Struggling with your dog paying attention to you in public? Be the reward!

Did you know that letting the public pet your dog can slow down your training progress and affect your dog's bond and trust with you? 

If you have a dog who gets nervous or snaps at strangers, you more than likely are advocating for your dog and the general public by discouraging people you don't know from petting them. (And if you arn't, it's time to start - your uncomfortable dog will not become less shy or reactive by having people enter their space, even with good fact it can often make then worse! Your just want to be invisible and observe, while knowing you will advocate for them and guide them through the big scary world!)

Now, if you have a dog who loves people it can seem harder to turn away someone who wants to say "hi!" Often times owners feel rude saying NO to people who ask, so again and again people pet our dog...and again and again our dog's attention is reinforced by the environment and not by their handler 😕 It may not seem like a big deal, but petting outside of the family unit while out in public does a few things that are likely setting back your dog's training and manners.

First, a lot of the dogs we see for training come to us because they get SO EXCITED with new people! Some of the biggest issues these owners are having involve their dog pulling like crazy towards people, jumping up, whining/barking, and not being able to stay sitting or laying down (or anything close to calm) when a person is close by. When we allow people to pet our dog who is acting like that, we're reinforcing two things: excitement about people and having their attention anywhere but on us!

Even if your dog is laying at your feet at a restaurant, if you see them soliciting attention with playful body language and some sneaky "roll over and maybe someone will rub my belly" invitations, that means your dog's not very present with you...they're looking elsewhere for satisfaction! When you think about it, one of the most challenging things for owners to do is to have their dog's attention when distractions are around - if we allow high value distractions to engage our dogs, those people become your dog's priority...not us!

So what can we do to get our dog's attention back? 

First things first, no more petting from the public! You know your dog is friendly, so there is no need to continue to meet new people - the biggest issue you're likely having now is how excited or easily distracted your dog gets! By saying NO to people petting your dog in public, you and making sure that the environmental reinforcement stops - this opens the door for you to be the reward! 

My motto is that when my dog is on a leash with me, we're connected and a family unit - it's time for more people who are trying hard with their dog's training to start doing things that promote that! Not to mention - I don't know about you, but I really just want to enjoy a lunch on a dog friendly patio or a stroll through the park with my dog, not have to stop what we are doing to let someone have their "doggie fix" :) I know people love dogs, and I do too...but, please admire them from a far without expectation of petting, or maybe just toss a compliment to the owner about their lovely pup! 

Before you head out to a people filled place to work on your dog's focus, it's important to be shaping it at home and in lower distraction environments through basic training! Simply having your dog work for their meals allows you to become the source of reinforcement. "Being the reward" starts by working on obedience commands, and paying your dog for staying in position, giving food feed back when a person walks by (or another big challenge happens) and they look to you! This stuff all encourages handler attention, awareness, and bonding. When you are a wealth of guidance, leadership, reward, and value, your dog will choose YOU!

So, next time you're out with your pup, take some time and see where your dog's attention is. Are you reinforcing outward engagement through strangers petting or (a big no-no!!!) allowing other dogs to say "hi" when your dog is on a leash?

In the long run, your dog prioritizing you is much more important than letting the general public get their doggie fix! You can control when your dog gets to greet people at your home, but in crowded and public areas, I want my dogs using their best manners and as tuned-in to me as possible while we navigate through all the things this crazy world has to offer!

If your dog struggles to be calm in general, why make if harder on them by having people petting thrown into the mix! Let's just get them good at holding it together politely in public before even discussing the added distraction of affection from others ;)

If you're looking for a nice way to tell someone that they can't say "hi" or pet your dog, always lead with the interrupter first:

🤚 "NO! I'm sorry, but he's in training. Thanks!" 😊