Maryland dog owners can now take their pets to a restaurant with an outdoor dining area if the business has a dog-friendly policy and the appropriate permit. This is great news for dogs and owners. They will be able to have more enriching experiences, and the human-animal bond will continue to flourish and grow. As someone who has trained assistance and therapy dogs for more than 25 years, I know the difficulties some owners face when their dogs accompany them to outdoor eateries. Even the best behaved dogs can temporarily forget their manners if they’re in an unfamiliar environment. Lots of people, other dogs, and the smell of good food can throw them off. Dog owners will need to make sure their pets can be on their best behavior in restaurants.
Here are some strategies that trainers of assistance dogs use for getting dogs and owners prepared for dining in public:
Only consider dining with your dog if your dog is friendly with adults, children and other dogs. Dogs that growl, lunge and snap are not good candidates for this experience.
Be certain that your dog will walk on a loose leash and respond reliably to the commands to sit, down and stay, as well as “leave it.” Taking a class, even if you have taught your dog these cues independently, will help you learn how to compete with the environment for your dogs’ attention. You may need your dog to respond to your signal very quickly.
Once your dog is reliably responding to you, begin to cue your dog to down and stay under your own tables at home while you eat. Work in areas such as the kitchen table, the dining room table, and an outdoor patio table. Be sure to reinforce the desired behavior.
When your dog is capable of consistently remaining in a down position under your tables, begin to visit the eateries where you will be taking your dog for brief periods of time. Walk around and practice having the dog sit under the table or next to you for a few minutes. Do this a few times. To get reliable, consistent behavior, your dog should become familiar with the area.
Once your dog is familiar with the restaurant, order food and drinks that can be consumed within 15 minutes. A small salad and drink is a good start. Doing this at least three times when the restaurant is not very busy will help ensure success.
After your dog will reliably and consistently relax under the table or very close to you, begin to enjoy your stay for longer periods and practice “leave it” by dropping a small piece of bread or a cracker. Test this many times. Practicing with a friend who has a dog is also helpful.
Do not expect too much, too soon. Like learning a foreign language or a musical instrument, enjoying the experience, along with repetition, will produce the best and most desirable results.
Remember that even very dog-friendly dogs may clash if trying to grab the same morsel of dropped food. Be certain that your dog will turn towards you quickly if cued to do so. Target training is an ideal method to teach this.
Correcting your dog, especially in a harsh manner, may be counterproductive. You need your dog to trust you and the environment to respond to your cues.
All dogs have different personalities. Work according to your dog’s personality and tolerance.
Not all dogs will be comfortable in this environment. If your dog is fearful, leave immediately and try returning again when the environment is less stimulating. If your dog continues to behave in a fearful manner, consider hiring a professional or accept that this may not be good for your dog.
If your dog behaves aggressively or vocalizes excessively, leave immediately and contact a qualified professional. Remember that being able to take dogs anywhere publicly is a giant step for owners. To keep this privilege and attain more, we must prove that this can be accomplished safely and without chaos.
When training assistance dogs, we begin public-access training with puppies by taking them everywhere they will be as adults for brief periods. We gradually increase the amount of time, and then add the behaviors we want them to use. We do not use corrections, and if we are not getting the results we want, we back up and regroup. It’s possible we have been trying to advance too quickly for that dog. Perhaps that dog is not able to tolerate certain environments. Remember that patience and tolerance is the key to building a successful relationship with your dog. Bon appétite!
DEBBIE WINKLER, CABC, CPDT is the owner of Humane Domain in
Sykesville, Maryland Debbie is an animal behavior consultant, trainer
and educator with a career spanning more than 25 years. In addition
to running her business in Maryland she is also an instructor in Animal Training and Behavior at Kutztown University.