Dog-Friendly (and Mostly Local!) Outing Opportunities
One of the biggest and most important things we discuss and advocate for with puppies (and dogs alike) is socialization and exposure to the world they live in. Most, if not almost all, dogs do not get anywhere near the exposure that they need, nor early enough for it to help, and the owners and dogs both will suffer the consequences later on. Sometimes under-socialization results in fear of the world and everything in it, but more often, it results in aggression and/or reactivity towards things (barking, growling, lunging, etc.). Once it reaches this point it takes a LOT of work to try to improve, and we can't always fix it at this point. So, if you are a puppy owner, now is the time to get your dog out in the world now when it really counts! Here are some ideas of some dog-friendly places you can take your puppy.
*NOTE: This is geared towards friendly, non-reactive dogs and puppies, and for puppies who have had at least three sets of puppy shots. Please do NOT take your dog or puppy anywhere that dogs are not allowed, and do not take your dog out in public of any kind if he or she has any sort of fearful, reactive, or aggressive behavior; Instead contact us for the next best plan of action. Also, if your puppy is experiencing something for the first time and seems unsure of the situation, do not force him or her to tolerate it; these should be fun and positive experiences. Remember to give your puppy space and time away from things that appear scary to him or her and do not force the puppy into intimidating or overwhelming experiences.
Here are some great places to go for exposure and socialization......
Growers markets (corrales, downtown)
Restaurant patios (El Patio, Flying Star, Slate Street, Panera Bread, etc.)
Brewery/pub patios (The Barley Room, Canteen Brewhouse, Boxing Bear, Marble Tap Room,
Red Door, Kaktus, Quarter Celtic, Turtle Mountain, Bosque Brewing, La Cumbre, etc.)
Coffee shops (outside of: O'Bean's Coffee, Humble Coffee, Breve, The Brew, Zendo, etc.)
Your work (if it's ok with your boss and environment and your dog will do well)
Parades or festivals
Food truck events
Outdoor sports games
Live music events (from a distance)
Outside of bagel shops
Friends' and families' houses
(If you know of other dog-friendly places that should be on this list [especially if they're local!], please email us to let us know so we can add it!)
You should also be looking for opportunities for your dog to see/experience (from a distance until you're sure your dog is ok with these situations):
Skateboards, scooters, bicycles, tricycles
Elderly people (including using mobility assistance equipment)
Kids and teenagers
People wearing costumes or odd clothing
Dogs wearing costumes or odd things (such as a cone after surgery)
Open- and closed-back stairs
Other animals (horses, goats, wildlife, etc.)
Strollers and walkers
Slick surfaces (treated concrete in hardware stores, etc.)
(MUCH more on this list yet to come!)
A Note About Taking the Puppy for Walks
As soon as the puppy is off of “house arrest” regarding vaccinations, it typically becomes a routine to then take the puppy out into the world on a daily walk. This can serve several purposes, from letting the puppy see and explore the great outdoors, to teaching them to walk on a leash, to just giving them a way to get out of the house and get some exercise. While the walk can be great for these things, there are some behavior problems to be aware of that daily neighborhood walks can actually seem to create and/or make much worse.
There are many things and beings a puppy may encounter on a walk, be it close up or from a distance, and we want to make those experiences as low-key, positive, and natural as possible. These may be situations such as a puppy seeing a trash can for the first time, hearing a loud truck go by, or simply smelling lots of new things all at once. Typically, for any new situation such as these, we like to let the puppy engage with the new things as much as is safely possible and as much (or as little) as he or she wants to. We also like to reward for any appropriate behavior; for example, if the puppy is cautious going up to the big scary trash bin, but sniffs around it to see that it’s ok and isn’t dangerous or worth worrying about then moves on, we would reward for that brave encounter. If the puppy is startled by something (such as a loud truck going by) and needs a minute to just see what’s going on and try to figure out the situation, it’s fine to either pause and wait for the puppy to feel out the situation, or to move further from whatever is happening if it seems too scary. We try to control the situations we put puppies in as much as possible, again aiming to have as positive of an experience as possible with new things especially for the first time, but things will happen. If something really startles or scares a puppy (hopefully just startles), it’s best to not work on it in that moment. Just tell him or her how great they are for tolerating that situation, get them out of there, and move on quickly in space and activities into something else. Take mental note of the scary thing or situation, so we can either be wary of it should arise again in the future, and/or we can work on re-building the puppy’s confidence around the situation at another time and in a specific manner. Besides these specific situations, the puppy should mostly be able to walk around and explore his or her surroundings a bit on-leash on the walk to get a sense of the world.
