Roadmap for rovers: Prepare your pooch for outdoor gatherings and picnics in the park

We are issuing advice to dog owners as rules on outdoor gatherings of people start to relax across the UK. 

Rachel Casey, Director of Canine Behaviour and Research, said: 

"After months of restrictions, getting back outside with our friends and family is something we’ve all longed for and adjusting to normality should come  easily to most of us, especially as we knew it was coming. But our dogs may be confused by the sudden change to their routines, as life as they knew it has been at home, with their families with very little contact with other people and other dogs. So, it’s important we prepare our dogs for lockdown easing, and  teach them vital skills that they can apply in any situation."  

To give your furry friends a helping paw to allow them to cope with the hustle and bustle of meeting new people and the sights, smells and distractions of park picnics and garden barbecues, follow these top tips:  

Meeting new people 

Meeting people for the first time in a while is going to be exciting for your dog. But all this excitement can lead to jumping up – which is not very polite! 

Most dogs jump up to get our attention or want you to interact with them. They quickly learn that jumping up gets them the attention they wanted so they repeat it. We often encourage jumping up in puppies when they’re small and cute, but this can make things very confusing for them when they grow up, become bigger versions of themselves and we no longer want them to behave like this. 

Don’t worry if your dog is a big 'jumper-upper’ because it’s not too late to teach them to keep all four paws on the ground! 

  • Your dog will need to learn that keeping all four paws on the floor brings them attention and praise, and that jumping up just doesn’t gain them anything at all! Make sure you reward your dog with food, play, praise or attention when all four paws are on the floor, especially at times when they’d be most likely to jump up.  
  • Make a list of all the situations where your dog usually jumps up and plan to be quick to interact with them before they do – for example, have a handful of treats or their favourite toy with you when coming home from work (if this is a trigger point for them), ready to engage with them immediately, before they start jumping up. 
  • If your dog does jump up at you then don’t react at all but stay calm, quiet and wait for them to stop, then reward them when all four paws are on the floor. 
  • Make sure all your family and friends are on board with what you are trying to achieve and speak to them ahead of when they may interact with your dog so they know how to behave. If in doubt, it might be best to leave your dog at home with something entertaining to keep them occupied. 
  • You can even teach your dog to sit when meeting new people. Get your friend to walk towards you and your dog (being mindful of social distancing) and asking your dog to sit when they get closer. Have some extra special tasty treats ready to reward them as long as all four paws remain on the floor, giving them a treat every now and again while you talk to your friend.  

Recall  

Most dogs love having a good run off their lead. But before you let your pooch loose, you need to be confident that they’ll always come back when you call; especially with added distractions such as new people, new dogs and other exciting things going on around them. 

  • You need to teach your dog that coming back to you is always a good thing. Make sure your rewards are exciting and tempting so they build up a positive association with coming when called. 
  • Choose a short, snappy word like ‘come’ or ‘here’, or a whistle if you prefer. You can also add in a visual sign after you’ve called them, like holding your arms open wide, in case they can’t hear you. 
  • Start indoors or in your garden where there are few distractions. 
  • Get your dog’s attention with their name, then use your recall word and take a step away from them. Reward them when they come to you. 
  • Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog and the level of distractions you call them away from, eventually leaving the garden and venturing out into the world. You can use a long line attached to their harness to keep them safe during training. 
  • If they ignore you, stay calm - getting angry or shouting will make them not want to come back to you. Instead, gently guide them in with the long line, or go and collect them. Then start the training again with a shorter distance.   

Perfect picnic etiquette. 

Eating alfresco can be tricky when our pooches forget their manners. But with a few training tricks and following our advice your dog will be picnic ready in no time. 

  • Keep them on the lead or consider buying a very long training lead, a harness and a stake so you can tether your dog and allow them to roam. Teach them how to settle in advance. 
  • Provide an activity to keep them occupied when you are eating. You could give them a snuffle mat sprinkled with tasty treats or a long lasting chew. 
  • Dogs can be wonderfully social and other picnickers may want to say hello so it’s always helpful to teach your dog to do this politely. But be prepared to ask people to leave your dog alone when needed. 

To help dog owners prepare their dogs for a change in routine, Dogs Trust’s Dog School is continuing to run training classes online while face-to-face classes have to be paused, meaning dogs and their owners can still learn through virtual classes to equip themselves with skills they can put into practice as normality resumes. The classes help owners understand their dog’s behaviour to avoid common pitfalls that can lead to problems further down the line.  Dogs Trust Dog School has supported around 2,000 dog owners through their online classes in January and February this year alone.  

For more information and to book your dog or puppy onto a virtual set of training classes, visit Dogs Trust Dog School. Online training videos can also be found www.dogstrust.org.uk/changethetale/advice