Helping pets with behavior, now that society is opening back up

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Small black and white dog wearing a bandanna in a car with a woman in the driver's seat

The outside world is returning! During the past year or so, for many of us, life has been whittled down to a house- or apartment-sized radius. From bed to computer to refrigerator to bathroom, back to the refrigerator, to the computer again. Oh, what the heck, one more trip to the refrigerator.

Suddenly, the front door is opening. The people are back. The restaurants are open. It’s a big wide world again that doesn’t just exist in the news. Our pets may be as bewildered as we are. After all, they have gotten used to a smaller world, too. Just a couple of people. A life contained. So how do we prepare them to go out into the world again? Here are some tips.

Get them ready to socialize

Our pets may have forgotten their manners around people who aren’t family. If you adopted a pet during the pandemic, he or she may never have had a lot of experiences with people other than you. If that’s what you’re finding, try these tricks from Best Friends’ Dr. Carley Faughn to get them ready for their social debut:

  • Take your dog for walks with friends. People your pup has met before are ideal, but anyone will do. Have your friend meet you outside with your dog already on leash, and don’t forget the treats. Have your friend offer a treat with a toss before you begin walking. Then, every time your dog looks at your friend, give her another treat so she’ll associate the friend with treats. If your dog has become unsure around other people, don’t have your friend do the hand-extended-for-a-sniff introduction. Just walk together, and keep the treats coming.
  • Invite people over to your house and have them toss a treat to your dog when they come in. They can continue to give your dog treats every time she looks at them. (If you have more than one dog, give separate treats so there’s no arguing.) And if toys are more your dog’s thing, you can use those, too. A quick game of tug can just as easily be a reward as a treat.
  • If your dog is taking a long time adjusting to meeting new people, you might want to try our training plan called Look At That.

These tips are for relatively minor or moderate shyness, discomfort or poor manners that may have cropped up. If the problem is more serious, like lunging at people, you’ll want the help of a behavior consultant in your area. You can find some via the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Basket muzzle training can also be a big help if you’re concerned about everyone’s safety. (And yes, a dog can still receive treats through a muzzle.) Check out our muzzle training plan.

Traveling? What’s that?

Many of us have all but forgotten the taste of airline crackers. And your pet may be just as bewildered by the wonders and woes of traveling after all this time at home. Here are a few of Dr. Carley’s tips for getting your pets ready for that long-awaited getaway:

  • Try a few short car rides before doing a long one. It may seem obvious, but the movement of a car can be something that takes getting used to again. So, before you buckle up for a cross-country adventure, be sure your pet is comfortable with a drive around the block. From there, gradually increase the duration of the rides.
  • When you book a pet-friendly hotel, find out whether you’ll need an elevator or stairs to get to your room. If the only option is an elevator and you think your pet might have a problem with that, practice ahead of time by riding an elevator. The same goes for a flight of stairs. If your pet completely freaks out and can’t get used to it, that’s good to know. A room on the first floor is a must!
  • If you will be leaving your pet alone for a while in the vacation rental or hotel you’re staying in, be prepared. Bring a crate, and be sure to crate-train your pet before leaving home. (See our crate-training plan.) And don’t forget to take along safe toys to occupy your pet while you’re gone.

Finally, no matter what your plans are this summer, keep practicing those basic cues: sit, stay, come. That kind of two-way communication not only gives you quality time together and helps you bond, it gives your dog confidence. The outside world is less scary when “sit” always means “sit,” no matter where you are. So, practice those skills when you’re at home, and also when you’re out and about. It helps pets understand that even when the world seems like an intimidating place, they can always rely on a comforting routine and the love of their people.