When meeting the neighbor or new people out in the world and on walks, we recommend working on polite greetings as soon as possible. As we do in our puppy classes, if someone approaches and asks to say hi to the puppy, assuming the puppy wants to engage with this new person, we strongly suggest stepping on the leash so that the leash is taught from the puppy’s collar to the ground, giving him or her plenty of room to stand, but not enough to ever jump on the person. This allows the puppy to wiggle or sit or stand or lay down, but vertical interactions are not allowed or ever learned, so this should be the approach taken as long as necessary until the puppy doesn’t even think to jump up on a new person, and picks a different, more polite, greeting style instead. Do remember though that if the puppy doesn’t want to engage with a new person, the puppy should never be made to interact with them; no matter how much you or the other person wants to. This can very quickly create a human-fearful dog, so remember to give your dog the space and option he or she chooses.
There are obviously lots of fun and exciting new situations to explore with a puppy out on that daily walk, however, here comes the cautionary part from someone who has pretty much seen it all. While walks can be fantastic for so many reasons, there are a few problems that walks can actually seem to cause. The main one is that of causing or exacerbating reactivity mainly towards other dogs, and sometimes towards other people, while on-leash. By basic definition, “reactivity” means the dog reacts (typically with lunging, growling, snarling, and/or barking) towards and in the presence of an external stimulus. There is a lot to this subject, but some of the main things you need to know as a puppy owner about this on-leash reactivity are some of the following. The first is that once this behavior starts and continues, it is VERY difficult to “fix.” The second is that it is very much a learned behavior; this is good news, because there are ways to prevent it, but the training has to happen before the problem starts. The last is that it can and will occur even with off-leash friendly dogs and puppies; as in, on-leash, the dog is highly reactive towards other dogs, but off-leash and especially with the owners not directly present, the dog may vary anywhere from fine to greatly playful with no issues at all with other dogs or people. On-leash reactivity is one of the biggest and most prevalent behavior problems with dogs in our city, but the good news is that if you are truly willing to go the extra mile to prevent this behavior, you and your dog will have a much better “leash life” and have so many more opportunities out in the world together.
Let’s talk about how this behavior typically begins with a puppy. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you have a very young puppy, under the age of about twelve weeks, who hasn’t had any negative experiences with other dogs or on-leash, and you’re just starting out with your neighborhood walks together. We’ll also assume you’ve done your at-home practice with leash-work, as in you have gotten the puppy slowly used to the leash itself and he or she is ready to go out for the real walks. At first, the puppy is typically quite cautious and even timid going outside; it’s a big world with lots of things to see, smell, feel, and hear, and most of it is brand new to the puppy. After several short “walks” or just times spent being outside on the leash though, the puppy is feeling more comfortable and is ready to be brave and go further for a more “regular” walk. At this point, he or she will encounter all kinds of new things, including first hearing other dogs barking in the neighborhood from their backyards, which at first, is ok if he or she is nervous about. What the puppy next encounters though, is another dog on-leash on a walk. This is where things can get tricky. Many dogs that your puppy may see will often be barking at the sight of another dog (your puppy), and whether the barking may be out of excitement or more aggressive reactivity, this is a behavior that your puppy is very likely to also pick up. It usually begins out of frustration where the puppy wants to say hi to the other dog he or she sees from a distance, but isn’t able to, and often starts to bark out of frustration. This will often progress however, to overall leash reactivity, where the puppy grows older and lunges and barks at any other dog he or she sees while out on the walk or on the leash. It may have begun as excitement and frustration in not being able to approach the other dog, but usually gets worse very quickly in that he or she is now likely even aggressive towards other dogs on leash.
To avoid this type of behavior, which is very difficult if not almost impossible to fix once it starts and becomes a habit, there are a few things we can try with the puppy.
