Dog owners worry WAY too much about their dog’s behavior in public. It’s understandable though. If there is one thing most people have in common, it’s that we wish we cared less about what other people think of us. The vast majority of us care a lot about how we are perceived in public. We put great effort into our clothing, our makeup, our accessories, and are even careful about who we associate with to avoid others getting the wrong impression of us.
By extension, as dog owners, we care a lot about how our dogs behave in public. And, we get very embarrassed when they don’t behave as we expect them to. But many times, our dog’s behavior really doesn’t matter as much as we think. And when it does matter, we don’t always handle correcting it the best way we should in the moment. This week, I want to talk about how to distinguish between these two circumstances, and what we can do to cut down on potential embarrassment from our dogs.
When dog behavior doesn’t matter
It’s surprising to most of us that there are times when it’s just fine for our dogs to misbehave in public. Clients in the past have reacted to that bit of news in various ways:
- “What are you talking about?” Surely it is always important for my dog to behave perfectly in public.”
- “That’s crazy. I’m always embarrassed if my dog misbehaves in public. NO exceptions.”
- “My dog misbehaving doesn’t matter? That would be wonderful, if it weren’t absolutely false.”
So, when are these magical fantasy times of which I speak?
Our dogs are living creatures who make mistakes. Very few of us have dogs that we rely on to survive from day to day. (***If you do, this section does not apply***). As such, very few things our dogs do have life or death consequences. Expecting them to be perfect every single time you step out into public is just unrealistic. It’s like constantly expecting a 2 year old child to be a perfect quiet angel who sits perfectly still every minute of the day. Not gonna happen.
The perfect example of when it really doesn’t matter, is right here at DogBoy’s. We see a lot of dogs, every day. When they get to see their owners again after a long boarding stay, most dogs are through the roof with excitement. They are all over their owners, jumping, licking, whining, because they just cannot contain their excitement. We find it thoroughly enjoyable to watch your dogs unbridled joy at seeing you. Most owners, however, disagree. They are embarrassed that their dog is being so “naughty” in front of all of us. If there is one place where it’s perfectly acceptable for your dog to misbehave, it’s here at the Ranch.
So, Why Do Our Dog’s Misbehave?
Most of the time, like in our front office, dogs misbehavior comes out of excitement. They really want to go say hi to that dog, that new person, chase that squirrel, sniff that bush, run, swim, do super fun doggy things! Sometimes, they can also be overwhelmed with what is happening around us. A lot of the time when we train our dogs, we do it in a quiet space. In our living room, a training building, or a quiet park. Then we suddenly expect our dogs to have that same level of training in the middle of downtown Austin, on South Congress, at the Domain, out at a dog-friendly bar, or any other place we might go. Most of these places are loud, overwhelming to a dog’s senses, and filled with new things to explore. So, it’s a little silly when we are shocked that our dogs won’t “behave”. They are behaving, just not the way a human would.
I love taking my dogs out in public. I am a huge advocate for well-behaved social dogs, as long as the dog enjoys it. Watch your dog, and make sure they aren’t “misbehaving” because they are afraid or uncomfortable. This can lead to several behavioral issues that will make your private life more difficult, and can require extensive training to correct.
“How do I make my dog behave in public?”
The easy answer: Practice.
If you want to have a well-behaved dog wherever you go, it is important to train in the places you frequent. If you want to be able to hang at the Domain with your dog, take some treats and go at a quiet time of day. Practice walking around and practice your skills while it is quiet. When your skills are rock solid in a slow time, go back when it’s busy and keep practicing.
Also remember, every outing with your dog is a training opportunity. We are never finished training. Sure, you may need little to no treats, but you should always be ready to reinforce your dog’s training in case something new comes up. In my opinion, it’s ALWAYS better to have treats and not need them, than need them and be without.
The Difference Between Behavior & Misbehavior In Dogs
It can be difficult for us to understand exactly why our dogs do the things they do, especially something we see as misbehavior. The best example of this is when one dog corrects another. You see it often in dog parks. An exuberant young dog goes to greet a new dog, and greets them by jumping all over them, licking them, and possibly even mouthing a little. “How sweet”, we think “he wants to be friends”. Suddenly, the dog they are greeting whirls around snarling and growling and snaps at the cute puppy. “What an awful dog!” we think, “why are they even here?”.
Usually in this situation the owner of the dog who snapped is shamed into telling their dog off, and leaving the park. The reality of it is that the young dog was actually being incredibly rude, and the older dog was telling them to stop. If the older dog had wanted to injure the younger dog, it probably could have. Instead, it chose a warning snap. Dogs communicate like dogs, not people. We have a tendency to misinterpret our dog’s communications a lot. Growls and snaps get astonishment and punishment from us, when really our dog is simply trying to communicate their discomfort.
So how do you handle that situation? Consult a professional dog trainer. If you are worried about how your dog interacts with others, give us a call. If your dog is great with people and dogs, but not as well behaved in public as you would like, call us for that too! We have a lot of fun classes and workshops that can help you find a starting point in your training.
freakin’ at the dog park by Intangible Arts
10/52 weeks… by Austin Kirk