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One of our favourite things to do in the summer is to attend dog-friendly events.
Living in Vancouver, we are a dog-loving city. There are doggos everywhere and people love to get out and explore beautiful, supernatural BC with their furry friends.
But not all dogs are ready to attend pet-friendly events. More often than not, they require some training and socialization before they really enjoy going out to busy places.
At every single pet event I have ever intended (including the BlogPaws conference which should be 100% pet owners who KNOW BETTER), I’ve met pets who just aren’t ready to be there.
I get it.
Imagine you’re a dog and your whole world is made up primarily of a small handful of people and then all of the sudden, you’re dragged out into a busy event filled with weird noises, funny smells, and a metric crap ton of people – all of whom want to pet you. It would be so overwhelming.
With just a little work, you can help get your dog ready to rock it at pet events.
7 Skills Your Dog Should Know Before You Attend a Pet Friendly Event
Loose leash walking is such an important life skill for ALL DOGS, but it's especially important for dogs at a pet-friendly event. Events can be busy or crowded and a dog who pulls on the leash can easily cause chaos, tangling leashes with other dogs, knocking people over or bowling into event displays. We used Dr. Sophia Yin's protocol to train Felix, arguably the worst leash puller in the history of 20 lb. doggos and I swear by it.
While most experts are not fans of on-leash dog greetings, they are inevitable at dog-friendly events and nearly impossible to avoid. On-leash dog greetings can fraught with problems: the other dog might not have good greeting manners, leashes get tangled, people aren't overly aware of their dog's body language, and when dogs feel "trapped" in a bad greeting. There is huge value in teaching your dog what a good on-leash greeting is done, knowing the signs that a bad greeting is going to happen and having an escape plan for when it happens. This post from the Bark has some great info.
Dogs are filled with joy and enthusiasm, but that can sometimes translate to ever-excitement and unwanted jumping - especially when meeting a lot of new humans at a pet event. Teaching your dog to keep four paws firmly planted on the ground at all times is so important to being a good citizen. The best way to do this is to teach your pooch to sit when greeting new people. These tips from iheartdogs can help.
Kids can create an extra-special challenge at events. Like dogs, children are still working on developing their own impulse-control skills, so greetings can go wrong fast if you aren't prepared. And not all humans are dog-savvy enough to understand why it's absolutely not ok to let their little rush up to your dog.
Teach your dog the skills they need and control the situation to ensure good greetings. Ask your dog to sit, with their side towards the child. Dogs rarely enjoy strangers petting them around their face, so tell the child how much your dog likes being pet on their neck and back, reminding them to be gentle. This sideways position means your dog and the child are not face-to-face reducing the chances of your dog jumping up. Directing petting on the neck and back keeps tiny hands away from dogs mouths reducing the chance of an accidental bite.
Pet-friendly events are full of temptation for dogs. Kids in strollers with cool looking toys, items on display from vendors, items belonging to other dogs, goose poop, dropped food. or worse, food in the hands of small children... the list is endless and infinite. Navigating this landscape full of things that can go wrong is so much easier when you can communicate your expectations to your dog. A rock-solid "leave it" command has been a life-saver for my puggle at pet-friendly events.
People love to give dogs treats. If you go to en event with your dog, you are absolutely going to be asked if your dog can have a treat. Now, it is absolutely OK to say "no thank you". I often tell people that Kolchak is TOO EXCITED to take a treat at an event because taking a treat gently is a skill he has not perfectly mastered, even after 12. woofing. years. of working on it. (Big sigh.)
If you choose to let people give your dog a treat at events, it's important that you've taught your dog to take that treat gently and it's totally ok to remind the person to please offer the treat using a flat hand to reduce the chance of treat grabbing. This post from Kimberley at Keep the Tail Wagging has some good tips.
Events are noisy. Children are loud. Special equipment and vehicles sound weird. It's totally normal for dogs to be afraid of noises in new spaces.
Luckily, desensitizing your dog to sounds can be really easy. We used a combination of desensitization, distraction training and a lot of patience. For example, we'd play firework noises very quietly on the computer (which Felix hated) while using liver pieces to work on sit, down and spin (Felix's favourite tricks). The excitement of his favourite games outweighed the noise. As he got better and better at dealing with it, we increased the volume and changed up the type of noise we played. It took some patience, but eventually, Felix was totally sound-proof.
How many of these dog-friendly event skills does your dog already know? How many do you still need to work on?
If you aren’t there yet, that’s OK! Our dogs are always growing and learning. Just because they aren’t ready to fo to a pet event today, doesn’t mean they can’t learn. Work on these skills and work towards it.
Tips for attending dog-friendly events before your dog is rock solid.
It's so tempting to want to see everything at a cool pet-friendly event, but when your dog is still feeling out a new space, going slow can make it such a better experience. Let your dog guide you in how far into the event the want to go.
Skirt the edges of the venue.
When Kolchak was a puppy, I went to pet friendly events and never even entered the event space! When your dog is still learning those essential skills, sometimes just practicing around the perfect amount of exposure to help your dog maintain focus and work on those new skills.
Take snack and water breaks away from the crowd.
Events can be overwhelming enough for your dog without risking resource guarding in your or other dogs. We always bring our own collapsable water bowl and water bottles, as well as snacks and then remove ourselves from the crowd before giving them to Kol.
When your dog is new to attending events, leaving early is a great way to keep the experience positive. The longer you're there, the longer there is for something to potentially go wrong. Start small and work your way up to staying longer at events.
Work with dog-loving friends to plan small private events to practice.
I love any excuse to hang out with friends and their dogs! small events like back yard bbqs and parties at home are a great way to introduce your dog to the busyness of events slowly.
Respect your dog's limits and choose events where your dog can succeed.
It's so important to understand your dog and what makes them uncomfortable. If your dog hates quick movements and a lot of noise, a children's event is probably not a great place to start. If they are a notorious food hound, don't start at a food truck rally. Respecting your dogs limitations and only taking them places where they are likely to succeed will help them - and ypu - feel confident in their pet-friendly event skills.
How do you help your dog succeed at pet-friendly events? What’s your favourite kind of event to go to?