Holidaying with pets: an introduction
If you’re a pet lover, it’s likely you’ve thought about taking your dogs on holiday with you. After all, we treat them like part of the family. Why shouldn’t they enjoy a break too?
A holiday with all the family – including the dog – can be the foundation of stories you talk about for years to come. From the excitement of packing up the car and getting ready for the journey ahead, to exploring new sights and smells on walks, there are plenty of memories to be made.
Imagine you’re enjoying cuddles by a campfire or exploring a new dog-friendly beach, having fun with games such as fetch or tug-of-war, and capturing priceless moments with your pup facing off against waves or taking in their new surroundings alongside your kids. Once you begin to think of the benefits, it’s hard to imagine leaving your furry friend at home – especially when you consider how much we tend to spoil our pets, according to statistics.
In the UK, 27% of UK adults have a dog, resulting in an estimated population of 10.2 million pet dogs, according to the 2022 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report. And it turns out most pet owners are more than happy to have their furry friends around, with 87% admitting that their pet gets spoiled regularly, research has found. With almost half (41%) letting their pets sleep in their bed, 51% allowing them to snooze comfortably on furniture and 15% even letting them lick their plates clean after a meal, taking them on a holiday seems an obvious next step.
of dog owners admit that their pet gets spoiled regularly
letting their pets sleep in their bed
letting them lick their plates clean
The benefits of taking your dog on holiday
It’s not just about how much we’re willing to do for our dogs though. There are so many benefits to having a dog in your family – all of which can be emphasised on a trip together.
An invaluable source of comfort and companionship
For many of us, our dogs aren’t just our pets. They’re our friends – we talk to them about problems, they provide unconditional love and support, and we share fun times together. All of this is good for us. According to Kennel Club data (conducted during the coronavirus pandemic), 91% said their dog has a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing. The majority (61%) also said they found more comfort in their dog than humans, and that their dog understands them better than most people.
said their dog has a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing
said they found more comfort in their dog than humans
A chance to spend quality time with our pets
Perhaps most interestingly for those looking to take their dogs away, 29% of pet owners agreed spending more time with their dog was the best thing about lockdown. A chance to spend more quality time with our much-loved companions can only be a good thing, providing us with so much more than just comfort.
“These statistics show what anyone who owns or loves dogs already knows,” commented Bill Lambert, spokesperson for The Kennel Club. “For centuries, through thick and thin, dogs have provided us with unconditional love, loyalty and companionship without any judgement, and clearly that has a positive impact on our mental health.”
Reassurance and stress-relief
Taking a pet on holiday is likely to provide plenty of distraction from any stresses or worries too. According to The Kennel Club data, almost half (47%) of pet owners agreed their dog has helped them with loneliness, and more than a third (36%) said having a dog by their side makes them less anxious.
of pet owners agreed their dog has helped them with loneliness
said having a dog by their side makes them less anxious
…especially for younger members of the family
This could be especially good for the younger members of your family if they’re a bit nervous about exploring new places or meeting new people. Dogs can provide a great source of friendship, comfort and support for children who need help with their confidence and social skills. Dogs have been shown to reduce cortisol levels when children seek to pet and stroke them, according to research.
Dogs offer unconditional love without judgement, which can be a great tool in helping to build self-esteem among kids. Having a trusting relationship between a child and dog also encourages open communication between them, where the child may feel more comfortable expressing their feelings and ideas.
Dogs are great ice breakers when meeting new people
Simply having a dog around can support more meaningful social interactions too, because it’s a talking point. When you find yourself in a social situation with your pup by your side, you’ll know it tends to be much easier because dogs are great icebreakers.
The typically friendly, inquisitive nature of dogs makes them the perfect conversation starter. It can spark conversations between strangers, giving us all the confidence to talk and interact with others who love animals too. Pets can break down boundaries and provide an easy way for people – for all ages – to connect. Older research confirms the role dogs can play in helping create human-to-human friendships and social support, as well as emphasising how both of these are good for our long-term health.
