Wallflower or Social Butterfly? How to Determine if Your Dog is Ready for Public Outings

Dogs are included more and more in their owners’ lives. Eating on restaurant patios, walking in the park, attending the farmer’s market, even grabbing a cup of coffee; these are all activities that owners can choose to share with their dogs. With the summer upon us, the number of opportunities for our canine companions to join our social calendar are even greater! As a certified professional dog trainer, you will need to help owners determine if their dog is ready for some of the activities they are planning. This post focuses on issues specific to public venues.  

There are a number of challenges facing owners and their dogs as they venture out into the public, including new and strange people, environments and dogs. The first step in assisting your clients is to have a frank conversation with them about whether their dog is a wallflower or a social butterfly.  These are broad categories within which not every dog will fit, but it allows you to start an important conversation about the ability of their dog to cope with meeting new people and dogs in unfamiliar environments. 

Some of the highlights to cover with clients include the following:

1. Dog-friendliness.

Most venues will require dogs to be leashed, but many people fail to leash their dogs even when required by law. Frequently, owners’ perceptions of their own dog’s friendliness, or social skills, with other dogs is flawed. Off leash dogs may approach your dog. Owners with reactive, or even aggressive, dogs may allow their leashed dog to approach even when cautioned not to do so.

What this means for your client? Being able to recognize the body language signals being displayed by your dog and the unknown dog can help in making a decision about whether to allow interaction or to intercede and remove your dog. Dogs that are intolerant of any rude canine behavior will not fare well in public. A good percentage of dogs in public have poor social skills, poor training, or a combination of both, and you may not be able to prevent an interaction.

2. People-friendliness.

You can’t control strangers’ actions. Perhaps you don’t see the small child reaching for your dog, or an approaching stranger discounts your advice as they reach for your dog. Both very common occurrences in public forums, especially busy and densely populated areas.

What this means for your client?

Your dog may be touched or handled without your consent unless you are very diligent in watching who approaches your dog and are willing to intercede when persistent strangers continue to approach your dog after being asked not to. Be aware of what types of interaction your dog enjoys, tolerates, and dislikes, and keep this in mind when supervising interactions with strangers. If your dog is intolerant of strangers entering his space or touching him, then it is likely that only very limited public venues will be appropriate.

3. Car travel.

If your end destination is not within walking distance, that means a car ride. If your client’s dog gets car sick or simply dislikes car rides, pointing this out to clients will allow them to consider the state of mind of their dog on arrival.

What this means for your client?

Dogs that get car sick may need some time to recover before being expected to interact in a positive way with unknown dogs and people. Dogs that dislike car rides, especially dogs that become anxious, may also need a period of quiet recovery time after a car ride.

4. New environments.

Dog behavior changes in new places. There are greater distractions, increased stress from processing and experiencing the unknown. For dogs that are environmentally sensitive, these changes can be overwhelming.

What this means for your client?

The lovely greeting manners your dog has at home may not survive a trip to a new and exciting place. Your dog may not respond as quickly or reliably to cues. Be prepared for your dog to be on his worst behavior, but help him to be on his best. 

Discussing each of the above topics with your client will help determine if their dog is a wallflower and happier pursuing activities in less public venues. Help your professional dog training clients to make choices that keep their dogs safe and happy. Read our next blog post, “Welcome to the World,” about some simple steps you can take to help prepare the social butterfly dog for public outings.

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