Out and About Dog: How to find (or train) a dog that will go anywhere
One of the many things that makes me jealous when I look at pictures of some European cities is the acceptance of dogs, everywhere! Cafe dogs, restaurant dogs, patio dogs, and pub dogs. How nice would it be to have such access to the world with one’s pet? Happy (and envious) sigh. Some places do allow pet dogs here in Canada, of course…not restaurants but certainly patios and other kinds of stores. However, they usually come with some (quite reasonable) rules and conditions. Are you looking for a dog that can come along with you? Or perhaps you’re wondering if your own dog might both enjoy and be suitable as an out-and-about dog? Read on.
Considering a new dog?
If you’re ready to open your heart and home to a dog you want to bring everywhere, you might be madly googling “best breeds for x, y, z”. And of course, breed does matter! Different breeds have different needs, different hair coats, different exercise requirements, and so on. But breed isn’t everything, so there’s a caveat: every dog is an individual, and there is considerable variation even within each breed (in fact, the variation between individuals in a breed is bigger than the variation between breeds!).
That said, out-and-about dogs share a couple of characteristics: the first (and by far most important) thing is that they are friendly to people, and more specifically, they’re friendly to new people. They are comfortable with people of all sorts and types, and ideally they actually enjoy meeting new people. This comfort and enjoyment of meeting new people means that out-and-about dogs won’t find their sojourns to the local cafe to be fear-inducing. We want our dogs to get more of what they love and less of what they fear, after all!
Many breeds are friendly towards people, and within each breed there are individual lines which are more, or less, friendly. Generally, breeds who have been historically bred to be fearful of people they don’t know, and to act upon their fear with aggression, are not good candidates. This includes but is not limited to guarding breeds. In addition, many “working” dogs can be a bit anxious around people they don’t know, such as herding dogs. In Canada, both the Labrador and Golden retrievers are very popular, and they are often friendly with strangers. Depending on the quality and orientation of the breeder, these dogs can be a great choice for someone looking for a go-anywhere type of dog. Pit bull-type dogs can also be very friendly to people, and some smaller breeds are perfectly content to lap-hop.
The second consideration is that the dog shouldn’t have the kind of boundless, frenetic energy that makes them less likely to want to chill-out near a table and watch the world go by. Although some breeds are known to be generally high-energy (herders again come to mind), this is also very much a “line” question: some lines within many otherwise easy-going breeds are very energetic. So if you’re looking for a chill-out dog, take a second look. Does the breeder participate in dog shows? These dogs tend to be more relaxed. Or do they participate in sports or other competitions? Be wary! This leads up to another good point: if you’re buying a purebred puppy, make sure you have good contact with the breeder, and let them know what you’re looking for. A good breeder will screen you to make sure you’ll be a good fit, and will allow you to meet the parents. Spend some time reading about the flags for puppy mill dogs before you make the purchase, and do not go ahead if you’re concerned. Puppy mill dogs tend to have more behavioural issues, so are less likely to be good out-and-about dogs without more intensive training.
Puppy training: it matters
If you’ve carefully selected a suitable breed, found a quality breeder, and are getting ready to do things right, start looking for puppy classes and socialization opportunities. Socializing a puppy when they are very young (under 12-16 weeks) is absolutely helpful, and in fact is the most important training task you will do with your dog, ever. Socialization-age puppies are learning what is safe in their worlds. Puppies should get comfortable with different sorts and types of people, traffic, people walking by, the busy sounds of a kitchen, car trips, thunder, strollers and walkers and canes and…the list is endless! The more stuff your puppy safely meets as a puppy, the less they’ll be scared of, as an adult. So put your puppy in a puppy stroller, grab some delicious treats, and head out the door. Socializing is one extremely important way to invest in a social, friendly dog as an adult. It’s so important, in fact, that modern dog trainers urge that a lot of other training can wait! An adult dog can easily learn to sit, come when called, lay down, leave-it, and stay. Deficits in socialization are much harder to overcome, and sometimes they simply can’t be.
Puppies may not be the best choice
The best way to guarantee that you’re getting a go-anywhere kind of dog is, and this may surprise you, to simple head out and get a go-anywhere kind of dog! I’m not being facetious, I promise. Puppies are adorable, but are always a bit of a gamble. Young dogs often change dramatically when they hit social maturity at about 1-3 years of age, so there is always an element of chance with a puppy. If you want as close to a guarantee as possible (although of course there are no guarantees when we’re talking about living, thinking creatures) for a chill, friendly, adult dog, head to the pound or your local rescue and find one. A three-year old dog of any breed or mix who is relaxed, friendly to strange people, and either friendly or non-interested in other dogs is just the ticket. Once a dog is about three, what you see is really what you get. Adult dogs don’t hide who they are, especially those who are being fostered so are living in a home. (Side note: If you’re worried about adopting a dog from a kennelling situation, ask about foster-to-adopt and returns.) Unlike puppies, who can change drastically, an adult dog’s energy level and sociability…well, it is what it is. They are showing you their true colours. And as much as we’d like to feel like we can shape and mould our puppies into the perfect family member, we’ll always be working with the genetics, and socialization history, we’ve been given.
Considering a bit of polish on your current dog?
There are many great classes taught using positive reinforcement that can help prepare your dog to be out and about. Important skills will include “leave it”, which means to not advance towards some exciting thing, and instead turn to the owner for a reward. Another important skill is a “stay”, often a down-stay. A nice mat brought along to the patio will make for a comfy surface for your dog to do a down-stay on. Both leave-it and down stay are simply skills that must be taught to dogs, using a good, incremental plan, and many repetitions. They aren’t innate! And if your dog is a jumper, you’ll want to tame that beast, too. Having trained up your out-and-about dog, you’ll need to bring rewards for their good behaviour when you hit the town.
The best classes to prepare your dog to interact with the public will include general information about meeting your dog’s needs. A dog who is enriched from working on food puzzles and taking a fun scent-filled walk, and who is exercised from a long session of fetch or some dog-dog play, will be much more likely to be chill while hanging out under a table in the local café. A dog whose needs aren’t being met is much more likely to be rambunctious, and we can’t really blame them.
If you’re an out-and-about type yourself, having an out-and-about dog can be a real blessing. Patio time can be enriching and entertaining for a social dog, so it’s worth doing the training if your otherwise friendly dog is a bit bouncy. And if your dog enjoys chilling with you on the patio by whatever their combination of training and personality, I’d love to see some pictures. Nothing makes a dog trainer happier than seeing delighted dogs doing their thing.
Cover photo: Dimitar Atanasov via flickr, CC by 2.0