Firstly, and the best and easiest option by far, it is recommended to simply avoid walks for a while with the young puppy. Partly, this is obviously to not let this leash-reactive behavior even begin. More so though, a puppy who is under around four months of age is still in the extremely crucial “socialization window” or “exposure period” where everything he or she does (or doesn’t) experience, greatly affects them and their later life. So with this being said, and with how extremely important this time-frame is for a puppy, it is actually so much more beneficial for them to be taken out in the world somewhere (such as a restaurant patio if they’re friendly and ready, outdoors growers’ market, uptown or downtown, etc.) for them to get the socialization and exposure to the world and everything in it instead. This should occur once the puppy has around three sets of shots (ask your vet or contact us if you are unsure if your puppy has enough vaccinations to walk around new places). It is important to go slowly, and don’t overwhelm the puppy. Check in with them and make sure they aren’t stressed; use your space and just be as close or as far as your puppy feels comfortable in that setting. Since the puppy is out of their element and the environment contains a lot of “busy happenings,” he or she is so much less likely to become reactive in this environment, even if another dog is encountered. The other advantage of this situation is that other dogs encountered in these environments are less likely to be reactive (growling, barking, lunging) towards other dogs, so your puppy might be able to actually approach these dogs to say hello if you so choose; or even if an interaction doesn’t occur, the puppy won’t pick up any bad behaviors from the other dogs seen.
Secondly, if avoiding the daily neighborhood walk isn’t 100% an option, or for any applicable similar situations, we can try to lessen any negative behaviors from occurring with the puppy when he or she encounters other dogs being walked or who are behind fences. The first is to try simply rewarding for calm from a distance. Essentially, just as your puppy sees another dog from whatever distance they may be, and before the puppy reacts with any barking or lunging, we reward with a verbal marker of “yes!” and reward with any high-value treat the puppy really likes. You may continue doing this as you approach/pass the other dog (hopefully across the street or from a little distance away if possible, as the closer your puppy is to the other dog, the more difficult it will be for the puppy to remain calm), by giving the verbal marker word “yes” and giving treats for the puppy looking at the other dog (or whatever being or object may be ahead) and not reacting in a negative way. This would be a great thing to do with the puppy pretty much his or her whole life around anything you don’t want them to react to. Keep in mind that this must happen before the puppy starts to react; if he or she is already reacting, it’s a bit too late for this approach, or you are too close to what the puppy is reacting to.
Another similar good approach would be to try what’s mentioned above, but for a more toy/game-driven puppy, reward with a toy instead of treats in this setting. For example, in the same situation mentioned, as soon as the puppy sees another dog (but before the puppy reacts in any way), give the verbal reward marker of “yes” and reward with a game of tug with a special toy. To make this most effective, instead of bringing a toy that the dog always has available at home, try buying a new “special walk toy” – meaning one that the puppy really likes and that he or she only gets on the walks when you need it. This may take a little time to teach the puppy to play in a distracting environment such as with another dog or other things or people present, but for a toy-motivated dog, this may be more effective than food rewards.
Lastly, what we can try in this setting too is to add some of what are called “incompatible behaviors” to use as a tool in this setting – now and forever with the puppy in any difficult setting. At home and with lots of practice in different areas, we would first teach the puppy essentially some fun tricks to use that they really like. For example, we could teach the puppy a “touch” (nose to your hand), “spin” (turn in a circle), or “wave” (like a shake, but with no hand contact), and these become the incompatible behaviors. Once the puppy knows and enjoys these behaviors and will do these tricks in many different settings and places, we can then use them as something physical and fun for the puppy to do in a tough setting – such as in the presence of another dog out in the world. In the same settings as mentioned above, as soon as the puppy sees another dog from a distance, we would immediately ask for one of the tricks he or she knows well. In this situation, the puppy can now do either one of two things – react towards the other dog (which we obviously do not want), or, he or she can do a behavior incompatible with reacting – as in, one of the tricks. The goal of this training is to give the puppy something to do in the presence of something distracting and difficult, instead of just telling them what we don’t want them to do, which is react towards other the dogs.
With any of the aforementioned training ideas, it will take some time and training practice, but leash-reactivity can certainly be prevented. Also, you don’t have to avoid walks forever; this is just a temporary situation where your time is better spent elsewhere with your puppy while he or she is still in that crucial exposure window (as in out in the world, at busy places). Once the puppy is around eight months or so, this would be a better time to start regular neighborhood walks. You will also now have many different tools and training ideas to use as you need them if you encounter a difficult situation.
