I read a fantastic New York Times article the other day about a couple who brought their rescue rat terrier with them on a trip to France.
Besides being a fun read about the joys of being with a dog in a country where dogs are welcomed and expected alongside their owners almost everywhere, I realized that the article is a great example of the benefits of proofing your dog.
Proofing, in service dog speak, is a type of environmental desensitization training. That’s a fancy way of saying “taking a dog everywhere until going places and experiencing new things isn’t a big crazy deal anymore.”
When Pip the vocal Rat Terrier left for France, he had been through a handful of canine good citizen courses, but he still had a tendency to bark and go crazy at the sight of another dog. Like most rat terriers, he was an excitable little guy with some insecurity issues left over from pre-rescue life.
The longer he spent in France, though, the more self-confident he became. In part because he was safely exploring new environments and having positive experiences everywhere he went, and in part, I suspect, because his people were learning not to fear their dog being rejected or attacked for being out with his humans.
Calm humans mean more settled dogs. The more experience a dog has under those conditions, the more beneficial it becomes to their self-confidence. The greater a dog’s self confidence, the better their behavior.
Pip didn’t leave France bark-free. He’s still a Rat Terrier. He did return a more confident dog.
You don’t have to go all the way to France to proof your dog, fortunately. While fewer places in the United States are welcoming to dogs, it’s worthwhile figuring out where they are, whether you’re training a service dog or want to apply the benefits of proofing to your pet.
Here’s a good list of over 30 dog-friendly stores at BarkPost ! Starbucks is also dog-friendly, and a quick Yelp search turns up other restaurants that welcome dogs in almost every city. Traveling? Kimpton hotels are incredibly pet friendly. We stayed with Kimpton on a recent trip and arrived at our room to a pair of dog beds, dog bowls, and the proverbial soggy welcome mat!
Proofing can be frustrating at first, especially if you start later in life or with a nervous dog. Like all forms of dog training, take it at your dog’s pace. And before you start, make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date and that they have their minimum canine social manners with a basic training class if need be.
Watch for signs of your dog becoming overwhelmed. Each dog has their own cues. We know Elsa has reached her limit when she stops responding even to a treat or squeak and flatly ignores strangers even if she’s given her command allowing her to meet and greet. Fruit Bat doesn’t respond to treats in public ever, unless the humans are eating, too, but she will ignore everything but her work once she reaches her saturation point. Ada tells us she’s reached her limit by burrowing to the bottom of her bag and grumbling.
Once your dog is overwhelmed, the outing is over. Give them some calm time and their favorite gentle attention back in the car or at home. New things are exhausting to a dog, but each time, your dog will become more used to going out in public and more curious about what they see there.
Eventually, the goal is a curious and engaged furry pal and a broad selection of places to run your errands and enjoy your day together instead of leaving your dog at home alone all day. Dogs are meant to be with their people, and their presence releases stress lowering feel-good hormones.
Give it a try. There are more places to go with your furry sidekick than the dog park. They’ll thank you for it!