As the days get warmer and longer with summer approaching, many dog owners are eager to take their furry companions on adventures. But what if your canine buddy needs some extra guidance in the table manners department?
Get ready to wag your tails with excitement as we dive into the wisdom of Renee Rhoades MSc, an acclaimed and multi-certified dog behaviorist. Renee, the founder of R+Dogs, is here to share her valuable insights on building calm confidence in your dog when venturing out to dog-friendly cafés or restaurants.
Whether your pup needs a little helping paw with settling down or you’re looking to navigate through distractions like a pro, Renee has got you covered. Plus, she’ll sprinkle in some playful and confidence-boosting exercises that will turn your outing into a roaring success!
Training Settlement: Establishing a Foundation
Let’s begin by discussing the significance of settle training. The foundation of your dog’s behaviour in public is the settle cue, which can aid them in remaining calm and relaxed while waiting for you. Here are some guidelines for establishing settle training:
Begin at home: Start by teaching your dog to settle in a specific area of your home. Use desirable food rewards to help your dog to remain calm and relaxed in that location. What can help you transfer the skills from home into the outside world is using the same surface to practise on. This can be a travel mat, old towel, yoga mat, etc. Anything that you can remember to bring and that is easy to carry! If your dog is settling on a comfortable surface, they are more likely to stay settled for longer.
Once your dog has mastered settling at home, introduce mild distractions, such as noises or toys, to practise maintaining the settle behaviour despite these interruptions. Be sure to keep rewarding them periodically when they continue to stay settled.
Gradually increase the level of distractions in outdoor café settings as you transition to the café environment. Start with less crowded places and gradually progress to more crowded ones.
PRO TIP: Bring something extra yummy (like a tasty chew) to help give your dog something to do. We can’t expect our dogs just to sit and wait for us without helping them keep busy!
Progressive Exposure: Growing Difficulty
Now that your dog has a solid foundation in settle training, it is time to expose them to new environments and progressively increase the level of difficulty. This is how:
Start with quiet cafés: Begin your café visits during off-peak hours in calm and quiet locations. This makes the experience less overwhelming for your dog, allowing them to adjust to their new surroundings.
Lengthen the duration of your café visits gradually. Initially, keep them brief and progressively increase their duration. This method teaches your dog to be patient and adapt to longer periods of calmness.
Continue to reward your dog periodically (yes, even if they are chewing on something!). Rewarding the behaviour you want to continue to see helps to increase the likelihood of it sticking around. If distractions happen, try scattering some food on the floor, this can help distract them and lower arousal, helping them to maintain composure in the face of potential temptations.
PRO TIP: Before going to the café and asking your dog to relax, make sure your dog has had their needs met. This means you want to provide mental and physical stimulation before settling down. A good example is going on a walk where your dog can sniff as much as they want. Even better if they are on a long line or off-lead (as long as they have a great recall!).
Exercises to Build Confidence: Fostering Calm and Confidence
It is essential to build your dog’s confidence for them to feel safe in café and restaurant settings. Here are some confidence-building exercises:
Gradually expose your dog to social situations, including interactions with other dogs and people from a distance, to promote socialisation. It is better to see things from a distance instead of directly interacting with them. Dogs should not meet most people or other dogs, especially if you are working on keeping them relaxed in public settings.
Introduce your dog to novel experiences and environments regularly. Take them on walks along different routes, explore new parks, and arrange playdates in unfamiliar locations. Gradual exposure to new experiences enables them to develop adaptability and self-assurance in unpredictability.
Confidence-building games: Engage your dog in problem-solving and confidence-building interactive games. Activities such as trick training, , and food toys to expand their cognitive abilities fostering resilience and self-confidence.
Positive reinforcement: Food and praise can motivate your dog to repeat desired behaviours by reinforcing their positive association with café outings and you. Be sure to remind your dog of how well they are doing! Being out in public waiting around is hard for many dogs, and it is a skill they have to learn because it doesn’t come naturally.
It is possible for your dog to become a café companion with a solid foundation of settle training, gradual exposure to different environments, and confidence-building exercises. Patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement are essential when training your dog. However, it is also important to mention that not every dog suits being a café dog. There are many reasons why your dog may not enjoy being in public spaces – and that is okay! Remember that every dog is an individual, so if your dog isn’t happy being a café dog they will thank you for leaving them at home instead.
About Renee Rhoades MSc
Renee Rhoades is an award-winning, multi-certified dog behaviourist with a Masters in Animal Welfare Science and Ethics. She is the founder of R+Dogs, a virtual dog behaviour consultancy that offers private coaching and online courses for dog guardians all over the globe. Renee specialises in coaching dog guardians to help their fearful and fired-up dogs overcome aggression, reactivity, anxiety, and hyperactivity. Alongside client coaching, Renee co-hosts DogLogical, a podcast that educates the public on dog behaviour and provides mentoring services to other dog professionals. You can find out more about Renee including how to work with her by visiting www.rplusdogs.com.