by: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA
Naturally, we want the best for our pets. Any time spent training your dog becomes crucial in the development of their behaviors, both good and bad. It is important to note that public places can induce many types of stressors on your dog, so training them on how to respond in these places can be extremely beneficial. Just because your dog has a friendly disposition doesn’t necessarily mean they want to come out with you to that dog-friendly bar downtown to spend time with your friends. As owners, we want to give them the choice to decide if an experience is good or bad. If you are considering whether or not to take them to a bar, restaurant or any other public place, consider the following.
Like any other form of training, it is most effective when you start early. If you have a puppy, this is the best time to make him comfortable being present among large crowds. When you carefully introduce them to many different sights, smells, sounds, other dogs, and other people as a puppy, the more you will desensitize them. It is important that your puppy has a GREAT experience with each new thing your puppy is introduced to. This will make it easier for them to stay calm and focus in a crowd in the future. You should know your dog pretty well before taking them to a foreign place. Know what they like, as well as what they don’t like or what causes them stress. It is also important to start your training at a smaller event or venue. Taking your dog to a huge festival right away, where there are a lot of distractions and excitement, tends to be more difficult. Wherever you decide to go for your first training place, choose to go at an off-peak time when it is slower and there are less dogs and people. Keep these first few visits short and sweet so your dog can build these positive associations. Never bring your dog to a public place if they are known to be either leash reactive or aggressive or fearful towards other people and dogs.
I also encourage you to bring high-value treats to these training locations.
High value treats can include real meat or cheese and are used to make it easier for your dog to focus on you when you need to get their full attention. Having a rock-solid recall can also make gaining their attention easier. Make sure that your dog has plenty of practice coming to you in the face of distractions. Mastering the “watch me” skill before visiting any location can help focus your pup. In addition to treats, it is also important to keep your dog close. Try not to use a long extendable leash if you are in a large crowd. The closer you can keep your dog to you, the more control you have. Keep in mind that your dog will let you know when they do not like something. Pay attention to their behaviors and look for signs of stress in your dog’s body language. Take note of anything that seems to be limiting their success.
Never push your dog past their own limits. It is okay if they are not social butterflies at the bar. Sometimes, these social events are just not for them. Always remember that patience, kindness, and compassion are the golden rules to becoming the best advocate you can be for your dog.
Melissa is the Assistant Training Manager at Clearwater-based New Dawn Animal Behavior, which uses positive, rewards-based training. Melissa’s goal is to help people better understand their dogs and learn how to communicate and collaborate with them. For more information, visit NewDawnABC.com