BY REBEKAH OLSEN
Every time I get online I hear word that a new dog-friendly place has popped up in my neighborhood: a shaded patio at a nearby restaurant, a local park that has a new unleashed area, or the ice cream shop around the corner that gives out free scoops for the pup. While cats may be taking over the Internet, dogs are one coffee shop away from being with us wherever we go!
But there’s one problem: much like when I think I can pull off that bow-tie hairstyle I found on Pinterest, the vision in my mind is nothing like the real thing. I love to think that my overly social Mastiff will sit quietly on the ground next to me while I sip a caramel macchiato, but the reality is that I’ll end up wearing the caramel macchiato from trying to settle him down.
While my dog is obedient at home, taking him out in public around other dogs or in close proximity with someone who may pet him is usually a disaster. If your dog is anything like mine, they suddenly lose their innate sense of hearing and you may wonder if “intelligent” should be listed under their breed description anymore.
But don’t lose hope: your dog is simply just as excited as you are about the new environment and just needs a little practice with his table manners. By the time patio weather is in full swing, we will hopefully have my pooch and yours minding their p’s and q’s in public in no time. Here are a few tips that have helped me to get you started.
1. Be more interesting
Okay, I’m not saying you’re boring, but when you’re out in public with your dog, you have to be more interesting than their surroundings if you want to keep their attention on you and your commands. Bring their favorite toy (or two) and some irresistible treats—this is where I bring out the big guns, like cut-up hot dogs or left over hamburger meat.
Engage your dog with the toys or treats; you’ll have to be pretty exuberant to compete with the good-looking (smelling) poodle walking by. Whenever your dog turns his attention to you, reward him, and then give him the command to sit, lie down or stay. Reward again (see #4).
If you try to give a command while your dog is lunging to play, you’ll end up repeating the command several times as you vie for their attention, and potentially lose the meaning behind the word. To learn more about how to not overuse a command, check out this article.
2. Scope it out
Before you pick out a spot on the patio or enter into the dog park, give your dog a chance to explore the surroundings. Walk him around the building or fence line, across the street or through the patio chairs. Give him a chance to sniff out and become familiar with the new place. If you’re headed to the dog park, it’s also good idea to burn some energy off before going inside. Pick a grassy area outside of the park and use that irresistible toy to engage your dog in playtime. This is also a great time to practice those commands.
By the time you’re ready to join the pack, the excitement of the new place will have diminished—if even slightly. Just remember to continuously be more interesting than their surroundings; their attention should always be focused on you. This will take patience and moving in slow steps so be ready!
3. Set a place at the table
Your dog will be more comfortable and less stressed if they always know where they belong. My Mastiff knows a place command at home; a brown blanket that can be placed anywhere in the house and he knows to lie down on it when we say “Go to your place”. If you also have a place, whether it’s a blanket, dog bed or plastic mat, bring that along with you. Lay it on the ground and give the place command. We always pack along a peanut butter-filled Kong or bully stick to keep him occupied while we socialize.
If your dog doesn’t know a place command, you should teach him this at home before going out. Here’s a great video to get you started.
4. Pay attention
You don’t ignore another guest at the table, so you shouldn’t ignore your dog either! Pay close attention to your pooch for two reasons:
1. Because you brought him along and he deserves some petting or playtime also!
2. Every time he does something right, whether it’s responding to a command or lying calmly beside you when another dog walks by, you should reward immediately. This reinforces the good behavior, but if you’re not paying attention, you may miss an opportune moment to show your dog that he is behaving correctly.
Don’t be afraid to reward for every little thing your dog does right. This is a great time to shower him with attention and treats.
5. Stay ahead of the game
Being interesting and paying attention to your dog will be even more effective if you stay one paw ahead of the game. Keep an eye out for other dogs, cats or people walking by. Before they approach, engage your dog in playtime or treats so he is well attentive to you before the distraction even occurs.
With some repetition and vigilance, your dog will learn that nothing is more exciting than simply being with you.
6. Take a break
Finally, if things just aren’t going the way you hoped, don’t fret. Simply take a break. Walk your dog away from the environment. Give him and you both a break and some time to release some pent up energy. Take him for a stroll; play with the ball or practice commands in an area where you know he will respond quickly. Once things have calmed down, you can head back to the patio or park!
Photo: Michelle Conner