It’s that time of the year. We can finally wave goodbye to winter and start thinking about getting out and about with our dogs again – or maybe for the first time – for some quality socialisation.
Depending on your preference and where you live, this could be long country walks with friends, sitting outside a coffee shop catching up on gossip, or visiting your local pub garden for some lunch, but whatever your choice, you want to take your dog with you.
So how do you make sure your dog is ready for some outdoor socialising?
The short answer is… Start now. Having a dog you can take anywhere takes preparation, training, a healthy dose of realism (just because you want to take your dog to the pub, doesn’t mean they want to go!) and knowing when to advocate for your dog.
Dog walks with friends
After a wet, muddy, and cold winter, long dog walks become a real joy again. They’re also a great time to meet friends and walk your dogs together.
Most dogs will enjoy and cope with this kind of socialising well.
- Is your dog relaxed and happy around other dogs?
- Is your friend’s dog relaxed and happy around other dogs?
If the answer to both is yes, then yes.
Manage the day
- If your dog hasn’t met your friend’s dog before, or they haven’t seen each other for a while, start their socialisation by introducing or reintroducing them.
- Your first walk should be on lead and without any formal introductions.
- Meet somewhere neutral (like the car park or the start of the walk).
- Arrive with your dog on their harness and lead as usual.
- Set off on your walk together without any canine introductions.
- Start with a bit of distance between the dogs, and if all is going well, progress to parallel walking.
- This gives both dogs the chance to see each other, get to know each other, get the scent of each other – and relax with each other, without the pressure of being forced to interact straight away.
- If this goes well, plan another meeting and start the same way but sometime during the walk, you can let the quieter dog off the lead.
- Soon, as long as the dogs are happy, you should be able to have both dogs off the lead, interacting freely.
When to advocate for your dog
- Do not let your dog go up to other dogs who are walking close to their owners or on lead. Socialisation doesn’t mean your dog will like every other dog, or them your dog. They’re actually selectively social, so don’t always appreciate these unexpected interactions – and you want to avoid any canine arguments that could affect your dog’s behaviour towards other dogs in the future.
- Avoid unknown dogs where possible – and ask owners to call their dogs back or put them on the lead if they look like they’re going to pester your dog.
A coffee catch-up with friends
There are some great cafes around where coffee, cake and a chat are a real delight – and many have spaces that are dog friendly. But how do you get them ready for this kind of socialisation?
- If your dog is able to settle quietly, even in strange places and with distractions, and is friendly around strange people and dogs, then this could be good outing for you both.
- Consider if your dog will enjoy this kind of outing. While we might think this is an enjoyable way to pass an hour or two, our dogs might have a very different view.
- Is your dog is a social butterfly? Or at least a laid-back pup who doesn’t react to novelty (whether new situations, new people, new dogs or unusual sights, sounds and sniffs)? Some dogs can be quite happy in this kind of environment, while others find it stressful.
Managing the visit
- The first step is teaching your dog to settle at home with no distractions. If your dog can’t do that, they’re unlikely to manage it in a strange place with lots of interesting things going on.
- Do some research without your dog and look for a coffee shop where you can sit in a fairly quiet place – not on the edge of a busy road or with loads of people constantly walking past.
- Take your dog on a walk first. It helps if you manage to work off some excess energy before you ask them to settle and relax.
- Visit on your own with your dog to practice socialisation in this new space before you make plans to meet up with friends. Make this a short visit to see how your dog behaves and check they’re happy.
- Find a corner where your dog won’t be disturbed.
- Make sure you have plenty of treats to reward your dog every few minutes for good behaviour.
When to advocate for your dog?
- While it’s difficult – and even embarrassing, ask people not to talk to your dog and disturb them. For the friendly dogs, they’re less likely to relax if they’re hoping people will come and talk to them, and for those who would rather be left alone, it can be quite stressful.
- If your dog is friendly, social and has relaxing and settling down to an art, and is happy just hanging out with you, this can be a good end to a long walk for you both.
- Ask yourself honestly if your dog will enjoy this kind of outing. Some dogs love new places and experiences, while others find them really stressful and much prefer being at home and having a predictable routine. Just because you can take your dog to the pub, doesn’t mean you should.
How to manage the day
- Have a good walk first.
- Find a pub with a large beer garden, outdoor eating space or spacious indoor setting with hidden nooks and crannies.
- Find a corner or a quiet area where your dog can settle and not be disturbed.
- Bring something comfortable for them to lie on, like a piece of vet bed.
- Bring along an occupier or puzzle toy or similar to occupy your dog and keep them happy (as long as they do not food guard).
- Start your socialisation gently, by just having a quick drink to familiarise your dog with the new environment.
- Leave before your dog gets bored and restless.
When to advocate for your dog
- Try not to let people (or other dogs) disturb your dog, or expect to be able to stroke or touch them. For your dog, this can be anything from wildly exciting to really stressful, so far better avoided as either will sabotage all your fabulous training!
- Prevent children in particular talking to your dog – and involve their parents if necessary. Children are often at a dog’s face (and teeth) height, and so this can be a very real danger.
Being able to take your dog with you wherever you go is a joy, and can make days out far more enjoyable – but make sure you do some training and preparation before you head out for long days together.
New environments can be stimulating, or dogs can find them overwhelming – and so you need to protect them from the attentions of others no matter how well-meaning. The law is strict when it comes to dogs, and the smallest nip can land you in a whole heap of trouble.