Welcome to “Ask Crystal,” where you can ask your pet behavior questions! You can submit your question for Crystal at the bottom of the page!

Dear Crystal,

I really enjoying taking my dog out and about around town. I just got a new dog and I would like to take him out with us as well but when we brought him home and took him out to a local brewery he panicked. He looked so afraid of everyone. When people would try to approach him, he would hide under the table. How can I help him be more comfortable in public places? I really hate to leave him at home.

Sincerely,

Out and About with Fido

Dear Out,

What a wonderful time that we live in! Our dogs are becoming more and more a part of the family and a great benefit of that is they are welcome at more and more establishments. For some of our furry friends, this can be a great time and it can certainly enhance our time out to have our friends by our side. Whether or not your new buddy should be going out with you is going to depend a lot on his personality and what socialization he received as a puppy. We should be aware that not every dog wants to go out to public places and some dogs want to but really aren’t up to par on their training yet.

When we first bring a new dog home, we should give them a period of acclimation before taking them on outings. There are a couple reasons for this guideline. Most importantly, your new dog has been through a lot recently and may not be feeling quite himself yet. When we experience a lot of stressors one after the other, they start to build up on each other and we can react in ways which are out of character. Our dogs are no different in that respect and don’t benefit from our higher brain function to understand that we are just trying to have fun with them. His reaction may have been influenced by the buildup of stressors he has recently experienced. We should keep his world very small initially by just walking him short distances around the neighborhood and avoiding having visitors over.

Once you have had your dog for at least a month, you are going to have a much better read of his personality and his training needs. When you see neighbors out on walks, is he pulling to go see them or hiding behind you? If he is less than excited about meeting new people, then he may not enjoy public hangouts. How is he around other dogs? You can assume there will be other dogs around so if he is going to be barking at them or pulling you down to go see them, he may not be ready for outings. If your dog does not have any cues installed yet, you should work on those at home before venturing out on a doggy date. Sit, down and stay are all essential cues for restaurants. He should also be used to being tethered so he doesn’t panic and pull the table down when you attach him to the legs.

Once he has settled in if he still seems nervous around strangers, my suggestion for now, at least is to leave him at home. It is very difficult and sometimes impossible to control his interactions with people in a public setting. When it comes to animals, many adults become like small children and must pet the puppy. That is to say nothing about the actual children who will be wanting to hug and kiss him. We once had a small child petting our dog for about 30 minutes with no sign of a parent for the entire time. He will be much happier not having to fend off unwanted advances and it will be much more relaxing for you as well. It is perfectly ok to have a dog that you take places and one that you don’t. It may be a situation where he is ok in less crowded situations so maybe you can take him on a weekday visit and start to get him used to being out without the pressure of a lot of people coming by. A dog’s personal space is usually about 6 feet. It can become more depending on the situation and how stressed they are feeling. If you can’t meet his basic space needs, then he would probably prefer to go home.

In the case of the dog that does like going out, here are a few pointers to make everyone’s experience comfortable and safe. Leave the retractable leash at home. Don’t get me started on retractable leashes. For the purpose of this article, I will just say that not everyone likes dogs. Some people are deathly afraid of your Chihuahua. Retractable leashes allow dogs to get too far away and you don’t have any control over them. Do use a standard nylon or leather leash. I also suggest bringing treats with you so that when people come over to say hello you can offer reinforcements for polite behavior and when there aren’t people around you can reward nice quiet down stays. Be aware of your dog’s expiration time. Your dog may be fine for an hour or two but start to get cranky after that. Cranky dogs are not safe in a public space and if he is behaving cranky, we can safely assume he is not having a good time anymore. The whole point of bringing your dog out with you is for both of you to have fun.

Until next time,

Crystal

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