Going to public places is a great ‘bang for your buck’ exercise in terms of socialization, training, and stimulating your dog. Fifteen minutes can be very impactful for getting them more comfortable, responsive and, therefore, obedient in new places.
Max and I went to BJ's this weekend to help walk you through what to do in public places to get the most out of socialization and training. Here is a step by step guide to exploring a public place:
Step 1: Park Far Away
Park in the back of the parking lot. This allows you to get yourself situated - treats, leash, keys, etc. - and allows the dog to come out of the car and adjust to his new surroundings. Let him sniff for a little!
Step 2: Look for Responsiveness
While you are still far away from things (people, dogs, cars, etc.) that may excite your dog or make him nervous, look for responsiveness. Responsiveness means your dog responds to his name. Once he responds to his name, you can ask for more commands such as sit, down, wait, walk with you, look at you, and more. If he does not respond to his name, you can give him a little more time to adjust or move even farther away from the exciting things. Say your dog's name, when he responds to you, say yes and reward him. You can then ask for some other basic commands to establish obedience in a new place.
The more you train in different places, the easier this part will be. Don't move too fast and don't expect too much. If you only practice stay in the house, stay in a new parking lot will be hard for them so find success and keep practicing.
If you are just starting out with taking your dog to new places, this is a fine place to stop. If you do some training in a new place where they are comfortable and have a positive experience, that is a win.
Step 3: Move Closer to the Entrance
As you and your dog explore more places, you will be able to walk closer to the entrance. The closer you are to the entrance, the more cars, people, shopping carts, children, etc. there are - there can be a lot going on! As you approach the distractions, the more challenging it is for your dog to listen to you.
Training: As you move closer to the distractions, practice some key commands you would want to use in a public place. Stay (or wait) is good for waiting at cash registers and crossing the street. Leash walking is good for walking through the parking lot. Sit, down and look are all good to have. Touch (touching your hand) is a great command for gauging their obedience and redirecting their attention back to you.
Every time you come back to a public place, try and get closer and closer to the entrance. Keep in mind, public places are out of your control so one day may be busier than the next. Pay attention to your dog and don't move too fast to the entrance. You want to find success so they know what is expected of them.
Confidence: As you move closer to the entrance, not only are you looking for them to respond to you, but you also want to watch your dogs for signs of stress. Here are some signs of stress: ears back, jumpy at noises, tail between legs, not eating your treats, pulling back towards the car, and looking around nervously. All in all, you are looking for your dog to be acting like themselves, calm and happy. If they are nervous, move farther away from the distractions. See how far away you have to be from the distractions in order for them to be calm (and take treats and look more relaxed), create a positive experience at that distance, and then try and move closer another day.
Step 4: Keep Moving Closer, Go Into the Store, Say Hi to People
Once your dog is responsive and comfortable in new places, you can keep challenging and exposing them to new elements of the public place. You want to continue to move slowly. Remember a small change in their environment, you can expect a large change in their behavior. For example, if you are hanging out right by the entrance and your dog is comfortable and responsive, walking through the doors is a new experience for them. If he is doing well at the entrance, try walking through the doors one day a few times, try walking through a quiet part of the store the next day, try checking out one item the next day.
It is so important to create positive experiences when you go to public places. It is good to challenge them but you don't want to overwhelm them (and hurt their confidence) or have a non-responsive dog (and have your dog pulling you through the store).
Benefits of Socializing in Public Places:
There are such great benefits of exploring public places with your dog. It exposes them to new smells and sounds, stimulating them in a way you can't do in your home.
The more you go out, the more comfortable they will be in new places. And, this holds true for all ages. While it is great to start young, don't feel like you are ever too late. Just remember to start slowly and create positive experiences.
Training is a great way to strengthen the bond between you and your dog, and your dog looking for you direction and guidance in a new place will help strengthen that bond even more.
I hope this step by step guide to socializing your dog in public places helps you and your dog find comfort and success in exploring new places. Never hesitate to ask questions, share your experiences, and sign up for some training if you want extra help starting out.