Calm dog in a public place
How to train your pup to be calm in a public place
A question I get asked a lot when I'm out and about with Bailey, my Assistance Dog, is "how did you teach him to be so calm?" and I wish I could say that it was easy or it's just him, but it took work and practice.
Being in public with a puppy is always tricky and hard work because of the number of distractions. It took us a year of full public access training before Bailey could settle for around 2 hours after that he will start to fidget and cranky. Bailey is Great Dane cross, so he has a docile temperament anyway, but he was still a puppy.
Having the issue of people interacting with Bailey and breaking his focus, not Bailey starting the interaction was my main issue. Public distraction control is the most crucial thing that will help your puppy to succeed. If you can bring down the distractions and the way he reacts to them down it's a lot easier to teach him to be calm.
Before I started the training session, I would work out the commands I was going to teach him or the ones I was going to focus on for that session. Another thing I do is that I did my new training after a walk then he hasn't got as much excess energy feeding his excitement.
The four commands I taught Bailey and continue to use a lot in public for distraction control are:
Leave - I still have problems with Bailey having an overactive nose, so this helps bring his focus back to me when there is someone or something physical distracting him.
Ignore- Bailey has no idea what this means this is actually for the general public. It just sounds like I'm giving Bailey a command to them, but it is reminding the person that he is working and that they need to ignore him. It does work the majority of the time if you see someone coming that is going to get him worked up and excited. I usually use this when I'm moving, in a hurry or having a medical episode. The only time it hasn't worked is when the person doesn't speak English which obviously isn't their fault.
Hello- Rule of thumb with Assistance Dogs is 'do not touch' but it's handlers discretion because it's apart of there socialisation, I don't want Bailey to be scared of the public as they may need to help one day. I say to Bailey when it's ok to talk to someone then he gets a big cuddle. By doing this, I am controlling when Bailey interacts and when he doesn't.
Settle- This is the most important one. At home, when he is quiet, I would say the command "settle" then wait a couple of seconds then give him his 'yes' or 'good boy' and a cuddle. He recognises 'settle' means calm.
When I started to go out in public, I would begin with a quiet place may be an outside coffee shop mid-afternoon on a Wednesday. I would ignore any behaviour that did not meet 'settle' but if he were laying down watching I would then say "settle" wait a couple of seconds then give a treat but only give the reward that I would think is calm behaviour.
When I first started taking Bailey out, he could only sit still for 10 mins before fidgeting. It felt like I was giving treats every couple of minutes, but then I would slowly build up the time in between treats.
Bailey would sneakily try to pretend to stand up and fidget so he would get a treat, cheeky, so I had to make sure I was giving it to him when his attention wasn't on me but still calm.
Another trick I used when he was, low level, kicking up and fidgety I would slip my hand under his collar, loosely, and stay there calmly, wait for him to lay down and then use the 'settle' command and treat. This one I knew I had to follow through with even if he is squirming, I had to wait it out. It was like having to stand your ground with a toddlers temper tantrum. You have to have the please before they are allowed their sweet. He realised that as soon as I slipped my hand under his collar, it meant that he needed to lay down and be calm for a while longer.
Of course, dogs are not robots, you will have good days and bad days, but with these tips, you will be well on your way to having a pup with perfect manners in public.