Our dogs are members of the family, so most of us enjoy taking them out in public — whether it’s for a walk in the park or shopping at the farmers market. While we might be enthused about bringing them along, we need to consider how our dogs feel about it, as well as how others might feel about our dog’s presence. To that end, here are some tips for taking a dog in public to ensure a positive experience for everyone involved.
Are dogs welcome? Find out first
You might feel that your dog will be perfectly happy at an event, but make sure it’s a function or setting where dogs are welcome before you go. At many restaurants, public venues, and some parks, only service dogs who are trained to perform specific tasks are allowed. You should also think about whether you’ll be able to leave the event early if you see that your dog is not doing well.
Consider your dog's comfort level in public
Before choosing to take your dog in public or letting strangers pet them, always consider how comfortable and safe your dog will feel. If your dog has a bite history or is stressed around strangers, it's best not to bring them to locations where many strangers will be present. (When seeing strangers is unavoidable, such as a vet's office visit, be prepared to ask for space from people as needed. It’s also a good idea to acclimate your dog to wearing a muzzle, so they can wear it comfortably when needed.)
Moreover, busy, loud, or crowded events or locations — such as fairs, sporting events, and playgrounds — might be stressful for some dogs. Even a dog who is considered friendly might struggle in these environments if they're not used to them.
The best way to discern how your dog is feeling is to pay attention to their body language. For example, let’s say you’re out and about with your dog, and a stranger approaches wanting to pet them. If your dog becomes very still, their body stiffens, or they seem to want to avoid the interaction, they're probably not comfortable in that particular situation. For your dog to feel safe, it might be best to decline the person’s request to pet them.
Consider other dogs who might be present
If your pooch tends to be reactive (barking, lunging, etc.) to other dogs in public, remember to bring training treats with you to reinforce desirable behaviors. And make sure there will be enough room for you to keep far enough away that you can manage your dog's reactivity. If the space will be cramped or your dog has injured another dog before, it is best for them to stay home. At the very least, a barking dog will almost certainly be unpleasant for those around you.
Pack supplies for your dog
Always bring plenty of water, a travel bowl, training treats (if needed), and poop bags for your dog. And don’t forget to check the weather. If the event involves spending hours in the hot sun (or the freezing cold, pouring rain, etc.), your dog will likely be more comfortable and safe at home.
Know the leash laws
Most public spaces have leash laws, so be sure to respect them and only let your dog off-leash in places where it is allowed. You should also be sensitive to the fact that not everyone likes dogs. Some other dogs and people might not be comfortable with your dog approaching them, even if your dog is very friendly.
Dog behavior etiquette tips
Here are some other tips for good dog etiquette in public:
- Try not to allow your dog to jump up on people; even if your dog is friendly, it’s not polite behavior.
- Be especially careful not to let your pooch jump up on small children, older adults, or people with mobility issues because this might scare or injure them.
- Don’t let your dog approach someone unless that person solicits attention from your dog and you are comfortable with them interacting.
- Bring training treats with you, and use the opportunity of being out in public to teach your dog polite greetings.
- Get down low so that you can effectively manage an interaction your dog has with a child.
- Be prepared to gently interfere if a child is behaving inappropriately with your dog.
Ultimately, it is up to us to make sure that when we take our dogs somewhere in public, we have the comfort and safety of everyone — our pets, other people’s pets, other humans — as a top-of-mind priority so that everyone can enjoy the experience.