Taking Your Dog to Public Events

The more I’m learning about dog behavior, the more large-scale dogs events make me cringe. I can now pick up on stress signals, signs of discomfort, poor social skills, warning signs, etc. – and I’m realizing that these behaviors, as you can imagine, are widely prevalent at events with lots of dogs and people.  Even though most of the dogs that attend these events are dog friendly (because they’d be kicked out in an instant if they weren’t), doesn’t mean that all the dogs present are having an easy time.

In order to keep dogs and people happy at big events, it’s important to stay in tune with your dog. I recommend reading up on dog behavior and stress signals before braving one of these big events. That will give you some tools to recognize issues as they arise, before they become a bigger problem.  After watching others attend these events and going to many myself, here are some tips I think are helpful for big public outings:

Come prepared with appropriate equipment. Make sure you bring everything you need to set you and your dog up for success. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you do not take your dog to big events using retractable leashes. There is hardly any control with these leashes, and in high activity environments you need all the control you can get. For the sake of all other dogs and owners at the event, I encourage you to stick to 4′ or 6′ standard leashes. Many events, especially if run by a humane society or rescue group, have policies against using retractable leashes.

Bring lots of TREATS!   I understand that shoving a bunch of treats in your dogs mouth won’t solve real problems, but it can sure help manage some when you’re out in a distracting environment. Often times when there is an overwhelming amount of stimuli, your dog will only pay attention to you if you’ve got something they want: yummy food. In new environments it is essential to be able to capture your dog’s focus. Treats will help enormously for this, especially if they are high value.

Don’t test at big events. An easy way to set your dog up for failure is bringing them into a high stress situation and having the “they can sink or swim” mentality. Socialization doesn’t come in the form of mass interactions with lots of people/dogs/things at one time.  Socialization should be controlled, positive experiences. Events can be so overwhelming for dogs – to the point that instead of learning proper social skills they just shut down. It is much better to work on your dog’s reaction to new people, dogs, etc. at a threshold where they will still be able to learn and progress.

Understand that dogs are dogs. I think the worst thing we can do for our dogs is to anthropomorphize them. This leads to all sorts of unrealistic expectations: Fluffy should like all the dogs, Fluffy should behave all day because this is fun, Fluffy should listen to me when we’re here just like at home, etc. We have to be understanding that these events are so high stress and different for most dogs that they might not act like they do normally, or they might act differently than we expect or want.

Know your/their limits. It does not help anyone to overdo it with your dog. Dogs are extremely sensitive and can go from being fine to absolutely not fine in a matter of minutes. It is essential that you stay in tune to how your dog is reacting to other dogs or people, and the minute things start getting hairy, you skedaddle (like I mentioned – don’t use these big, unstructured events as tests or “learn to deal with it” situations!).  Your dog might not necessarily need to leave all together, but a time out away from all the hubbub can really help a dog’s mentality.  Baxter behaved perfectly for over an hour at the Nationals game, and we listened to him when he told us he’d had enough. We distanced ourselves from the crowd and hung out together at a separate table. We knew that was the best way for Baxter to finish the afternoon off successfully, so we made it happen. We didn’t push him, and we ended the afternoon on a great note.

There are the lucky few out there who have dogs that are game for anything and everything. But there are also a large number of dog owners who don’t realize what they’re putting their dogs through when they bring them to these tough situations. I’m not saying your dog will never be able to attend these sort of dog friendly events, I just want dog owners to be aware of how their dogs are handling situations. That makes for a happier and safer environment for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Instead of these large scale events, I am always a supporter of smaller ones that are more controlled, like B-More Dog’s walks where the dogs aren’t allowed to meet each other, and Pittie Trails where we work specifically on skills around other people and dogs. I like to live a life of always setting my dogs up for success!


A Visit With Otis!

I have been missing Otis a lot the past three weeks. His new dad stays in touch with happy updates, questions, silly pictures, etc. – which I absolutely love. One day in between pictures of Otis stealing pillows and stories of his other silly antics, R brought up that I should come visit.

