We love our dogs. We like to have our dogs with us. We love to see other people’s dogs out in public. Dogs are social creatures. They want to be with us. If your dog is well behaved: likes meeting new people, but doesn’t jump on them, doesn’t eliminate inside, and doesn’t bark excessively, there are numerous places you can take him.
When we think of pet friendly stores, Petsmart is probably the first one that comes to mind or, perhaps, Petco, or Dog Crazy. Those are nice places to take your dog, but it can be overwhelming because there are often A LOT of dogs in those stores. Besides, how often are you going to go out and get dog treats?
There are MANY other places in Fredericksburg you might never think of that welcome well behaved dogs. I personally have taken my dogs to Lowes, Home Depot, JoAnn Fabrics, Ross, Marshall’s, Greenline, and World Market. Additionally, Barnes & Noble, Bath and Body Works, Sephora, Hobby Lobby, Bass Pro Shops and Tractor Supply allow dogs with good manners on leash. By the way, dogs are not allowed in grocery stores including Walmart and Target. My best advice is to call ahead and make sure your dog is welcome before you get any place you’re thinking of taking them.
It is interesting to see the reactions of people when they see a dog in places like those. Often, the public is thrilled to see your dog. Many people will walk up and share stories about their own dogs. Frequently, people ask if they can pet your dog. I have even had people ask to get a picture with my dogs. (We have mastiffs that weigh 150 pounds, so there is a bit of the “WOW” factor, but still.) There are a lot of dog lovers out there.
It is really good for your dog to get out in the world, meet people, see things and be stimulated. Dogs are extremely intelligent, but often, because of busy our lives, busy work schedules or maybe because they are a little energetic, they end up sitting at home. They often rely on us entirely for their entertainment. Many dogs adapt well to that type of lifestyle, but dogs thrive when they have new things to learn and focus on. An intelligent dog, like a shepherd, lab or golden retriever needs mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. If we don’t provide these things, it can lead to behavioral problems such as separation anxiety, destructive behavior, and attention-seeking behavior. A dog that is mentally stimulated and challenged is much less likely to create ways to entertain themselves.
If you get your dog out as a puppy, it is easy to have a very social, well-behaved dog in public. If you take your puppy to pet-friendly places, and they get attention, they learn that new people are fun to meet and new places are fun to go. This helps eliminate car sickness, “stranger danger,” guarding behavior in your home, and anxiety at the vet’s office. Socialization is so important for puppies. Puppies under 14 weeks are in their peak socialization period. This is the time when they want to embrace new experiences. It is recommended that your puppy meet at least 100 people before 14 weeks, but the more people they meet, the better. You do need to think about where you are taking your puppy before she/she has all his/her shots as they are not completely protected from infectious diseases. In fact, at this age, Lowes, Sephora and Hobby Lobby might be better choices than Petsmart simply because there is a lot less dog traffic in those places. Once He/she has finished their shots, go crazy. They should meet another 100 people in the next 14 weeks. In fact, you should continue getting your puppy out in public for at least the first three years of their lives.
So, what if your dog or puppy is not stellar in public? There are a lot of training options available. Puppy preschool is a great way to get started on the right foot. You want to ensure the program you choose is selective about the health of the participants. Puppies should be up to date on vaccines for their ages, should be free of parasites and free of signs of respiratory or gastrointestinal disease. Additionally, a good program should cover socialization, handling, and some basic obedience training. The American Kennel Club’s (AKC’s) Star Puppy program focuses on responsible pet ownership as well as getting your puppy heading in the right direction with manners in public. There are also many options for puppy obedience classes in the area, just make sure the focus is on positive reinforcement, rather than corrections.
If your dog is older, the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen program is a good place to start. The course and test cover basic manners, such as walking on a loose leash, walking through a crowd, sit and down on command, and greeting a friendly stranger. Additionally, there are a lot of training classes you can enroll your older dog in. The AKC’s Community Canine takes things a step further and trains/tests your dog’s manners in public places. These programs are great if you just want to get your dog out in public or if you want your dog to be a therapy dog that visits nursing homes and hospitals.
It is amazing the number of places that welcome dogs. Being able to take your dog out in public is a great thing. It requires some effort, but can be extremely rewarding. It is also a HUGE benefit for your dog. Preparation and responsibility will help keep this benefit available for other dog owners.