Simply having a dog around can support more meaningful social interactions
A reason to stay active and explore
Staying active as a family isn’t always easy. But a dog encourages you to get up and out more – especially on holiday, where you can explore new destinations together. In fact, facilitating exercise was reported as a reason for wanting to get a dog by 48.2% and 69.7% of current and potential owners respectively, according to one study from the Canine Behaviour and Research team at Dogs Trust. Going on long walks and exploring new surroundings can help to keep your family fit and healthy.
A chance to make life-long family memories
While it’s not nice to think about, we won't have our dogs forever. But the memories we make with them beside us will be something you and your family look back on. In the Dogs Trust research mentioned above, dogs were often described as “part of the family,” with some participants even saying that a dog “completes” the family. Spending more time with them is something we’ll always be able to cherish.
Spending more time with them is something we’ll always be able to cherish.
Dogs are perfect travel companions
Going on holiday with the family can be stressful at times. Kids get tired, hungry or just frustrated by little things. But a dog doesn’t complain or talk back – you’ll be met with a waggy tail regardless of what activity you suggest.
Staycations are easier to organise
Taking your dog with you may also encourage you to stay closer to home, which is something that we all too easily overlook. The UK is full of wonderful places for families to embrace on their next adventure. What’s more, it’s much easier (and typically more affordable) than flying to another country. If you did want to go abroad, you could drive to Europe but you’d need to be aware of the requirements for taking animals. It’s easier to stay within the UK.
The UK is full of wonderful places for families to embrace on their next adventure
Dogs provide protection
We tend to feel more at home with our dogs around; they make us feel safe. Not everyone is a confident traveller and it can feel strange staying away from home, so having your consistent companions with you can make all the difference. Whether it's guiding us through narrow paths, keeping an eye on our belongings when we're off exploring or simply being by our side, the added reassurance of a dog feels good.
For your dog
A great chance for bonding…
It’s not just us who benefit from the chance to spend more quality time together. Dogs will enjoy the extra time you have available on a holiday to strengthen your bond. When we’re at home, we’re often distracted by work and other stresses. Taking the dog out for a walk or giving them attention can slip to the bottom of the to-do list. But on holiday, you have so much more free time where you can focus your attention on your pet.
Increased opportunities for exercise
Our dogs’ worlds are surprisingly small. Most people take their dogs out to similar places for a walk or they might join them at the pub on a weekend. But they typically spend most of their time at home or in the garden. In fact, less than half of UK dog owners walk their dog on a daily basis, with the average weekday walk being under 20 minutes long, according to research.
And this is having an impact on dog health and wellbeing. The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report 2022 discusses that clinical studies have found that up to 65% of dogs are obese or overweight. However, this problem isn’t always recognised by owners. In fact, less than 1% of dog owners described their pet as obese in the 2022 report. So finding opportunities for more exercise and activity is important.
Going on holiday also improves their quality of life
Taking your dog on holiday isn’t just about letting them run around more, though. And it’s certainly much more than how many miles we manage to walk. Not only are you more likely to be walking and taking them on adventures more than an average working week, there should be plenty of time for sniffing, playtime, treats and cuddles. It’s a chance for them to experience new sights and smells, really boosting their quality of life. What’s more, having more of your time and attention will really improve their engagement with you – essential for improved training.
It’s a chance for them to experience new sights and smells, really boosting their quality of life
It’s a chance to try new activities
A holiday is a great chance to try something new with your dog. The varied landscapes across the UK provide new experiences for dogs – for example, swimming. While not all of our four-legged friends are natural dog paddlers, many dogs love swimming in the sea, rivers or just a paddle in a stream. The buoyancy of the water makes it a low-impact activity too, exercising a dog without putting any pressure on their joints, so it’s perfect for dogs of all ages. So with dog-friendly swimming spots across the UK (dogs tend not to be fussy), why not try something new on your next holiday?
