By Victoria Schade
You and your dog love having adventures together. Including your dog in your daily life can be great for maintaining his socialization skills, but the fact is, many gatherings aren’t a fit for all pups. Some dogs are happy and confident no matter the environment, while others skew more cautious and prefer to avoid crowds of people or unfamiliar situations. To add to the potential problem, you might be too engrossed in your own good time to recognize if your dog isn’t sharing your enthusiasm for the event. As your dog’s advocate, it’s up to you to consider what types of situations are appropriate for him, and which he should skip. The following list of events can be surprisingly challenging to many dogs.
Everybody loves the excitement of a hometown parade. The crowd standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the sidewalk, the roar of the fire truck passing by, the unidentified flying objects being thrown from floats, the beating drums of the high school band…at times there’s so much going on, you don’t know what to focus on. Now take a step back and imagine how all of that sensory input feels for your dog. The sights and sounds at a typical parade can be overwhelming for many dogs, and because everyone is usually fixated with what’s happening on the street, a dog in distress can easily go unnoticed. The noise, crowds, and excitement in the air can be scary for your dog. Add hot pavement and little shade to the equation, and you’ve got a recipe for a canine bummer.
A day of low-key outdoor shopping might seem like a fun way to pass the time with your dog, particularly as the weather gets warmer. But consider where your focus is during a craft fair; you’re checking out the cool wares for sale while your dog is forced to wait patiently by your side. While you’re busy shopping, you might not notice that the crowds are making your dog feel anxious. And what if your dog needs a potty break, but you’re too busy haggling with a vendor to pick up on his signals? The reality is that most craft fairs are fun for the human end of the leash, but they end up being an obstacle course that’s either boring, uncomfortable, or stressful for your dog, depending on his temperament.
Your buddy is having a get together and both you and your dog are invited. Taking your dog to a party might seem like a fun way to add to the celebration, but keep in mind that bringing your dog changes your focus. Pet parents at parties might be surprised to discover that the event becomes an exercise in dog management rather than a good time. Is the party indoors? You’ll have to ensure that your dog doesn’t have an accident (even perfectly potty trained dogs can have slip-ups in new environments). Is it outside? You’ll have to make sure that the gates stay closed to prevent accidental escapes. Will there be kids present? Think about whether your dog is appropriate with small humans who might not know the right way to interact with dogs. Will you be staying into the wee hours? Your dog might get stressed out in the unfamiliar environment with no place to rest. And let’s not forget about how pushy people can be when you add alcohol into the mix. Unless the party is specifically designated for pups, it’s probably best to leave yours at home.
Even if your dog appreciates music (studies suggest that dogs prefer reggae and soft rock), the reality of a live concert might be too much for him to handle. Take the same concerns about crowds and temperature and add amplified music to the equation, and you’ve got the makings of a potentially stressful event. Keep in mind, a dog’s sense of hearing is much more powerful than a human’s, so the crashes and high notes that make you wince might be extra uncomfortable for your dog. And what if you’ve paid for lawn seats, but your dog decides that he’s not into the tunes and wants to leave immediately? Rather than having to divide your focus between the music and your pup, give him a break and let him listen to the radio at home instead.
Got an all-day soccer match? There’s a good chance your dog would rather skip it. While some dogs are happy to hang out for hours while their human siblings hit the field, for others the noise, the frenetic activity, and friendly strangers at youth sporting events equals information overload. Many new pet parents think it’s a good idea to bring their puppy to their children’s games for a quick injection of socialization. However, puppies attract people, and groups of well-meaning but potentially overwhelming children might worry your pup. Appropriate socialization is easily controlled and allows the dog to set the pace. Situations where dogs are forced to deal with whatever the mob doles out can be stressful and do more harm than good.
Wait a minute—dog parks are meant for dogs, so how can they be a bad socialization option? Dog parks are fantastic in theory, but the reality is that they’re not a great fit for all pups. Dog parks are meant for dogs that are already social with their peers, not for those in need of socialization. Taking a socially questionable dog to the park puts everyone at risk. The action moves quickly and requires that the players understand the rules of engagement. If your dog hasn’t had ongoing, positive experiences with a variety of other dogs off leash, he might misinterpret the play and react inappropriately. Before you go, ask yourself how your dog acts toward other dogs. If you don’t know, or if you think he “needs work” around them, skip the park.
Keep in mind that canine stress signals aren’t always obvious. For example, your dog might begin panting even if it’s not hot or he hasn’t been exercising, or he might suddenly stop panting despite heat and activity. Your dog might stay very close to you, assume a hunched posture and yawn frequently, and might move away from friendly strangers if he’s had enough touching and petting. Before you head out with your dog, think about his temperament and how the environment might impact him. If you decide to take him along, remember to check in with him to make sure he’s comfortable and enjoying himself, too.