Can you think of anything better than a cold pint with your 4-legged friend?
When we take dogs to the pub, we would love for them to sit calmly next to us while we have a few drinks. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case! Barking, lunging on the lead, chewing table legs, whining and begging can be annoying, but these behaviours usually come from a dog who is worried, overwhelmed, bored or wanting attention. The best thing we can do in preparation for pubs, is to work on building our dog's confidence, teaching them how to relax, providing them with plenty of exercise, mental stimulation and teaching them how to occupy themselves without needing our attention. Additionally, there are many ways to manage your environment to make future pub trips enjoyable for you and your dog!
Guide Your Dog to Success
There are lots of things we can do to help our dog succeed. So often we forget this, but by managing the environment we can lower the risk of any negative experiences, and help our dogs have an enjoyable experience.
The first question to ask before taking your dog or new puppy to a pub, is whether the pub or café is suitable for dogs? Not just dog friendly, but a genuinely suitable place to bring your dog. It’s a good idea to visit on your own first and become familiar with the environment. A pub doesn’t necessarily have to tick ALL the following boxes, but a few things to look out for are:
Treats on the bar
Designated dog areas
Garden/easy outdoor access for the toilet
Plenty of space under the tables
Area to wipe/clean muddy paws
Lead hooks under the tables
Dog etiquette rules
Don’t hesitate to have a chat with the staff! They should be able to tell you when would be a quiet time to visit, what facilities they have, whether they are fellow dog lovers and whether it will be a suitable environment for your dog.
When you first take your dog to the pub, try a weekday afternoon when the pub is exceptionally quiet. Avoid busy periods like Sunday lunchtime or happy hour at all costs! Distractions make everything so much harder for dogs. Asking a dog to sit in their house and asking a dog to sit in a pub full of people, other dogs, and delicious food is a completely different thing. For the first few times you visit the pub with your dog, try when it’s quiet.
While it’s tempting for friendly strangers that have had a few to drink to want to come over and stroke your dog, this can be overwhelming and simply too much for some dogs and puppies, especially if they are nervous. Instead, let your dog approach the person if they want to. If you don’t feel comfortable telling people not to stroke your dog, you can buy bandanas, jackets and leads that say, ‘I need space’, this can let people know they should keep their distance while your dog gains confidence.
If your dog is nervous or overly excited when visiting the pub for the first time, try to avoid meeting other dogs until your dog is calm and relaxed. What we want to do is help create POSITIVE experiences, so our dogs can slowly build confidence over time. If we allow our dogs to meet as many dogs as they want, they might have a negative experience and be worried about visiting the pub in the future. Imagine you see 10 dogs in the pub, perhaps only say hello to 3 of them. It is better to have fewer experiences that are positive, than more experiences where some of them might have been negative. At the same time, we want to teach them not to feel frustrated when they can’t say hello to every single dog they see.
Unfortunately, I have seen so many children run up to strange dogs in pubs/cafes and give them a big, tight hug. I sit there and cringe and watch the dog pull and try to get away. Young children don’t understand much about how to approach dogs, they tend to stare into their eyes, face them straight on and hug them around their heads, in dog body language this isn’t friendly behaviour. Until your dog is confident and calm in the pub environment, simply try to avoid interactions with children, this is a situation where a piece of clothing, like a ‘I need space’ bandana can help until your dog is ready. When your dog is ready, take control of the situation and show the child how to stroke your dog safely.
If you visit a pub that serves food it’s likely there will be bits of food on the floor, it’s inevitable that your dog will want to hoover up all the delicious left-over scraps on the floor. Most dogs won’t be able to settle and will weave between the table legs to get all the bits of food, usually tying themselves up in their lead in the process. Save yourself the hassle and ask a member of staff to sweep up any bits of leftover food before you sit down!
Reward Your Dog for Doing Nothing
Sometimes we forget to praise our dogs when they do nothing. By remembering to reward these seemingly boring non-events, we are reinforcing those desirable behaviours, meaning dogs will continue to make the right decisions.
Here are a few examples of typical desirable behaviours that we can sometimes forget to reward:
- Looking at another dog and not reacting
- Walking nicely and not pulling on the lead
- Chewing or playing with toys
- Not barking or whining
- Being calm and settled
- Not jumping up on you
If we forget to reward these behaviours and the only time we do give them attention is when they make a mistake, we aren’t telling them what they should be doing instead. By giving dogs clear direction and guidance on what we would like them to do, we are helping them to think for themselves.
Don’t Expect too Much too Quickly
For your first visit, go on a quiet day and sit away from other dogs and people. Dogs are very sensitive to body language, so it’s essential to stay calm and relaxed yourself. Only stay for a short amount of time, approximately 5-10 minutes. While this might sound extreme, it’s very important that your dog has a positive experience, this helps them gain confidence and will mean they can stay longer next time. If you risk a longer duration too quickly, your dog might get bored, anxious or stressed and have a negative experience, which will make returning next time even harder. Have a wander around (if the environment allows) and let your dog have an explore and sniff, then go home. Remember to praise your dog for calm behaviours throughout the experience!
If your dog remains happy and calm, you can start to increase either the distractions, or the duration. Only pick one of them to increase: distractions OR duration, never increase both at the same time otherwise you might find your dog struggles. For your second visit you might do exactly the same as what you did before, but this time stay a little bit longer. For your third visit you might increase the distractions by sitting closer to other dogs and people however lower the duration by staying for a shorter amount of time.
Be patient and take it slow, keep the few visits short
Reward your dog for doing nothing (e.g. when they aren’t barking)
Arrive prepared with a blanket/treats/water etc
Have a good walk and make sure they have been to the toilet before
Sit away from crowds, other dogs and children
Visit on a quiet day
Only increase the duration or the distractions, not both at once.