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You and your dog in public

Approx. 6 minutes read

Having your favourite furry friend in your home environment is pawsome! You play together, nap together and she does what you want her to do – for the most part. She’s by your side 24/7 when you’re at home, which makes you (both) feel loved and impawtant. The absolute worst part of having a canine companion is leaving her at home when you need to go to an appointment, go out with friends, do the shopping, or go on a road trip to visit family.

But… why leave your dog at home? Consider the following areas of etiquette for dogs in public and build the kind of relationship with your dog where she’s cool with going everywhere with you.

How should your dog behave in public?

The very first and most important consideration for having your dog in a public place is: what is legal and illegal for dog owners?

  1. By law, dogs must be leashed and under the control of the owner at all times. The only exception to the leash law is where an off-leash area is specifically indicated; and even then, owners need to have control over their dogs. Your dog should come right back to you when you call her.
  2. Keeping control of your dog means that even if a dog is on a leash, but lunges, snaps at and threatens people and other dogs, that snappy dog must not be allowed in public until their problem behaviour has been resolved. A dog in public may not be a danger to other animals and members of the public.
  3. A female dog in heat is not allowed out in public.

That being said, you cannot simply take an untrained, unsocialised dog out in public. It takes time, dedication and responsibility to teach your dog to behave appropriately in public. What is appropriate behaviour?

  • Your dog should be calm and unreactive to other dogs and people.
  • Your dog should walk alongside you and respond to your commands.
  • Your dog should be under your control at all times.
  • You and your dog should not approach other dogs and dog owners without their express permission.

Requirements for having your dog in public

We’ve covered dog-walking etiquette in a previous article, which includes the basic what to do and what not to do with your dog in public. It boils down to:

  • Keep your dog on a leash (the law)
  • Pick up your dog’s poo (also the law)
  • Be respectful of other members of the public
  • Don’t trespass – don’t let your dog pee or poop on someone else’s lawn
  • You are responsible for your dog – no matter what
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Buying the right accessories will ensure your pup is as comfy as possible while out in public. Read our article about whether your dog is better suited to a collar or a harness. Also ensure your dog is identifiable at all times. Clip an engraved ID tag onto their collar. If your dog gets away from you or is separated from you somehow, your contact details will be visible.

But what if your dog’s collar comes off? While it is not a legal requirement to have all of your pets microchipped, it’s the responsible thing to do. If your dog gets lost, stolen or is removed from your property or person, there is a much higher chance of her being returned to you if she is microchipped. The microchip contains your address and contact details, which means that if she’s found and taken to a vet, rescue organisation or SPCA branch, they will be able to scan her microchip and contact you to let you know she’s been found.

How do you control a dog in public?

The key to keeping a dog under control in public is not the biggest collar or harness, nor the toughest leash. It’s not a muzzle, a shock collar or any other form of physical consequence. From as early on as possible – whether in puppyhood or right after rescue adoption – it’s every dog owner’s responsibility to socialise their furry friend. Socialisation is the foundation of giving your dog good manners in public.

Socialisation entails exposing your puppy or dog to other dogs and people so that they learn:

  • what is appropriate behaviour around other dogs
  • what is appropriate behaviour around people
  • to approach every novel situation with self-confidence instead of fear

A dog who is afraid is more likely to display aggression in their reaction to the unknown. A socialised dog will have had many different experiences in different environments, met many different dogs and been exposed to many different people – with you there. If their calm reaction is positively reinforced every time they meet a new dog or person, they learn there’s nothing to be afraid of and their self-confidence grows.

How do you socialise a puppy or dog?

Once your puppy or adult dog has learnt that you are a great source of safety and treats (they are safe and happy with you), it’s time to expose them to the unknown. It’s beneficial to regularly attend puppy school or socialisation classes with your new furry friend, but if these are not available to you, then gradual exposure to new situations will also work well. Take your dog with you when visiting friends (exposure to new people), arrange regular playdates with the dogs of friends and family (exposure to new dogs – granted those dogs are socialised and don’t feel threatened by an unknown dog), and take your dog to the dog park.

This is not the time to take your puppy off lead and let them run riot at the dog park. It’s very rude for a strange dog to run up to other dogs uninvited – this kind of behaviour often leads to unnecessary scuffles (between unknown dogs, and between their owners). Rather, if you want to socialise your puppy or dog, politely approach other dog owners at the park and state your intention, asking if their dogs are friendly and they’d be willing to help out for a few minutes. If they say ‘no’, just move on. It’s not personal – maybe their dogs are in training or don’t like strangers approaching them. Most dog people will understand the importance of what you’re trying to achieve and will be glad to help out.

Take your dog everywhere with you

If your dog has been adequately socialised, walks confidently on a loose leash, and knows a few basic commands like sit, stay, down, leave it, and come (or heel), they can easily adapt to most new situations out and about with you in public. Dog behaviour with unknown pets and dog behaviour with unknown humans can be controlled with a relaxed demeanour and confident commands on your part. Even more of a benefit to having your dog with you in public, is that each successful encounter with an unfamiliar dog or person simply adds to your dog’s foundation of good socialisation; reinforcing his confidence and making him even more of a pleasure to have in public.

Yes, you can even take your dog to pet-friendly restaurants. But, just because a restaurant is pet-friendly doesn’t mean they will tolerate an unruly, unsocialised, aggressive or otherwise disruptive dog. Dog behaviour at a restaurant should be such that your dog can lie quietly under your table or next to your chair, not beg for your or other patrons’ food, and not antagonise wait staff, other restaurant-goers or even other dogs in the pet-friendly venue.

If your dog is well-behaved, it would serve you well to reinforce their good behaviour with an appropriate doggy treat from time to time. This teaches them to be on their best behaviour the next time you take them with you to a public place.

Taking your dog out in public may also require short- and long-distance travel, so be sure to get your dog used to car rides. And make sure your dog’s enthusiasm is not hampered by motion sickness. Consistent training, life-long pet relationship building and mutual love and respect for your dog can set the foundation for unfurgettable experiences that bring the most out of your pup and your life. It’s the Pet Hero way!

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