How to Teach Your Dog to Behave Well in Public Places

By Sarah Hinds Friedl on February 27th, 2024

Maybe you have dreams of taking your dog with you to pet friendly restaurants, outdoor festivals, and other public spaces. But, it seems that every time you do, your pup makes it their mission to be on their worst behavior. 

Not all hope is lost! There are a few tips you can try to change your dog’s behavior from rambunctious to relaxed.

Before we start, a note on reactivity
In this article, we’re going to focus on training for dogs who get a bit excited or bored in public, but don’t show signs of reactivity. We make the distinction because reactivity is a condition linked to anxiety, stress, fear or past trauma that should be addressed by a certified animal behaviorist! Not sure if your dog qualifies as reactive? Reactivity typically includes behaviors such as lunging or barking uncontrollably at other dogs, people, passing cars, bikes, and other things that are common in public places.

In other words, if your pooch tends to pace, whine, get bored, and grab everyone’s attention in public, this article is for you! If the situation is more heightened and intense, it’s best to call in a pro.

Implement a “relax” command at home
The first step towards training your dog to be calm in public is to train them to be calm at home! Indeed, this is a skill that can be trained just like “sit” “lay down” and “fetch.” Here’s how you do it:

  • Catch your dog in a relaxed state and reward them. This will require you to have treats at the ready, because you’re going to want to give your dog a reward whenever you see them in a naturally calm state. 
  • Introduce the “calm” or “relax” command. Choose a word that you’ll use to name this calm state, and say it whenever you give your dog a reward. For instance, when your dog lays down for their afternoon nap, you can say, “Good boy, calm.”
  • Gradually invite your dog to go into a calm state on command. Your dog will start to associate your calm command with the behavior of laying down calmly, so your next step will be to encourage them to go into that calm state once you’ve said the command. In other words, if your dog is walking around, you can tell them, “calm” and reward them for laying down and remaining in that relaxed state. 

Again, this process should be done at home first so that your dog has the chance to practice in a tranquil place without distractions. 

Burn off excess energy
Once you’re ready to start testing out your new calm command in public, you can set your dog up for success by exercising them beforehand. 

Remember to keep your excited pupper safe in the car by installing BreezeGuard Screens on your back windows! That way, they’ll get the mental stimulation of all the sights, sounds, and smells of your car ride on the way to their favorite exercise spot or your training session.

Start training in a quiet public place
Another great way to set your dog up for success is to start out in public places without a lot of traffic or noise. You might go during a time of day when you know there won’t be too many people around or choose a part of the restaurant with the least amount of foot traffic.

Keep your visits short and sweet to start
Just like you would train any other behavior, you’ll want to stick with very short training sessions at the beginning. Keep your visits under 10 to 15 minutes to give your dog the best chance at success. 

That being said, you’ll want your dog to actually achieve a calm state so that you can reward them. Your dog may need a little bit more time for their excitement to subside.

Consider bringing distractions
We’ve said on the blog before that it’s typically easier to give your dog an alternative behavior than simply telling them no. So, instead of trying to convince your dog not to whine, jump up on the table, or approach other people, consider giving them something to do instead. This could be focusing on their favorite chew toy or puzzle toy.

Always reward calm behavior
Whenever your dog shows a moment of calmness, be ready to reward them with a treat. Over time, this will teach them that as exciting and stimulating as being in public can be, they’ll get something even better when they’re able to remain calm.

If they cannot calm down even for a moment, bring them outside of the restaurant for a reset. 

At the beginning, your challenge may be to find that moment of calm that you can reward. If you’re really struggling, you can try resetting the training session by taking your dog outside to an area where they can calm down. Once they’re calm, reward them, and walk them back inside to try again in the restaurant.

Manage your own stress levels
As dog owners, we set the tone for our dogs. So, if you tend to feel stressed, embarrassed, or angry when your dog acts out in public, it’s possible that your emotional state will make the situation worse.

It can be tough, but try your best to stay calm and neutral during all training sessions. Don’t get angry and yell at your dog. Instead, give them a calm command, and if they don’t respond, try the reset or end the training session. Try again when you’re both in a more relaxed state of mind!

With patience and perseverance, you can have a polite dog in public!

No need to feel jealous of the dog owners who go everywhere with their dogs. Chances are, they went through a very similar training process that you’re going through with your pooch! So, remember to stay consistent, break down the training into manageable steps, and always celebrate the small wins! Your dog will learn how to behave like a proper gentlepup in public!


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