Seriously, taking your dogs to France is sooooo easy. I can't believe we haven't done it before. Here's how we did it.
First of all, we got both dogs micro-chipped. Actually we did this when they were both eight weeks old, so we were very well prepared here :-)
Next up, we got rabies vaccinations for both dogs. A few weeks later, the vet tested them both for rabies. Here's the key point - you need to have the rabies test (not the vaccination) carried out at least six calendar months before you are due to return home to England. So if you are scheduled to travel home on 1 July, you need to get the test done before 1 January. So basically, plan at least 8 months in advance. Oh, and your dog also needs to be up to date with all their standard vaccinations.
Once you have the micro-chip, the negative result of the rabies test, and the standard vaccinations, your vet will issue the doggie passport. The passport has space for a picture, which I encourage you to take full advantage of.
You'll then need to go back to your vet about two weeks before your holiday to get a Scalibur collar, and some tick and flea treatment. Your dog needs to start wearing the collar five days before you travel, and you should apply the tick and flea treatment the day before.
The best way to travel to France with dogs is via the EuroTunnel. Previously we have always travelled to France on the ferry - but when you take dogs on the ferry, you have to leave them in the car during the 1.5 hour crossing. And our two would probably eat the steering wheel if we left them in the car in the dark, smelly, noisy hold of a boat for any length of time. However, when you travel by EuroTunnel, you stay in your vehicle and keep your dogs with you. Plus the crossing takes 30 minutes, so it's a third of the time. And the area at the EuroTunnel after check-in where you wait for your train to be announced has a nice grassy fenced-off area for your little darlings to run around, get some exercise, sniff the bottoms of fellow travellers, and so on.
I thought I might have Enrique trying to sit on my head for the ten hour drive down south, but fortunately they both settled down into a big gorgeous heap of white and terracotta fluff and slept for the entire journey.
Note - you don't need to declare your dog on the way to France at Folkestone or Calais (although if your dogs are anything like mine they'll probably declare themselves regardless); you only need to do this on the way home.
Before you go on holiday, you need to book an appointment with a local French vet so your dog can be checked. The appointment needs to happen not less than 24 hours and not more than 48 hours before the time of your return journey to England. Due to the timing, you'll need to find a vet in the part of France where you're spending your holiday, not in Calais.
Here's how to find a French vet.
Visit www.pagesjaunes.fr - yep, this is the French Yellow Pages. Type Vétérinaire into Quoi, Qui, and the town into Où, and then click Trouver:
This will give you a list of the closest vets to your location. Most are located in towns rather than villages, so you'll probably need to drive for 30 mins or so to reach the closest one.
If you speak French, call the vet up (avoid lunch hour cos most people seem to be closed) and explain that you are un(e) anglais(e) passing les vacances en France with your chien, and you have need of a vétérinaire to administer the official treatment contre les tiques etc before you return home to Angleterre. If you don't speak French, go down the list asking parlez-vous Anglais? until you find someone who does. Your English vet should give you a little card explaining in various languages exactly what is required, so you can pass this on to your French vet.
Man, our French vet was awesome. He wore Hawaiian shorts, clogs, and had a snake skin pinned to the wall of his office. I need to tell our vet at home to ease up on the posters of cute puppies, and max out on the snake skin decor. Loving it. Anyway, he gave each dog a tick and flea treatment there and then, and a de-worming pill (which he said they should take later that evening with a meal), and then filled out the relevant pages in each passport to confirm that the two treatments had been provided for each dog.
He then pulled a random price out of the air, which we duly paid (in cash - don't count on your chosen vet accepting a credit card), and we were on our way.
When you arrive in Calais, you need to follow the paw symbol and get your dogs checked by the port authority vet before you check-in. Basically it's a little building with its own car park, with some dude behind a desk who conducts a thorough clinical examination scans the dog with a bar-code scanner as if they were a loaf of bread in Tesco, has a quick look at the passport, gives you a little ticket to stick in your windscreen, and you're good to go. I took the rabies certificates, but I don't think he checked them. No passport stamping or form filling, and the whole thing was done in about three minutes. Mind you, this was in the middle of the night, and it may take a little longer during the day if there are lots of hounds waiting in a queue or something.
And in terms of the price? The vaccinations, tests, passports, EuroTunnel pet fee, accommodation pet fee and French vet fee probably added up to around £300-ish per animal.
Seeing your adored Jack Russells scampering over a sun-bleached lawn chasing French tennis balls, chasing French cats down the streets of little Provençal villages, and chasing each other round the edge of the swimming pool at your rented French villa - priceless :-)
Yep, that's Penny being carried like a princess lapdog past a French chat in an attempt to minimise the inevitable (and highly embarrassing) squealing and leash-straining. She's really not that fond of cats.
Blatantly obvious disclaimer alert - discuss all the above with your vet, and do plenty of research online via official government sources, as this post is to share my personal experience only.