Helping dogs cope and stay safe in larger social settings

With lockdown restrictions continuing to ease, Dogs Trust is urging dog owners to prepare now so they can keep their dogs safe and happy when out and about.

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 12:33 pm

Rachel Casey, Director of Canine Behaviour and Research, said: “As the hustle and bustle of life starts to return, and the streets get busier with people doing more socialising outdoors, it is important that we don’t drop the ball when it comes to our dog’s wellbeing and safety. Whether you plan on bringing your dog with you when out socialising, or you expect to leave them at home for a little while, this transition is likely to be difficult for them if they have been used to being at home with you for so long during lockdown.”

If you are socialising more outdoors and are planning to take your dog with you, the key is to build up gradually; making sure your dog is relaxed and happy with a few people and dogs about before you take them somewhere busy. By keeping them close to you, relaxed and with their attention on you, this will also help them cope with new things, as well as avoiding the risk of them wandering off and getting into potentially hazardous situations.

Teaching them to ‘settle’ in advance will make taking them to a pub or café much easier. Start this training at home to start with, where there are no distractions, so they can learn more easily what is expected. Building up the training in progressively more exciting environments will help you get to the point of having a calm relaxed dog sitting at your feet in a busy summer café.

The aim of this training is for dogs to ‘learn for themselves’ that lying down relaxed next to you is the best thing to do.

Sit quietly on a chair with your dog on a loose lead and a blanket or mat on the floor. Drop tiny bite-size treats to your dog as a reward for settling down on the blanket. Don’t say anything to your dog while doing this. Gradually reward more relaxed behaviours. This will vary between dogs – some will automatically start lying down so you can quickly progress to rewarding your dog only for this behaviour.

Then move on to reward specific signs of relaxing like sighing, weight shifting and head resting. Always make sure your dog is having a good time when settling.