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Train Your Dog to Behave in Public

Behavior and Training  •   Jasey Day  •   Jan 03, 2020

Want to spend even more time with your best friend? Beef up your training so that you can take your hound out on the town.

Master basic skills. 

Become proficient at basic skills before going in public. Teach sit, down, leave it, and go to your bed. Generalize the “go to your bed” behavior to a towel for easy transport to stores. This useful skill has your dog maintain a relaxed down position on the towel. You can also translate the “go to your bed” or down-stay behavior to a large, flat rolling cart in a hardware store – just be sure to stabilize the wheels so your dog isn’t startled by movement.

Socialize your dog to new experiences.

Speaking of wheels, was your dog safely socialized as a puppy to be comfortable around strange or new objects? Carts in stores and restaurants require that your dog be composed and confident in the presence of wheels. To prepare, ensure he has positive associations – such as earning food rewards – near wheels. Slowly expose him to wheels from a distance and then gradually get closer to different items – strollers, skateboards, dollies, and so on.

Find a pet friendly place to visit.

Many hardware, home improvement, sporting goods, hunting, dog treat bakeries, agricultural supply, book, and pet stores are dog-friendly to well-mannered dogs that are under proper leash control. Outdoor patios of coffee shops, restaurants, and breweries are sometimes pet friendly, too. Call ahead to confirm the pet policy.

Prepare a “training bag.”

Pack, bring, and restock your designated training bag. Ideally this is a small backpack, not a tote, so that your arms are free to maneuver your dog’s leash and food rewards. Keep it normally stocked with a clean towel for the “go to bed” behavior, poop bags, a treat pouch and treats, your clicker, a clean bowl for water, a clicker, and anything else you may need. This backpack could be designated just for dog outings and training so that it’s always mostly packed – make it easy on yourself by only needing to add fresh water and treats before you dash out the door for a training adventure. If you’re headed to a food establishment, bring cash and an empty plastic food container for any leftovers in case you need to quickly pay and depart.

Keep your eyes peeled for hazards.

At hardware stores, avoid chemical and fertilizer aisles so that your dog does not prance through any accidental spills or residues. These could later be accidentally ingested if your dog licks his paws. At restaurant patios, scan under your table for dropped food and discarded trash items so that you may pick them up before your dog consumes something that could cause gastrointestinal upset or an allergic reaction. In general, you’ll need to keep your attention on your dog and not on your interactions with other humans – be mindful that your dog doesn’t take things from store shelves for which you’ll need to pay.  

Tips for success in public: 

  • Start with a relaxed dog. Bring your dog when he isn’t over the top with his energy level. Try a one-mile neighborhood walk before your public outing.
  • Begin with a bathroom break. Potty your dog before going into the store or onto the restaurant patio to help reduce the change of an accident.
  • Keep visits short and build duration slowly. Perhaps this is your dog’s first visit to a coffee shop! Plan to stay for five minutes. Possibly the first time you go to the patio, you plan to go to the coffee shop when it is closed and therefore you do not even order coffee. You just practice your dog lying calmly on his towel next to you at the patio table or nearby public bench. Next time you may stay longer and actually order a drink.
  • Place your dog in the calmest location on a restaurant patio, such as a corner, to avoid having a server reach plates of good-smelling food over your dog’s curious nose or his tail accidentally stepped on by another patron.
  • Have a plan for what skills you’d like to do. Are you working on your dog being confident in public or increasing his duration on his “go to bed” behavior? Will you allow dog-dog greetings or do you want your dog to associate going into stores as time to focus on you and be calm?
  • Give space to other dogs. Maintain your dog on 1-2 feet of your 6-foot leash and ensure he is respectfully 3-5 feet away from other dogs.
  • Communicate your dog’s needs politely to others. For example, if applicable, “My dog doesn’t want to meet right now - we are training.” It’s always ok to decline a person’s request to pet your dog or have her dog meet yours. If you predict that your dog will become overexcited and start jumping, vocalizing, or pulling on the leash, then decline socialization offers. It’s important that your dog does not practice negative behaviors these in public generally makes those items harder to retrain later.
  • Have a strategy if things go awry. What will you do if your dog is suddenly leaping and trying to jump on other shoppers? Will you ask for a sit? Will you leave? Will you return to your car for a few minutes so you can both mentally regroup before re-entering? Strive to end the training session outing with a serene, joyful dog. 
  • Focus on training – not shopping or socializing. If your dog is too excited for you to wait in line for the cashier, put your items back and return to the store at a later time without your dog to make your purchases.
  • Leave when your dog is no longer having a good time or shows fatigue. Be prepared to exit when or if the environment becomes too difficult – perhaps the previously quiet restaurant patio is now buzzing with activity and distractions. It might be time to put your cash payment on the table and head home. 

Want more help? Train and take the AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test to help you prepare for real life situations. Beyond the CGC, you can do even more advanced training for the AKC Community Canine and AKC Urban CGC.

Prepare for the unexpected.

Before taking your dog to train, consider enrolling him in a pet insurance policy. Even the most careful owner can still run into trouble and end up with unexpected accident and illness related veterinary bills. Pet insurance can also help you cover the costs associated with routine wellness visits and preventative care to keep your pup safe while out exploring the world!


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