Good luck and happy exploring!
All dogs and puppies are individuals, and what works for one may not work for another. You are responsible for your dog at all times, no matter the situation, and the safety of yourself, your dog, and others is your responsibility at all times. Arie’s Dogland will not be held responsible for any issues occurred. The advice and information given in this article are meant for a healthy and friendly puppy; the behavior modification training needed for an aggressive or reactive dog will be different than the training advice mentioned above which is meant for young puppies, and safety measures must be used. Do not take a reactive or aggressive dog or puppy out in the world. If your dog needs training help, contact Arie’s Dogland or another reward-based training professional for help. This article may only be re-published (in whole or in part) with specific written permission from Arie’s Dogland.
The Truth about Dog Parks
As a Professional Dog Trainer, I hear it asked weekly, if not almost daily, about the pros and cons of taking a dog or puppy to a dog park. There are many aspects on both sides of the list that dog owners should be aware of. Here, I aim to discuss in full detail as much as possible everything a dog owner should know before taking a dog (or especially a puppy) to a dog park.... but quite frankly, I do not recommend them. Please read on.
The advantages of a dog going to a dog park are obviously the socialization and play aspect, assuming the dog plays nicely and the rest of the dogs there are appropriately suited for dog parks. The other main advantage and the main reason most people go is simply for the exercise for the dog; dogs are hard to tire out, and most of us work a lot in addition to that issue, so a dog park can make for a quick and easy exercise solution. For some people, the socializing aspect for the owners themselves can be a draw; many dog-park-goers are a consistent group of people, so many become quite friendly and taking the dog to the dog park can be a fun thing for the people as well.
The disadvantages or risks of dog parks are fairly plenty, and these are especially true for puppies. Here are some things to be aware of.
1. One risk is simply the health risk of the dog/puppy picking up a virus or illness of some sort. While most often this will be the basic, “common cold” of dog illnesses such as bordetella (“kennel cough”), there can be other illnesses as well. Puppies should certainly have all sets of their puppy shots, as while not likely, they are at risk of acquiring the parvovirus, which is the main and serious illness that puppies are at risk of until fully vaccinated. The general health risk of dog parks, while certainly worth mentioning, is not typically too large of a risk to most dogs – especially those fully vaccinated.
2. The main risks of dog parks are the behavioral aspects that a negative situation can cause. One obvious negative situation would be the instance of a dog fight/attack. While scuffles seem to occur more often than more serious fights, a fight at a dog park will result in physical injury likely requiring a vet visit – usually partly because the owners are not trained in managing a situation such as a dog fight, and there can also be such a large number of dogs at any given time that a two-dog fight can quickly escalate to a 10- or 20-dog fight. After a dog fight, many dogs involved now become highly reactive or aggressive to other dogs in any situation, regardless of how many positive experiences they may have had with other dogs in the past.
3. Similar to the above situation, a very common situation seen is that a young dog or puppy is taken into the dog park for the very first time, and the dog is immediately overwhelmed by the many dogs who charge up to say hi to the dog, and he or she basically, for lack of better terms, freaks out. Even though the other dogs had no intention of causing harm to the new dog or puppy, the dog is highly stressed, has no escape, and usually ends up screaming in a corner. Besides the fact that this situation can cause a dog fight in itself (partly because many dogs do not do well with a screaming dog or animal of any kind), this situation almost always causes severe “emotional trauma” for a dog; especially puppies, that will then result in behavior modification training of months at least that work on building the puppy’s confidence around other dogs again. In some situations, the puppy never overcomes the terrifying situation he or she was put in and is then dog reactive or aggressive from then on.
4. In general, most professionals in canine fields of any kind agree that dog parks are not a suitable place for puppies until they are bigger, more mature, and already have good canine social skills. Young puppies (under eight months or so) are especially more susceptible to illnesses as well as the behavioral/emotional issues.
For some real-life examples, here are some notable examples of the situations of dogs/puppies (with names changed) who have had negative experiences at the dog park that have resulted in severe behavior issues including fear and/or aggression:
Balto was a medium-sized pup; very sweet with people and somewhat shy. He hadn’t met any dogs after the owners acquired him at eight weeks, from a breeder, as their vet told them to not have him be around any dogs until fully vaccinated. After finally being fully vaccinated at around 16 weeks of age, Balto was taken to a dog park for the first time. Immediately upon entering, he was charged by all of the dogs there, chased into a corner, and began cowering and screaming. The owners did their best to get to him to get him out, at which point he was then trying to defend himself from the other dogs, and growling and snapping at any dog who got near him. The owners got him out and took him home, but since that terribly negative experience, he has had major issues with other dogs (from any distance away).
