I love to eat. Most of my social outings involve food, whether it’s meeting for breakfast, lunch or dinner, I’m happy! A dog walk in a new place will inevitably involve a stop off at an eatery or a bakery. So teaching my dogs to happily settle in pubs and restaurants is high on my list of essential skills. Ettie came to her first lunch when she was around 14 weeks old. I went fully armed with snuggly bed, treats, chews, kitchen roll (in case of accidents), the whole shebang. And she was a star. Happy to meet all the waiting staff and the customers, gnawed on her chew, toileted outside so no accidents, and then snuggled into her blanket and slept. I was delighted. Since then she has accompanied me to many places. As she’s grown, she’s become a little more lively but is happy to be amused and will always settle to sleep. But we have a problem. When she sees other dogs she can be rather vocal (I mentioned this in my last blog post.) I believe this to be a mix of excitement, frustration if she can’t get over to them and if left unaddressed for too long, arousal. At first she quickly allowed herself to be otherwise occupied and was happy to be in proximity without being in contact with her fellow canine restaurant goers. But on Saturday, she overloaded.
The lunchtime meet up with my friend Moira started well. Ettie trotted into the pub and worked her magic on all the customers. I put her snuggly blanket on the floor and after she’d finished her meet and greet session she got started on her spaghetti (ostrich spaghetti – perfect for little pups.) We ordered drinks and lunch and settled down for a good old natter. Then entered a wiggly busy happy spaniel. Ettie spotted him straight away and the growl that precedes her first bark started to rumble. I immediately reached for the treats and started working with Ettie. Treats for looking at the dog without barking – ✓ Treats for looking at me rather than the dog – ✓ Playing ‘in your bed’ games – ✓ Giving her a new foxy toy (thank you Moira, she loves it) – ✓ Cessation of barking – ✗ It escalated quickly. The friendly spaniel was intrigued by the tiny noisy bundle of fluff so continued to watch her, wiggling and wagging all the time. This proved too much for Ettie and I quickly made the decision to remove her. Back to the car we went, and where she stayed for the duration of my lunch.
I had several options for how to deal with the barking since the usual strategies hadn’t worked. I could have asked if she could meet the other dog. I decided against this due to the lack of space and for fear of further disturbing the other customers – if Ettie (as has happened 100% of the time when she’s met other dogs) had been friendly and wanted play that could have been just as disrupting as the less desirable alternative of her really not liking the other dog. All credit to him, he just looked bemused, didn’t react and after she left he carried on having a lovely lunch outing. I could have ignored her. This was never an option in an enclosed public place. I’m always super aware that venues choose to allow dogs in and I’d never want to do anything to make them change their minds. Also, ignoring barking does not work. Barking often becomes self-reinforcing and rather than solving the problem it exacerbates it. I could have punished her. While there was an outside chance that this might work in the short term, it would set up very bad associations for future indoor encounters with other dogs so was not ever an option I would choose. And so I removed her from the area. This did nothing to teach her how I’d prefer her to behave but did prevent her from practising the undesirable behaviour. And allowed everyone to get on with their day without it being spoiled by her pitch perfect performance.
I’m many years past the stage of being embarrassed by my dogs when out in public. But I understand that the fear of embarrassment is what prevents many folks from taking their dogs out and about with them on meet-ups, day trips or holidays. My take on that is to never be embarrassed as long as you are taking action to prevent or address unwanted behaviour. Even if the tactics don’t work, I’ll always be patient and empathetic to folks who are actively trying to help their dog behave well and feel comfortable in whatever environment they find themselves. I’m less impressed with those who show complete disregard for other people and for their dogs, whether through selfishness or complacency. We’ve all had the experience of an unleashed dog running up to our leashed dog, a highly undesirable occurrence. I’m quick to let people know my feelings on this, but they will swing from rage and anger to encouragement and thanks depending on the actions of the owner. If somebody is calling their dog, actively trying to get them back, I’ll be kind and will thank them for their efforts, however unsuccessful they were. Be honest, can you say that your dog has never ignored your recall, or that you’ve never been caught out on a walk when not paying attention or when surprised by someone coming around a blind corner with their dog on lead? My first response when that happens is to apologise and then to retrieve my dog. More often than not I have a quick chat with the other owner, reiterating my apology and taking responsibility for my dog initiating unwanted interaction with theirs. But I quickly get furious when the owner of unleashed dog walks away or ignores their dog leaving me and my leashed dogs to deal with the issue alone. Not OK.
And so Ettie and I will have to work harder to build more acceptable responses and greetings with other dogs. I’d hate people to view her as a nasty, noisy terrier because she is sweet and friendly and sociable. But she can be vocal and reactive with other animals. Not only do I want to stop the noise (her bark is super effective and goes right through you!) but I don’t want her initial reaction to evolve into negative experiences with, and for, other dogs. I want her to show her sweet side at all times. As a fully fledged teenager, impulse control is low, so we will be working hard on building good behaviour, remaining happy but calm(er) and on sharing our dining spaces quietly and sociably, though I’ll maybe give Saturday’s pub a miss until she has mastered these new skills!
Note: I originally posted this blog on my old website on 9 March 2020