Sunday, January 30, 2022

Adding Friends & Family into Training Sessions

Adding Friends & Family into Training Sessions

As pet owners, we love our pets and it’s easy for us to think that all our friends and family love our pets too. That’s not always the case! And sometimes our pets are not very fond of some of our family members either. So, what can we do to set up our dogs for success when we want to take them into a friend or family member’s house?

First and foremost, whether you have a family dog or a working dog, such as a Service Dog, you must contact the person you will be visiting and get permission to bring your dog with you. Not only is this a way to show respect for the person you’re visiting, it also gives you an opportunity to discuss some things that you might need to manage during your visit.

Here are a few things to consider:
  • What are the household rules? Are dogs allowed on the furniture or not? How about the carpet or in bedrooms? The quickest way to offend a person you’re visiting is to have your dog entering parts of the house they don’t allow their dogs to be in.
  • Is there a designated “Go Potty” spot outside? Please be prepared to take care of any poop your dog may leave behind when you take them away from your property!
  • Are there other pets in the home that may or may not like your dog? If there are other pets, how will you introduce them slowly or how will you keep them separated?
Having this discussion before you show up with your dog can be very helpful! Also, be prepared for your dog’s current training level to backslide a bit in a new household, especially if you have not generalized their cues in multiple environments. This new environment is sure to be filled with new sights, sounds, smells, and fun, which is really going to impact your dog’s ability to focus on you and maintain their manners. Leave your leash on when you first enter and until you can see your dog starting to calm down. Even if the dog is dragging the leash, this becomes a safe way to quickly get hold of your dog if you need to.

If you are going for an extended overnight visit, take some of your dog’s things from home to help him realize that you are settling in. These things can also help with management in this new environment if your dog begins to struggle. A bed or crate will let your dog know where their safe place is when you want them to settle. A baby gate can allow your dog to see you while also preventing access to certain rooms such as the kitchen or dining room. Your dog may be able to easily settle in their bed or at your feet at home during mealtime but might really struggle with this in a new place. Helping them settle in their spot with an enrichment feeder can make all the difference in the world in an over-stimulating environment.

Meeting Friends & Family in Pet Friendly Environments

Whether it’s an extended visit where you are staying in someone’s home or just an afternoon outing with friends, meeting in a pet friendly environment can also be a great way to start out on a successful note. Again, there are a few things to consider first! You want to choose your environment wisely based on the age and energy levels of everyone in your group.

Sometimes a local park or walking trail can be excellent for meetings with dogs that have never met. I also prefer to do this with dog friends that we see often as it provides a chance for the dogs to be a little extra excited in a doggie fashion as opposed to an indoor place where you want your dog to be on their best behavior. Unless your local dog park is fairly quiet, that might not be the best location because, if other dogs are being unruly or rude, that will set the tone for the relationship you are developing with your dog and your friend’s dog.

I like to seek out public places with fences for introducing dogs that have never met before. This way, each dog can be safe on their own side of the fence during the first greeting. First impressions matter so both dogs need to feel safe and have a desire to engage with each other if you want a successful introduction. If a fenced area is not available, start in a large open space where you can work at a distance that both dogs can remain calm and under threshold, allowing them to glance toward the other dog occasionally but still focus on their person.

Don’t rush this step! Let them get used to just being in the same environment for greeting. Most dogs will want to explore a new environment as soon as they arrive and adding in a new face-to-face meeting at this time can quickly push the dogs into an over-excited, uncontrollable mindset. If you are dying to run up and hug or greet the person you are meeting, do this before unloading the dogs from your vehicles.

Going with Friends & Family into Public Environments

This is kind of where I step over into the Working Dog Trainer mode for Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, and other professional dogs with excellent manners. But these tips also apply to the person who wants to take their pet to outdoor events such as concerts, ball games, and family picnics.

My first piece of advice is to start small and work your way up to bigger activities and groups of friends. Before you think about attending a larger family gathering or community outdoor event, you want to make sure your dog has been successful at multiple trips to the park and/or walking trails with strangers around. Then, take your dog on a few outings that are solely focused on training in that environment.

Instead of going to an hour-long concert or walking around a busy flea market, plan to spend 10-15 minutes walking around the outskirts of an event that is not important to you at all. Avoid showing up at the beginning or end of an event when lots of people are moving around and setting up. Show up somewhere in the middle, do some walking and sniffing in the parking lot or a distance away from the action and slowly make your way closer to the more crowded environment. Stop at any distance that your dog starts to show signs of over-excitement or stress. You may be able to hang out in that spot for a little while to see if your dog adjusts or, you may need to back away just a bit so that your dog can become comfortable and settle for a few minutes.

You want to do this as many times in solo (just you and your dog) sessions as it takes for both you and your dog to be comfortable with their behaviors. Then, when you are ready, have a friend or family member meet you there. They can stay and enjoy the event, but you need to still be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice should your dog become uncomfortable or struggle to maintain their manners.

If you are going to an event that is important to you, such as a concert that a loved one is performing in or a parade that you want to stay for the duration of, do yourself a favor and leave your dog at home until you have done the work of having as many training sessions as it takes to help your team be successful together. Then you’re ready to start adding in more friends and family to your sessions to increase your group size. For me, this means that I might take my dog on a hike with my husband, then another time to the park with my granddaughter, yet another time to a concert with a friend. Only then will I start to take my dog to community events with larger groups of friends. It’s much easier for your team to be successful when you play at a quiet park with just 1-2 kids on several different days before you try a huge family outing with other adults and kids in your group plus strangers and dogs. This works the same for taking your dog to a sports event. Have kids that you know play some basketball near your dog before going to attend an actual basketball game. Apply this to whatever sport you want to attend, such as soccer, tennis, baseball, etc.

For my working dogs, make sure you are successful in outdoor environments before moving into pet friendly public places. When you are ready to start training indoors, back up to solo sessions starting with just you and your dog at 10-15 minutes.

Then invite a calm, positive person to join you in a session. You will probably notice that your dog struggles a little bit with focus now that you have a person moving with you everywhere. Your dog may even be more focused on the new addition than they are with you. Stick with this in short sessions until your dog learns to ignore the person you are with and gives you the focus you are after before you start adding in multiple people. The more distracted you are with talking to, watching, or playing with other people in your group, the more distracted your dog will be too. Teamwork goes both ways! If you disengage with your dog in these early training sessions, your dog will also disengage with you and seek out their own fun. If you are looking for more pet friendly places that you can practice in with your well-mannered pet, contact your local hardware and craft stores as many of them are pet friendly.

Please don’t take your pet dog into places that are not pet friendly! These environments only allow access to Service Dogs and, sometimes, Service Dogs in Training. This is extremely rude and often dangerous for Service Dog teams when pets visit places that they have not been sufficiently trained for.

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