Boo was a medium-sized, mixed-breed pup, who was acquired from a rescue as a very young puppy. The owners immediately had her in puppy classes (where she did very well), as well as puppy playgroup (daycare – where she also did very well), and regularly had playdates with other dogs. At around the age of six months, she was taken to a dog park for the first time. Not knowing the exact extent of what happened, essentially, it “did not go well,” and BOO was intensely harassed by several of the other dogs there, to the point where she had to attempt to defend herself. Boo was taken out and taken home immediately. After this situation, her next time at playgroup (a week later or so) also did not go well at all; even though she had previously had no issues at all. Shortly after being there, Boo essentially tried to start a fight with one of the other dogs for no apparent reason, and though there were no injuries or issues, she was taken out of playgroup immediately and had to be picked up. She also has a behavior plan in place, and playgroup likely will no longer be an option for her just because of how that one situation affected her.
6. Most of the incidences we see/hear of at dog parks are at the “big dog part” of the dog park; there are considerably less issues in the small dog area of dog parks. There are still the same risks as above, and some dog parks do not have a small dog part of the park, but it is worth mentioning that the small dog area is usually a bit safer than the big dog area, but owners should still be just as cautious with either side of the dog park. We have heard of dogs of both large and small sizes that have been not only severely injured (emotionally or behaviorally), but even killed.
7. As previously stated, dog parks are not always “bad,” however, there are many things that can help a dog park run more smoothly than they typically do. The first is that dogs who are not suited for dogs parks simply should not be there. This includes dogs who do not have socially acceptable temperaments; whether they are too shy, have not been properly exposed to other dogs before, or are simply too reactive, aggressive, or “rude” in personality or play styles. Puppies, in my mind, do not have a place at dog parks at all. Also, dogs over six months of age and not spayed or neutered (this “rule” is on most dog park signs as you enter) are technically not supposed to be there either; especially unaltered male dogs – even though the unaltered male may be perfectly fine with other dogs and plays well with others, it is often seen that the dog puts off a “vibe” to the other dogs that simply gets him in trouble (or often attacked) even though he did nothing to provoke it. So, provided that none of the above dogs are at this theoretical dog park, and only those who are socially appropriate are there to play, the owners of these dogs should also have control of their dogs (mainly voice control, but leash/physical control if need be), and should always be watching and supervising their dogs’ play. Even good, normal dog play can get out of hand here and there, and the owners should be there to step in when appropriate; even if just to take the dogs away from each other for short breaks every now and then. Lastly, the “catch pen” or “intro pen” at dog parks are practically never used as they should be. Most people take the dog into the intro pen, then immediately out into the group. While this pen is partly used as a safety net between the dog park and the outside world (or parking lot/street), it is mainly there to be used as the intro pen we call it. Meaning, ideally, each dog that enters the park would be taken into the intro pen, and left there (with the owner of course) for at least three minutes or so. This allows the owner time to gage the other dogs themselves; are there dogs there that shouldn’t be there, as above mentioned? If so, it probably isn’t a good group to stay and play with that day. Also, and mainly, using time in this intro pen gives the dog coming in a chance to safely “meet” the other dogs at the dog park, as they come up to the fence/gate, versus just tossing the dog out into the group of unknown dogs. Ideally, the dog is allowed to enter the group after all of the other dogs wander off from away from the fence/gate, to allow a much smoother entrance and less energy all in one place.
There are of course other aspects to dog parks, but the main thing is that everyone taking their dog to dog parks (or parks/open areas where other dogs gather) should be fully aware of everything mentioned in this article, with the obvious goal being to keep every dog, puppy, and owner safe and happy.
Please do your part in helping keep our canine pals safely social! If you have a puppy or small dog, use our playgroup if he or she enjoys it! If you have an older or larger dog, try day care (ask us who we recommend if your dog is not age/size suited for our groups), or play dates with a friend's dog, or other safe options.