Of course I wanted to visit Otis. I’ve been wanting to see him since ten minutes after he got adopted. But I know he’s in a sensitive transition time, and I don’t want to confuse him or mess up his progress. R continually assured me that he thought Otis would be fine because he had adjusted so well and seemed pretty settled in. I agreed to stop by exactly three weeks after Otis went to this new home.

I was still torn on how I wanted the visit to go. Selfishly, I wanted Otis to be as excited to see me as he always has been – but a more sensible side of me wanted the opposite. You see, when Otis was with me last summer I watched him interact with his previous owner after I’d had him for about two weeks. He acted like he had never met that person in his life; he was totally indifferent towards him. I took this to mean that Otis could only be attached to one person at a time. Therefore, if he was very happy to see me when I visited him, I was worried it would mean he wasn’t attached to R yet. So I was ready for anything.

When I stopped by, R and Otie were in the garage working on cars. As I walked up, Otis started to act like he would if I was a stranger: backing up, some barking – I’d seen it all before. I crouched down and said, “Hi you big scary guard dog,” and that is when he recognized me – and totally lost it. He went ballistic and was so excited to see me, just like before. In that moment, I was the happiest foster mom of all time. Here was my foster dog, who I have been missing so much, acting like he’s missed me just the same. It was amazing. Then, my fears about Otie’s adjustment were extinguished as Otis ran up to R as if he were saying, “Look who came to visit!” It was the cutest thing of all time.

The reunion explosion continued for about five minutes and ended with Otis running back and forth between me and R in excitement. We took the party into R’s place and posted up on the couch. Otis immediately plopped himself in between us, doing his usual overbearing face-kissing routine alternatively to me and R. R and I caught up and talked about all things Otis, while Otie finally settled down and snuggled up between us.

If I could have written up the best outcome for a post-adoption visit with Otis, this would have been it. I got to see for myself just how happy he is with R. They are such a great pair, going everywhere and doing everything together. R seems to have become just as attached as I was (yay! yay! yay!).

They’ve got their routine down, and Otis is right at home. So much of Otie’s quirks and personality that I came to know also show up in the things him and R do together.

In fact, there were a few things that stood out, showing just how secure Otis now feels around R. He’s doing zoomies and he’s being brave enough to meet (and play with!) the shy little dog next door.

One of the best indications of progress is how much obedience training he and R have been working on together – and they haven’t even gone to a class yet. R has gotten Otis very good at focusing on him, and they’re mastering many of the basics. R has even taught Otis how to catch treats in his mouth. This may seem like a no brainer for a dog, but let me tell you – Otis really struggled with this when he was with me. It just didn’t occur to him to catch the treat, and would let it hit him in the head every single time. Look at how well he and R work together (disclaimer: the usual squealing occurs in this video):

I’m beyond glad that I listened to R and went to visit Otis. I got to experience the best of both worlds: Otis recognized me, and yet he very clearly loves his new life.

Reason #7038334 to foster!


One Year in Photos

To continue the celebration of our One Year Blog-a-versary, here are lots (and I mean lots) of photos that I feel portray some of our most outstanding moments (or that I think are just really cute). They have all been featured on this blog, and, to the best of my ability, they tell the story of the last twelve months. Enjoy :)

August 2011

September 2011

October 2011

November 2011

December 2011

January 2012

February 2012

March 2012

April 2012

May 2012

June 2011

July 2012

August 2012

It sure makes ya miss the little stinkers, doesn’t it!? I love going back and remembering all the silly things about each dog – the things that get lost as time goes on and as new ones come into your life. I still can’t express in words what this blog means to me and what I’ve gotten out of the last year, which is why I am so grateful to have the journey documented in photos.  I hope you enjoyed that recap as much as I did. Thank you all so much for your congratulations at this milestone – it means the world to me!


Otis in His New Home!

Lucky for us, Otis’ new dad is a photographer! Double lucky for us, he doesn’t mind if I share these pictures with you all. All of the updates I’ve been getting from R have been positive, and it sounds like Otis is settling in just fine! The pictures sure make it seem that way (some are camera, some are phone – all are from his new dad!):

Have a great weekend!