I take my dog everywhere with me – he’s been to 8 countries and 21 states. We go to bars, coffee shops, running races, beaches, and more. But it took a lot of training to get him ready for that (much of which is actually covered in my Polite Greetings 101 book).
Many dogs are perfect angels at home, but turn into barking messes when they’re “out and about.”
Let’s talk about how to fix that. Today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant centers on the following question:
I love taking my dog places with me, but I’m really struggling with her barking. She’s quiet at home, but when I take her to cafes/pubs or stand still with her on a lead like at a soccer game for example she will bark consistently non-stop. What can I do?
– Barky Around Town
I love having my dog with me when I travel. I firmly believe that taking your dog with you is one of the best ways to expand your dog’s world and give him a richer life.
That said, it can take a lot of work to get your dog ready for that sort of out-and-about lifestyle.
Sure, some puppies can just be raised that way and take to it no problem. But other dogs really struggle! It’s also important to recognize that not all dogs love going everywhere with their people.
Whether that’s due to genetics or life experiences (let’s be honest, it’s usually both), some dogs are just a LOT more sensitive to environmental stimuli. This can lead to barking, hiding, growling, lunging, over-the-top enthusiasm during greetings, and more.
So before you get too attached to the idea of an around-town dog, ask yourself: Does my dog actually enjoy coming with me? How do I know?
Get granular about the body language that you see that tells you whether or not your dog is having a good time.
Of course, you can use training to help teach your dog to enjoy being out and about – it’s just going to be harder with a dog that’s easily startled or easily excited.
How to Train Your Dog to Come Anywhere With You
A huge component of teaching your dog to come anywhere with you (without barking) is relaxation training.
- Start out doing Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol every day for dinner. Practice this inside your home at first. Do it for two weeks. This protocol brilliantly lays out how to teach your dog to calmly lie down and ignore increasing distractions.
- Take the relaxation protocol on the road. Once your dog is succeeding at Day 15 in the protocol, take it on the road. Just go to your front yard, back yard, an abandoned field, or other quiet but semi-public space. Start over at Day 1.
- I still bring Barley’s mat with me for outings. He’s got shade, a comfy mat, a chewie, and water. I want him to be comfy enough to sleep!
- Go on dog-training-specific outings. I had a client once try to go directly from the out-and-about relaxation protocol to a full day of work at their dog-friendly office. Her dog had a meltdown and she had to miss meetings to take him home. Worse, her boss asked her not to come back with the dog. Instead, I recommend going on training-specific outings. Go to the local Starbucks with the plan to TRAIN, not work or hang out.
- If you are going somewhere that you can’t leave, don’t bring the dog (until you’re 100% sure it’ll be OK). For example, you might not want to bring your dog-in-training to a soccer game that you can’t leave!
- Pay attention to what’s hard for your dog. My own dog can’t handle watching people running, especially if there’s cheering or balls involved. So sport games are out for us. He just gets too darn excited! So if I’m going to a Little League game, Barley stays home with a puzzle toy. If we’re at a coffee shop and some kids start playing tag, I politely ask their parents to ask the kids to play at the opposite end of the patio.
- Advocating for your dog when necessary is just as important as removing yourself and your dog when necessary. Trying to wait it out or correcting your dog for barking either lets your dog practice the barking behavior or teaches your dog that being out in public is stressful!
- If your dog routinely barks AT something (other dogs, people of a given race, squirrels, etc), work that into your training plan. Systematically introduce your dog to those “triggers” so that they’re less of a big deal when they pop up unexpectedly.
- Make out-and-about awesome. Routinely get up and walk your dog, take breaks, and bring lots of treats. Even when I’m working (I often bring Barley to coffee shops for 8-hour workdays), I set a timer to get up and walk Barley around the block. I bring hard chewies like bully sticks and share my nachos with him. If he starts to get antsy, we leave. Usually, though, he sleeps.
The biggest important point is to slowly work up to out-and-about training. Make sure you’re ready to leave if your dog can’t handle the situation. And make relaxing seem like a good idea!
Make Sure You Know What’s Making Your Dog Bark
It’s possible that “Barky Around Town” is struggling with a dog who barks when he’s bored, barks when he wants something (read all about demand barking here), or barks AT exciting things. Without more detail, I can’t say for sure.
But I have a few extra tips, based on what your dog is actually barking at:
- For dogs that bark when bored: try “pattern feeding.” One of the simplest options is to simply feed a single treat from one hand, then the other, then the first again. Your dog can fall into this zen-like pattern of moving from one side to the next for eating. Over time, you can slow down this pattern to help your dog learn to be still.
- For dogs that bark when they want something: remove the thing they want if they bark. So if they bark, the toy goes away or you remove your attention (no scolding)! If they sit or lie down or go quiet without barking, give them what they want
- For dogs that bark when they see something exciting: try the engagement/focus game demonstrated in the video below. Make sure you’re training far enough away from the exciting thing for success!
Kayla is from Ashland, Wisconsin but lives in Missoula Montana. She holds a degree in biology from Colorado College and has spent years working in zoos, animal shelters, as a private dog trainer, and with working detection K9s. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She shares her life with her border collie Barley.