By: Sara Ondrako, Certified Canine Behavior Consultant
Many pet parents dream of having an easy-going pup that can be part of everyday life. We envision bringing our furry best friends along for fun activities like brunch on a dog-friendly patio, grabbing some local grub at your favorite hangout, and socializing with friends.
Most dogs require practice to behave well in public and, more importantly, to be comfortable in those settings. Natural dog behaviors such as barking or trying to share snacks with strangers are not always welcome where other people and animals gather. Having a canine companion that accompanies you and behaves well in public over time takes some upfront work and conditioning.
If your dog is a social butterfly and enjoys being your right-hand pup, here are some ways to ensure your four-legged wingman will be outdoor patio-ready!
Get Your Dog on Your Team
One of the best ways to set yourself up for social success when out with your dog is to ensure that you and your dog are on the same page and working together. If your dog works well following cues and interacting with you at home but forgets you exist once exposed to outside stimuli, you'll want to work on getting that teamwork back with your pup before expecting them to be on your team once they're exposed to all the super exciting and sometimes scary things out in the real world.
Training with your dog is one way to strengthen your relationship and build a team mentality. You'll want to be sure your dog can reliably follow cues from you, such as "down," and can remain under that cue until you ask them to come out of it. A solid recall is an important safety measure to have in place in case they slip their collar or get scared, so you can de-escalate the situation and safely call your dog back to you while in public.
Practice cues such as "down" and "come" under little to no distractions first. Then slowly increase distractions and practice the same signals, such as in your front yard or out on a walk, to help your dog follow your direction even when other distractions are present. If your pup can't reliably listen to you when there aren't distractions around, they won't listen to you when there are many distractions around.
In addition to your dog reliably following the basics with you, two cues can be instrumental in helping your dog understand that they will be hanging out under that patio table with you for a while. Those two cues are "settle" and "place."
Settle asks a dog to go from a "ready to jump up and go" downward position to a relaxed downward position, where the hips shift under the body. This is a much more comfortable position for most dogs sitting or lying down for an extended period. It's also a great way to signal to your dog that you won't get up and moving anytime soon, so they can feel free to relax by your side.
The second cue that is patio perfect is "place." The place cue is taught to indicate to your dog that you'd like them to remain in a particular area, such as on a dog bed or a crate mat until you ask them to leave that designated area. This helps your dog understand when to move around and when to remain in a particular spot, such as by your feet next to your chair.
First Impressions Are Everything
Bring your dog to the location you are interested in visiting several times without the expectation of staying. For example, if there's a local pizzeria with a pet-friendly patio area that you want to bring your dog to on a Saturday afternoon, visit the pizzeria on Tuesday afternoon when there are fewer people to start. Let your dog sniff and explore. Try practicing a few cues while you are there and see how your dog responds.
If your pup responds immediately, they may be ready to spend more time at the pizzeria with a little more distraction. However, if they are overstimulated and can't follow simple cues the first time they are asked, your dog may need more time to assimilate to this environment.
Food trucks are another good practice option, given that these events typically take place outdoors with lots of room to move away from the crowd as needed. Being able to give your dog a break from the commotion for a minute or two can keep the stress level down and the trust level up.
If you do too much too fast with your pup and they get overwhelmed, that experience can carry over to the next time you visit that location or another similar public location. Practice introducing and exploring new places with your dog often to shape happy first impressions. You can also try providing your pup with a calming supplement to keep them relaxed and form positive associations with the new location.
Doggie Patio Etiquette: Dos and Don'ts
When visiting dog-friendly restaurants, there will likely be other dog owners with the same goal of getting the best taco in town with their best furry friend. There will also likely be people sipping margaritas at the same pet-friendly patio that are either not interested in mingling with pets or may even be allergic or afraid of dogs.
Good pup etiquette means considering the entirety of the social setting and being mindful of others' boundaries. Being a responsible pet parent helps more businesses open their patios and doors to pets and keeps everyone that participates safe and happy.
5 Doggy Don’ts
Keep a good thing going by knowing your pup's limits and setting them up for success with these four doggie don'ts.
- DON'T let other people or animals approach your dog the first few times you take them to a new pet-friendly patio. Remember your training and try to gradually increase the stimuli level to avoid overwhelming your pup.
