Town events such as North Andover’s annual Sheep Shearing Festival and Dog Day at Smolak Farms are perfect opportunities to socialize your pup and help him learn to be an active, well mannered member of the community. My 4 month old puppy, Walt, will be attending both events with me and I plan to make the experience as fun and positive as possible!
The more prepared you are to bring your pup along to an event the better set up you’ll be for success, so in addition to everything you’ve learned from your BlueDog classes or private lessons, I have put together a list of tips and reminders for you to make the very most out of the experience!
1. Pack some super treats and don’t forget you clicker! Oh come on…you knew I wouldn’t allow you to leave your clicker at home! The tastier the treats the better… regular kibble or chopped up carrots aren’t going to cut it when there are sheep running around. And your clicker will help you let your pup know the precise moment he’s doing something right!
So, what are we clicking for, you might ask. Well, anything your dog does that you like! I want you to go there with a list of GOOD behaviors you’d like to see your dog give you. The moment he does one, CLICK and give him a treat! You should be clicking and treating at a high rate of reinforcement, we want to catch all the good things! It could be anything from your dog glancing up to you, walking on a loose leash, or simply nice, calm behavior. If he’s being good let him know, because the more you reward the behaviors you like, the more he’ll give them to you. And don’t forget that it’s not just all about the clicker and treats, you’ve got to make it SO much fun for your pup to be with you! Talk to him, surprise him with a toy in your back pocket….you’re going to have a lot of distractions to compete with so the silly puppy voice WILL be necessary.
What if my dog does something I don’t like? you might also ask. Simply avoid reinforcing it! If your pup pulls, don’t move and work on getting his attention back to you. He only gets to move forward if the leash is loose, simple as that!
2. Start easy. Find a place by the edge of the park where there are minimal distractions and begin reinforcing your dog immediately for good behaviors before moving toward the crowds. You can even start your training in the car…why not?! Begin by getting his attention with the Name Game, that’s one of Walt’s favorites, or try some easy commands like “sit” or “touch.” Setting him up for success early on will make the entire experience easier and much more fun for him.
3. Look for signs of stress. We want public outings like this to be enjoyable for your pup, so if he looks too overwhelmed, he may not be ready for such a busy event. Signs of stress include heavy panting, ears pulled back, low tail and head, not taking his treats, licking his lips, blinking his eyes, holding up his paw, or lots of yawning. Of course, some of those behaviors may also represent excitement, but you know your pup and we’ve taught you well…so if you think he’s unhappy, he likely is. Simply bring him home (or surprise him with a trip to his favorite local trail!) and allow him to calm down. Then start bringing him to more locations but with less distractions (the park on a normal day would be much better to start.) Just because he was overwhelmed, that doesn’t mean he’ll never be able to go to a busy event, he just needs some more time and training before he’s comfortable with it!
4. Don’t forget additional supplies. Make sure your pup is wearing his ID when you go to an event and make sure you have a supply of poop bags. Bring along some water as well, all the excitement might make him thirsty. If you use a front-clip harness or head halter for training, this is a good time to use it. And avoid bringing your pup’s retractable leash as it will give you limited control and can prove to be dangerous in crowds; opt for his regular 6 foot lead instead. And fun toy is always a good idea as well in case he starts to get bored with his treats!
5. Be respectful. It’s wonderful that Andover and North Andover are so dog friendly and allow dogs at these events, so let’s keep it that way! Make sure you clean up after your dog and always respect the personal space of others….not everyone loves slobbery kisses like we do! And as I ALWAYS preach, make sure you ASK before you allow your dog to greet another dog or person, or simply don’t allow him to say hello, he’s too busy having fun with you anyways! If you don’t want your pup to say hello to another, feel free to throw me under the bus by saying “I’m sorry but he’s in training, and my dog trainer is very strict!” Or if you do want him to say hello, use it as an opportunity to reward good behavior by waiting until he’s calm and on a loose leash before you allow him to say hi.
For more about proper greetings, ask me about the Yellow Dog Project. And make sure to visit us at Dog Days at Smolak Farms where we’ll be talking about the project and handing out yellow ribbons for dogs who need them!
6. If things are going well, practice some of the more challenging behaviors your pup learned in class! Use the event as a learning opportunity for your dog….if he’s giving you great attention and straying by your side, feel free to ask for a little bit more, such as for a “down” or a 5 second “stay.” Or if you’ve been working hard on generalizing you pup’s “settle,” bring a mat and spend a couple minutes shaping him to it. (This could be a great exercise for a couple of adolescent doodles I had in class…you know who you are! : ) This will help your pup learn to generalize the behaviors he’s learned in class, so that he’ll do them for you anywhere, with any distractions.
Remember, when you bring your dog to a community event, you want to keep things as positive and fun as possible! I will be thrilled if I get to see some of you at the Sheep Shearing Festival this Sunday, you’ll find Walt and I at the North Andover Merchants Association’s booth from 2-4pm (and will definitely get bonus points in class if you stop by with your pup and some treats and your clicker!) The entire BlueDog team will also be at Dog Days at Smolak Farms at the BlueDog booth all day long.
If you would like advice about your dog and if he is ready to attend these events, feel free to contact us.