Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How do I help my dog behave in public?

Griffin puppy
Is your dog the perfect angel in public, or does the idea of a walk when there are other people and dogs about fill you with dread?

Your dog might be the perfect companion at home, but how is he or she in public?

Dr Eloise Bright is a veterinarian who loves helping animals and their owners with behaviour problems. She’s been good enough to answer a few questions and share her top five tips with SAT.

What’s your day job?

I’m a veterinarian in Sydney and mum to two young boys and one furry family member.

Why did you pursue specialisation in canine behaviour?

As a vet I frequently come across pets that may be otherwise healthy, but are not happy. Similar to humans it is estimated that 20% of our pets suffer from anxiety and mental illness at some time in their lives. Vets are traditionally not so great at addressing these problems, so I wanted to learn more so I could help these pets.

Dr Eloise Bright shares her useful tips on canine behaviour.
Do you have any non-human companions?

I currently only have one family pet, my cat Jimmy who I took home from my first vet nursing job, while I was studying to be a vet. He was completely bald due to ringworm, so he ended up coming home with me! He now has a magnificent coat and is undeniably handsome. I’ve been pestering my husband to add a dog to our brood, after my elderly rescue Pomeranian passed away last year at the ripe old age of 15 years.  As our clinic works closely with Paws For Thought I’m keeping an eye out for the right little dog to fill that gap!

How can we ensure pets behave well in public places?

1. Socialisation

The most important part of raising a puppy is socialising before 12 weeks of age. For many puppies that are adopted at 8 weeks, this only allows 4 weeks to expose them to all the sights and sounds of normal life. Poorly socialised dogs often do not cope with the hustle and bustle of traffic and loud noises and may be aggressive towards other dogs, children or people.  Check out this article to learn how to safely socialise your puppy before the vaccination course has been completed.

2. Reward your dog’s attention

Positive reinforcement is vital for developing a great relationship with your dog. Whenever your dog responds to his name, give a reward (a game can be a good reward if your dog is play motivated). When you are out and about, say your dog’s name and reward him for paying attention to you. This is the basis of having an attentive, obedient dog. Training your dog that you are leading him on his walk is also important to establish yourself as the pack leader.

3. Off leash recall

To train your dog to come back to you when off the leash, first train the behaviour at home with no distractions around. Call your dog’s name and gives him a reward when he comes to you. Then take it to a fenced dog park and train with distractions. If your dog is a little less attentive than is ideal, you can use a long lead rope. One way to trick a dog who is refusing to come is to run in the opposite direction as though a game is about to start. Never punish your dog, particularly for not coming when called. Carry high value treats with you every time you go to the dog park and keep on delivering them (as well as some fun and games), so that coming back to you does not signal the end of all the good times.

4. Train your dog to ‘go to place’

This one can be so useful in a huge variety of settings. If your dog reliably goes to his mat and stays there until told otherwise, you will be able to take him everywhere, put his mat down and know that he will stay put. To start with, encourage your dog to go to his mat (a towel works fine too) and throw a treat there. Reward him for staying there for longer periods of time. Clicker training is a great way to teach advanced behaviours such as this.

5. Always supervise your dog with children

Part of being a great pet parent is not putting your dog in compromising situations. Even the most laid-back, lovely dog can be pushed to the limits. Children are often rough, steal toys, don’t respect personal space and will often get overexcited and squeal around dogs. A classic situation is a dog tied up outside a shop. Children who go and pat such a dog without gaining permission first can often startle the dog and the dog is unable to get away due to being tethered. A pat on the top of the head is also quite threatening to dogs so show children how to put their hand out, palm down for a sniff.

Thanks Dr Bright. 

Dr Eloise Bright has worked in as a vet in Sydney for over 8 years and is the resident vet for the online pet store She has completed a veterinary acupuncture course, specialised in dog behavioural issues and is currently completing her Masters in Small Animal Practice. She likes to share animal advice and tips, get social with her on Google+.