- DON'T ignore your dog's boundaries. It may not seem like much, but this does wonders for building trust and security and demonstrating to your dog that you will respect and protect their boundaries. Let your dog learn about the new people in this new environment through their primary senses of smell, sound, and sight.
- DON'T let other dogs run up to your dog for face-to-face greetings. Over time, your dog may anticipate this happening whether they want it to or not and become snappy with other dogs approaching. In the long run, this can make your dog anxious and reactive.
- DON'T let your dog off-leash. No matter how well-behaved your dog is in public or how well trained they are, dogs are still dogs and sometimes react unexpectedly to unexpected situations. Keep your dog and those around you safe by always keeping your pup on a leash unless you are in a fenced-in area like a dog park.
- DON'T bring your dog somewhere if they are scared or constantly stressed. While bringing your best dog everywhere you go may feel natural and comfortable to you, your dog may not feel the same way if they suffer from anxiety or fear in public settings. If you want to share the patio experience, host an ice cream social with your furry best friend and treat them to a pupsicle while you relax in the comfort of your own backyard or back patio.
5 Doggy Dos
Here are some tips to ensure your good pup etiquette is on point:
- DO call ahead and make sure the establishment is pet-friendly. Service dogs are allowed in public places where companion dogs are not, so simply because you may have seen a dog there does not mean they are pet friendly.
- DO BYOB - bring your own bowls! In warmer weather especially, your dog will need to stay hydrated, just like you. Some pet-friendly patios have communal water bowls, but communal bowls can be a breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to infections or gastrointestinal upset. Be beer garden ready with collapsible dog bowls you can fill with fresh filtered water.
- DO clean up after yourself. Poop bags are non-negotiable - nothing ruins weekend brunch with your besties like stepping in poop and smelling it through mimosas and French toast. Responsible pet parents come prepared, and on the occasional human error of forgetting or running out, find a solution, such as borrowing a bag from someone else or asking the restaurant for a plastic to-go bag you can use on the fly.
- DO keep the paws off the picnic tables. No matter how small your dog is, the tabletop is not the place for paws. If you wouldn't stand on it, don't let your dog stand on it, either.
- DO respect the establishment's rules so they can remain pet-friendly. State regulations vary on where pets are and are not allowed. Still, business owners also have the right to create their own pet policies so long as they fall under state regulations. Remember that a small dog in a purse is still a dog to the health department and the business owner. While it may be tempting because they're tiny, please don't be that (dog) guy.
How to Make the Most of Your Doggie Date Night
Arranging a doggie date night to meet new friends has grown in popularity as a fun way to connect with like-minded dog lovers while including our fur babies. If the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp sparks the romantic in you, a doggie date night at an Italian Bistro might be right up your alley.
Remember everything already covered in this article and follow these additional tips to make the most of your doggie date night for both the humans and the pups.
- Swap doggie profiles: ask about the personality of the dog accompanying your date. What are their likes and dislikes? Give them information about your four-legged friend, such as whether they have any food allergies and their favorite treats to win them over (because let's be honest - food wins everyone over).
- Bring an enrichment toy to enjoy while taking in all the sights, smells, and sounds. This is a great way to build positive experiences for Fido while learning to relax in an otherwise potentially overstimulating environment.
- Take a break if needed. If your pup is getting anxious or not settling well, excuse yourself from the table and take your dog for a quick walk. Fellow dog lovers will totally understand, and if they don't, it might be your cue that your doggie date is really a swipe left, not a swipe right.
- If you are meeting up at a venue with loud noises, such as a sports bar with multiple TVs or a place with live music, condition your pup to earmuffs and put them on your dog during your outing. Their sense of hearing far supersedes ours, so if the environment is loud to you, it can be deafening to your dog and may cause unnecessary stress, hearing loss, or even permanent damage.
Pack These Pro-Tips for Your Patio-Friendly Pup
When the weekend calls and you want to get out of the house without leaving your pup behind, dog-friendly restaurants and patios can be the perfect option. Remember to ensure the venue is pet-friendly before bringing your pooch. Always be mindful of your dog's boundaries when out and about. Keeping your dog on their leash and respecting the establishment's rules are surefire ways to ensure your pup is a (respectful) party animal, not a party pooper.
Whether you want to include your canine on your journey to taste the perfect local craft beer or gather around a fire pit with friends during the summer, all you need is a little prep work and dog knowledge. You and your best furry friend can be patio-ready in no time!