Good morning 2 Traveling Dogs Fans. I’m helping Rachael out this week by writing some guest blogs. Today, I wanted to discuss some ways to support your dog if he likes being out in public and socializing. If your dog is nervous around strangers or busy environments, please respect that and don’t put him or her in a situation that will stress them out. In other words, I’m not suggesting you ask your dog to be someone he is not; I’m asking you to stack the deck in his favor to help him enjoy doing things that you know he already likes to do.
My dog Beau is almost two years old. He is a COVID puppy. I adopted him at roughly 8 weeks old a few days before the country went into lock down. I did my best to socialize him by introducing him to people in the park, other dogs, sights and sounds of cars, bikes, etc. and all kinds of objects. He seems to love most all people and all dogs, which is pretty remarkable for a rescue. However, there weren’t many opportunities for him to be around a lot of people at one time when he was a baby because we were basically living in isolation inside our house. So I needed to find a way as we all started gathering again for him to enjoy being with me and behave appropriately in my human world.
First thing I want to say is I’m not a dog trainer. But I do have a friend who is a remarkable trainer. One of the things that she had me teach him was to lay down on a towel/mat. Why? Because when you are out in public with your dog, they need to know where to be so that they don’t go roaming all over and try out different behaviors trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do.
My trainer showed me how to teach Beau “place”: to go stand/sit/lay down on a towel when I put it down. I did this by throwing treats on the towel each time he put even one foot on it. Lots of treats when he sat or lay down on it. Only good things happened on that towel! Why would he want to be anywhere else?
I didn’t force him onto the towel. I didn’t even lure him onto the towel. I waited for him to step on it, even by accident, and then rewarded him for it. He figured out on his own that being on that towel was beneficial, and he chose to go there. When he stood on the towel, I started saying “place.” Thus, he began associating the word “place” with sitting on a towel and getting a treat. I didn’t punish Beau for NOT being on the towel. I didn’t even try to persuade him to go stand on the towel. I just rewarded his DECISION to go do it. It was his idea, and he decided he liked the consequences of sitting on that towel.
Now that Beau has that skill, I try to bring a towel with me when go visit someone, go to a restaurant, or even when we are at home and people are over. When he sees the towel, he goes and lays down on it and relaxes. But sometimes I forget the towel! Yesterday was one of those days. I was in a rush to meet a friend for breakfast and left the towel in the car. I figured it would be okay. He’s good in restaurants and knew the friend that I was meeting. Wrong! We went to the table and he couldn’t figure out where to be. He kept trying to wander off, and when I asked him to sit and lay down, he did, but he kept chewing his leash as a way of expressing anxiety. So, I went and got the towel from the car. I put it down, and he immediately lay on it relaxed, looked around making googoo eyes at other guests, and enjoyed himself. No pacing. No leash chewing. No fidgeting.
If you look at this from the human (my) perspective, it’s a win because I could enjoy breakfast and had a well-behaved dog who didn’t require my attention. But look at it from Beau’s perspective: without the presence of the towel, he was confused about where he was supposed to be (beside me, under the table, walking around), what he was supposed to do, and how long we were going to stay. He was anxious — waiting to see if I was going to get up, what he might be asked to do — and was chewing his leash to deal with that anxiety. The simple act of putting down a towel communicated to him that he could relax, we’re not going anywhere, he should lay down and enjoy himself, and that when it is time to go, he will know because I will pick up the towel.
There’s more than one way for a dog to learn to lay on a towel. You can force them to do it. You can intimidate them to do it. You can yell at them when they get up. And if they don’t learn to do it the way you want, you can leave them at home. But when you see that in writing, I am guessing you find that nuts! Yet, so much of what we read about dog training never associates what we’re teaching them with how it makes their life better and more fulfilling! And forcing a dog or punishing a dog – who is intelligent and can choose to do good behaviors given the chance – might get you a dog on a towel, but it’s not going to get you a relationship of trust and happiness.
When I say I want to help you look at the world through your dog’s eyes, support them in being a dog with freedom and choices about their life, this is the kind of thing that I am talking about. Beau doesn’t have to stay home when I go to a restaurant. He can experience the world, meet people, smell cool new stuff, and usually get affection from strangers. And little bits of food usually make their way to that towel while we are there, reenforcing that it’s an awesome place for him to be. He can have these experiences because I found a way for him to stay safe, know what is expected of him, and relax in strange environments. We got there not by force or threat, but by supporting his choices and rewarding good decisions. He likes meeting people and being included in things. He gets to do that all the time now. I get to enjoy his company. Win win.