I was in Dahlonega last Friday working with a new Home Dog Training client and his sixteen-month-old Belgian Shepherd named Daisey. For the most part, Daisey was a great dog. The issue was that Daisey was my client’s first dog. Having a Shepherd as “your first dog” is always a challenge. The main issue that my client had with Daisey was that she always pulled and misbehaved when they were walking on a leash.
The first thing that I did was to teach my client how to be the dominant member of the relationship between him and Daisey. With this relationship established, he could then demand Daisey’s respectful focus and could properly guide her to the right decisions.
We then proceeded to walking. We set up the proper rules that Daisey must obey when they are out and about on a walk. We also changed some of the equipment he was using to that he could more effectively elicit her respectful focus. Within a few hours, Daisey was the “perfect walking companion” for my client and all the members of his family. The entire family was elated with the results.
As we were finishing up, he mentioned that he had one more request. Since we did so well in getting Daisey to walk with us, he was wondering if he could take Daisey with him to the outside restaurants in Dahlonega. He had tried it once before and it was a complete failure.
We all love our dogs and it is just natural that we would want to take them with us when we go places. First of all, we always enjoy the companionship, and secondly, we just like to “show them off”. The issue that we face when we take our dogs out and about into public is that we have not “told them” how they should behave. Also, we drop the ball by placing them in situations where they are often “doomed to fail”.
Let’s think back for a moment when we were little kids. Our Mommie would take us with her to the grocery store. She normally took us when the store wasn’t full of shoppers and noisy. She also didn’t simply “drop us on the ground” next to the cart and said “Let’s go”.
Our Mommie slowly introduced us to the sights and sounds of the grocery store and allowed us to understand that we were safe and to have us acclimate to all the “things going on around us”. After a while, we were running up and down the isles filling up our Mommie’s cart with Froot Loops and chocolate milk.
We must use the same process with our dog. We need to prepare him for the new environment and then slowly introduce him to the eatery in such a way that he has the ability to learn and not be overly stimulated and fearful. Here is what I always suggest.
First, you must be sure that you can get and maintain your dog’s calm focus. This starts in the home. Place your dog on a leash and have him sit next you at the breakfast room table. Have someone serve you some food (it doesn’t matter what) while you talk to them. Have some other family members pass close to the table (about five feet from you and your dog).
Always make sure that your dog remains sitting and mostly focused on you. I emphasize “mostly” because the actions of food being brought to the table and people passing nearby are external stimuli and your dog will probably want to observe them.
As long as your dog remains calm and in place, that demonstrates that he is still respecting your authority and understands that you are keeping him safe. If he starts to get up, barks, jumps, etc., stand up, give the leash a tug, verbally correct him, and return him to a calm and focused sit. Continue to practice this until he understands that his “job” is to calmly sit at your feet and passively observe the world around him as you are eating and conversing.
Now, and only now, are you ready to proceed to your eatery. In Dahlonega, this might be the outside patio of Shenanigans or the tables on the square in front of The Sidewalk Café or Capers. I provided my client with the following instructions when he and his dog were ready to proceed.
He should first take Daisey to the eatery when the place was closed. This means that there are no people in the area and everything is really, really quiet. He should calmly walk in and find a table away from the high traffic areas with a clear, 360 degree view of everything going on.
Next, he should sit down at the table with Daisey. A family member or friend should accompany them and “pretend” to be the waiter. He should approach them and do all the “waiter things”. He should then return in a minute or two with some food (my client had to bring his own food, obviously) and serve the table.
If Daisey begins to negatively respond to any of the actions, my client must correct her in the method I previously described. If my client can get some additional friends or family members to come with them on “Daisey’s lesson”, they can act as restaurant patrons walking near the table or sitting nearby talking. He must repeat this until Daisy is completely comfortable sitting or lying next to him at the table while all these other external distractions were taking place.
Now, it is time to ramp it up. I instructed my client to repeat the same process we just reviewed except that he should go to the eatery when they were open, but it was not very busy. I told him that he should inform the staff in the eatery that he was working with Daisey to make her a “happy patron” so that they knew what was going on.
As the waiter approaches to take my client’s food order, he should instruct the waiter not to pay attention to Daisey and not to get “on top of her”. Daisey may take this as a provocative, aggressive act and inappropriately respond. If Daisy misbehaves at any time, my client must correct Daisey and continue the process until she is constantly “staying calm and mellow”.
Once she is fine in this situation, my client can allow (if they asked) for the waiter or other patrons to meet and greet Daisey. They would have to slowly approach her while my client was standing by his chair. My client’s “standing” is “canine body language” that tells Daisey “I have your back; all is fine”. The waiter or patrons can calmly stoop to pet her and, if they want, offer her a treat.
Once Daisey is calm with this situation, my client should repeat the process when there were more people in the eatery. He would continue to “ramp up” the number of people and activity level until it matched the time he would normally go to that eatery.
They are now done. Daisey and my client now have a new place to go and friends to meet.
One last thing. Take this process slow. There is no harm at remaining at one training level a little longer than necessary. That simply reinforces the lesson. There is great harm in advancing too quickly with people and physical distractions. That will cause your dog to become fearful and stop focusing on your directions.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over seventeen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.