller dogs to sit underneath, or flipped up for larger breeds to have more space

  • Signage: To show owners and other passengers where the dog-friendly cars are

  • Cooling mat: To cool dogs on hot days

  • Water refill and treat area: A recessed area for water for thirsty dogs, and a treat dispenser to reward good behavior

  • Amenity area: There's a space to hold emergency poo bags and a hook to hang a leash

  • Water bowl area – So you can put your bowl down with it moving around for a quick refreshment

We're certain our train would make commuting with a dog much easier!

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.