New places and noises can make our dogs more confident and relaxed in the future
On top of the fun that you can share with your family and pet on holiday, it’s also worth noting that you’ll be training your dog as you go – exposing them to new experiences.
Becoming familiar with new environments is an excellent way of teaching a dog boundaries, responsibility, resilience, obedience and socialisation skills. You’ll be helping them to blossom into confident canine citizens of this world ready for more adventures. Just remember to take the holiday at a pace which suits your dog. Dogs learn and adapt at different speeds.
Opportunities for enrichment
We’ve focused heavily on the benefits of having pets and how good they are for your wellbeing. But it isn’t always easy. Meeting a dog’s needs can be difficult. Indeed, 35% of dog owners agreed that owning a pet is hard work, according to the 2022 PAW report. There are essential welfare needs to met:
1. Health Protection from pain, injury, suffering and disease and treated if they become ill or injured.
2. Behaviour. The ability to behave naturally for their species e.g. play, run, dig, jump, fly etc.
3. Companionship. To be housed with, or apart from, other animals as appropriate for the species.
4. A suitable diet.
5. A suitable environment.
Source: PDSA pet welfare needs
Fortunately, as we’ve seen, a holiday can provide additional opportunities to meet some of these needs – in particular, behavioural needs. So remember to take the time on your holiday to simply allow your dog to be a dog. Let them dig at the beach, sniff their way around new towns, or roll around in the grass. They are genuinely having the best time.
Is your dog ready for a holiday?
DogsTrust suggest you ask the following questions:
Is your dog worried or overwhelmed by new experiences?
Is your dog fully relaxed (or at least able to cope) on long car trips?
Does your dog cope well in crowds (to be expected at a beach or holiday resort location)?
Is your dog likely to come across many other dogs on their holiday? If so, are they comfortable around other dogs?
UK pet-friendly holiday inspiration
Another leading reason to take your dog on holiday is all the great places you can explore. Some of the best places to visit in the UK include:
With miles of stunning coastline and plenty of parks and gardens, Cornwall is a great place to visit with your four-legged friend. While it’s always worth checking for any seasonal restrictions in busier locations, dog-friendly beaches can be found throughout Cornwall. And whilst the beaches and seaside towns and villages are a huge part of the appeal, if you’re looking for something different, plan a visit to the Eden Project.
The whole family (dogs included) can visit and travel inside tropical rainforests and Mediterranean biomes at this world-famous botanical garden. You can stroll through and explore at your own pace, or embrace interactive exhibitions and fun-filled workshops. There’s even a zip wire which runs over the whole place.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan is another fantastic dog-friendly garden with 200 acres to explore – including walled gardens, woodlands and lakes. Or you could visit Bodmin Moor for a more wild experience. Its moorland landscapes are a dedicated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and offer miles of unspoiled countryside perfect for walking or cycling, with breathtaking views wherever you look.
The Lake District
Home to countless walks and hikes, The Lake District is the perfect place for a family getaway, especially if you have a four-legged friend in tow. We’ve decided to recommend some more unusual activities you might have dismissed if you have a dog. Did you know you can take your dog with you on a scenic boat ride around Ullswater? It’s the second largest lake in England and getting onboard is the perfect way to experience what the area is best known for – its lakes.
To test out another mode of transport, you can also try a trip on one of England’s oldest railways. The dog-friendly Haverthwaite railway is a journey on a traditional steam train which takes visitors to the southern tip of Lake Windermere, passing through tunnels and across viaducts. It’s a great way to travel in style and see some of the best views.
The Cotswolds is truly an amazing place for families and dogs alike. You can delight in rural scenes and quaint villages as you take in all that this classic English county has to offer, including destinations such as Blenheim Palace. Once home to Sir Winston Churchill, you can explore 2,000 acres of parkland, orchards and landscaped gardens. Although dogs aren’t allowed inside the palace walls, they do sell doggy ice cream from stands outside.
