MAYbe my dog would enjoy going to the parade, birthday party or some other event with us? MAYbe NOT!
Everyone who owns dogs, typically LOVES their dog and wants to do fun things with their dogs. For some people that is long hikes in the woods and for others that is taking their dogs to the park, the farmer's market, the lake, etc.
Now, Azul is a Service Dog and lots of my posts refer to going to places that are not pet-friendly so I want to say that this post is not about whether you should or shouldn't take your dog into places that may or may not be pet-friendly. This post IS about taking your dog on outings that they want to go on in environments they are comfortable being in. This can apply to both family pets and Service Dogs.
Things to consider
Is your dog more social or more anti-social?
Often when we have a young puppy, we want to take them everywhere in an attempt to socialize them to better. Puppy socialization is a whole different topic and can be found in my Positively Puppy Paws Group. No matter what age your dog is, some are going to enjoy more social activities and some will not just like people. We really need to consider our dog's feelings before we decide if we are going to take them with us on an outing or not. When we are not monitoring our dog's emotions, we tend to rush into taking them into environments they are not ready for with too many people, too many distractions, too many noises, etc. This totally overwhelms our dogs and often forces them into reacting poorly because they don't know what else to do. If we are keeping their comfort and feelings in mind, we are much more likely to proceed slowly taking them to calmer environments first and slowly building up to more crowded and distracting environments.
Also we need to consider our dog's preferences for being touched by strangers. Some dogs are totally happy walking through the park and being around people as long as they are not being touched. While other dogs, like Azul, love to interact with strangers and love petting. Azul is one of the most social dogs I've ever known so I'm sure to give in an outlet to say hi to people frequently. My last dog, Talia was quite the opposite. She was happy in most environments being out and about and taking in the sights and smells but she really didn't like strangers petting her. And Cam is so anti-social that he really doesn't like any environment with lots of strangers because he quickly gets overwhelmed. He enjoys petting from women and kids, but doesn't enjoy it all from men. However the environment is so overwhelming from him trying to watch everything that he becomes very unsure of all people. You need to consider your dog's social interests before you take them out and about into our huge people world.
Is your dog comfortable in all environments or a few select environments?
If you are working on training your dog, you may want to check out my post on Picking New Training Environments Wisely. Not only does that blog post discuss more about understanding your dog's emotions but it also gives you info about starting slow and building up at your dog's speed.
There are a few other things you can consider when it comes to environments. It's rare to find a dog that is happy in all sorts of environments unless that dog has been experiencing multiple environments from a young age. Some dogs make do well in environments where everyone is just hanging out, mainly sitting down & relaxing with little movement. While other dogs may feel better in environments where people are moving in the same general way, such as when joining their human in a 5K Walk and everyone is walking together. And some dogs may not care what other people are doing in the environment as they are just happy to do whatever their human is doing.
As dog owners, we need to pay attention to our dog's comfort level in certain environments and not ask them to join us in places that make them uncomfortable.
Why are you choosing to go somewhere?
This is especially important when you are training a young dog that is still in training, but applies to all dogs no matter what age. Any time we decide to take take our dogs with us on an adventure, we need to be prepared to leave if our dog becomes stressed, over-heated, or overly excited. How many times have you seen a dog out in public where their person was having fun but their dog was obviously uncomfortable in some way and the people did nothing about it. As a dog trainer, I see this way more often then I'd like. I believe that any time we make a decision to take our dogs out into the big people world, we have to be willing to call it a day and leave any time our dogs need to leave.
Parades and outdoor community events are often a common place to see lots of happy dogs as well as a lot of dogs in distress that are being ignored. My rule of thumb is only take your dog to these events if you are totally prepared to get up and leave at any time. Generally if my dog has never been to a parade, I'm going to plan to stay back further away from the main path and only be there a few minutes, leaving when my dog has had enough. This is impossible to do if your reason for going to the parade is to see a loved one walk passed in the marching band or some other part of the parade. If we have to choose between watching our children/grandchildren walking by or doing what's best for our dog, we are probably going to choose humans first every time. So in this situation, leave your dog at home during those important events you can't leave and only take your dog if you know you can leave at any moment if needed.
What training does your dog have?
This is an important one, more so for the other people in that environment but also to prevent us from rushing our dogs into environments they are not prepared for. If we want to take our dogs out and about, we really need to consider the level of manners that will be expected in that environment. Most people want some basic manners in place before taking their dogs in public; not dragging them down the street, not jumping on people, not barking excessively. Puppies and little dogs may get away with some bad behaviors, but if you've got a large dog like a German Shepherd bad manners can very easily be judged by the other people at the event.
When our dogs have bad manners, as owners we take that personally as a sign that we are bad owners. The truth is, we can prevent some of that by not placing our dogs in situations they are not trained for and starting slow then building up to busier, more active environments. This is where training around distractions comes into play. And as a dog trainer, this is probably the #1 thing I help dog owners learn to do!
It's important to consider what level of training you have done with your dog before taking them out in the big people world with you. For me, all training starts at home then moves into the yard, then maybe a local park or walking trail and slowly generalized into more and more environments. I hope this post has given you some things to consider before taking your dog out to public places and events. If you need additional help with this MAYbe, please feel free to reach out to me for a one-on-one conversation at email@example.com.