If you want to enjoy a meal together, why not try Batsford Arboretum? Dogs are allowed in the arboretum, garden centre and café, where you can enjoy tea and homemade cakes. If you time your visit right, you may be able to see some fantastic blossoming trees too, as Batsford has been home to the National Collection of Japanese Flowering Cherries since 2002. This means they boast at least 70% of known cultivated varieties. It’s quite a beautiful sight, although there are rare trees, shrubs and bamboos to appreciate all-year round.
You could choose anywhere to visit in Scotland and have an amazing adventure with your family – including the dog. But we’ve chosen the capital city because of how dog-friendly it is for an urban environment. While you may work up a sweat taking your dog to enjoy beautiful vistas over the city from Arthur's Seat, you can stroll back to a relaxing pint in one of the many pet-friendly pubs.
We’d also recommend a trip to the coast, where there are plenty of beaches and coastal paths – around Cramond and Silverknowes, for example. If you’re up for the walk, you could head back to the city centre via the picturesque Dean Village where a walkway runs along the Water of Leith and past numerous points of historical interest, due to the area’s past as a mill settlement. The river ends up at Leith Docks, another popular spot with yet more waterside pubs and restaurants to stop and have a bite to eat. Without a doubt, Edinburgh is one of the UK’s best dog-friendly cities to explore.
Another great destination for pet owners and their four-legged companions, Northumberland offers everything from wild coastlines to unspoiled forests, so this is a great place for those looking for a true outdoor adventure.
Head to Druridge Bay Country Park for beautiful coastal views and plenty of walking opportunities – the park even has its own dog-friendly beach (for the full stretch of the beach, all year round) and children’s play equipment. Other great beaches can be found in Warkworth, Alnmouth, Embleton and Bamburgh.
For history lovers, there’s Hadrian’s Wall which stretches 73 miles from coast to coast and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as loads of castles (in various states from ruins to restored) dotted across the county, including Dunstanburgh Castle, Norham Castle, Aydon Castle, and Edlingham Castle. They are all great places for kids to learn about history in a hands-on engaging environment, while letting the dog stretch their legs.
From the rugged North York Moors National Park to the wild coastline of Flamborough Head, Yorkshire is a huge place with endless opportunities for exploration with hundreds of miles of footpaths and trails.
One of our favourite coastal spots has to be Whitby Abbey. The historic seaside town is great to explore, and a fantastic place to grab some fish and chips, but set on a headland high above the town is the Abbey. The fantastic gothic ruins boast stunning sea views, but it’s a particularly great place to visit for the kids. Whitby Abbey was a major inspiration for Dracula and there’s loads of engaging educational opportunities around stories of saints, poets and the famous vampire. The word record for the Largest Gathering of People Dressed as Vampires was actually set there in May 2022.
An hour or so inland and you’ll find Castle Howard, one of Britain's finest stately homes and estates which took over 100 years to build. The grounds, walled garden and café are all dog-friendly, and there’s plenty to keep the kids busy across the gardens and grounds.
Known as the Garden of England, there’s plenty of countryside to explore with your pup – including woodlands, moors and even what’s often called “England’s only desert”. It unfortunately gets far too much rain to officially qualify as a desert, but Dungeness remains one of the largest expanses of shingle beach in Europe. It’s a unique landscape located on the south coast of Kent, made up of shifting shingle and marshland which extends from Romney Marsh to the sea. Dungeness is dotted with rare plants and desert flowers, which are important from a conservation perspective. It’s particularly popular with birdwatchers who come to see the species attracted by this unique landscape and habitat.
You can even reach Dungeness via a dog-friendly miniature railway line to capture the views, where you might see lighthouses, old fishing huts, and the old nuclear power station. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that the beach is dog-friendly all year round and there’s a pub to rest in afterwards. Throughout the rest of Kent, you’ll find welcoming villages and plenty of places to take the kids, including farm parks and historic estates.