ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Socializing Pets in Public Places

Jewel is frustrated in her attempts to find opportunities for stepped-up socialization, since dogs are not allowed in places off-limit to pets, no matter how well trained they may be. She notes that service dogs are the only ones allowed access to non dog places, and asks for ideas on how she can get her dog Kong adequately bombproofed without being allowed to take her dog on buses, etc.

Jewel, I understand your frustration, and I too wish things were different in the US. I don't think I would hope for pet access, as is so widespread in Europe, because sadly, our American dogs are not nearly as well-socialized on the whole, and if we had instant access for pets, those of us using assistance dogs would have to be even more hyper-vigilant for poorly trained, under-socialized dogs who put our working dogs at risk.

Of course, this makes it so frustrating for conscientious, dedicated dog handlers such as yourself, and dogs who DO possess good social skills and would not be problematic. So the great dog owners who have spent time working with their dogs, socializing them, preparing them to exist in stimulus-rich environments, are punished as a default. It's unfair, but considering the plethora of American pets who lack social skills, it would seriously endanger the lives and livelihoods of those using service dogs if all pets were to be given public access rights. If only all dog owners were like you!

One interesting thing to note here in regards to service dogs in training: the right to bring a dog-in-training into places that are not normally open to pets is granted by individual states. There is no federal law regarding dogs still in-training. So I may be an independent service dog trainer and my state may allow me to bring dogs into non-pet allowed places, but if I cross the next state's borders, I may not be allowed any more rights than the pet owner.

The dog has no rights, period. Access is granted only to people with disabilities to be accompanied by their trained service animals---the animals have no rights. They are considered no more than "durable medical equipment," the same as a wheelchair, cane or leg braces might be classified.

Also, many states have statutes that require people training service dogs to belong to a group or organization, and grant no access to individual trainers.

So, there are times even those of us who do have some access allowances, still end up having the same problems Jewel has encountered. And here 20 Hot Tips on how to get the job done without breaking laws.

  1. If we can't get ON a bus, we can still go to the bus station, we can practice cueing our dogs and getting crisp responses next to buses backfiring, next to buses pulling in and pulling out, squealing breaks, next to wheelchair lifts being activated.
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  2. To desensitize a dog to wheelchair lifts, call a friend with a disability who uses a lift-equipped van and practice in that vehicle. No friend with such a van? Call your local Independent Living center and ask if you can post on their bulletin board for a person with a lift-van to assist you in your training task.
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  3. Buses smell and sound different from cars. To help your dog get used to the diesel smell and sound, go to a truck stop and swill coffee with a few truckers, and ask for a trucker to allow you to enter and exit his cab with your dog, while he adjusts the air brakes, etc. Buy the trucker lunch and you may even get a ride around the truckstop grounds in the rig with your dog.
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  4. Since indoor malls are out of the question, EXCEPT during times when a local photo merchant may be offering dog pictures (find out when your local mall shops offer this so you can use it for training opportunities!), do your work in the periphery of the mall. There is SO MUCH you can do outside, by the seating areas, the parking lot with the delivery trucks, the cars blasting rap music, the snow scrapers, road cleaners. Look for loading docks to department stores, and hunker around capturing training opportunities when trucks are unloading merchandise.
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  5. Ask Mall guards to stop and talk with you, pet your dog, helping your dog get used to uniformed guards. In some states, guards are on bicycles and this is an other great socialization opportunity.
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  6. Stop at the outdoor seating and work on social skills while meeting people of both sexes, all ages, all nationalities. Great opportunities for distraction training, as well!
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  7. Go to police stations, fire stations, and get your dog used to more people in uniforms. If you hit a slow time at a fire station, you may get lucky and get a tour through with your dog, and maybe even someone to start up a truck or turn on a siren or lights.
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  8. Walk down city sidewalks with your dog, getting the dog used to traffic sounds, thousands of feet surging by, and stop in any park area where you might see kids on skateboards or roller-blades.
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  9. Some local stores DO allow access to pets, such as Petco, PetSmart and other pet supply stores. But, you may also well find willing small business owners who will be delighted to help you by giving you access into non-food places, such as hardware stores, plumbing supplies, lumber yards, etc. Smaller businesses are a much safer bet, and larger stores such as Home Depot have strict "no pet" policies. Not so the mom and pop hardware, the local electrical supply, the local real-estate office, etc. Call ahead and ask!
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  10. Grocery stores can be another excellent place to socialize outside: again, provides ample opportunity for distractions, and often there are food distractions added, plus more carts and activity. You'll also have grocery store folks pushing lines of carts around, which is noisy and very distracting. Lots of kids, food smells, opportunities to reinforce wanted responses in your dog.
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  11. Construction sites also can offer a plethora of great opportunities to desensitize to large equipment, new sounds an sights, and unexpected overhead movement and sounds. Construction workers in helmets are great to expose the dog to.
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  12. Parks where dogs are allowed: Look for little league games, ball games of all kinds to help work through distractons and socialize dog with children.
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  13. Country roads: take long walks to reinforce non-reactivity to wild critters, and focus on the handler.
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  14. Most county fairs I have attended allow pets! Take these opportunities to go daily to one of the richest environments for distractions known to humankind. There are the midway lights, sounds, movement of the rides, squealing of the kids. There are animal barns with horses, cows, rabbits, goats, fowl, etc. There are judging rings and activities in bleachers, and moving under bleachers is another great tip: it can be daunting to a dog to hear all the thundering feet overhead.
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  15. Airport runway approach areas: Often, at major airports, residential areas are useful to desensitizing to low-flying jets. If you have such an area near you, use it to get your dog used to the thunder and hiss of the big planes.
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  16. Garbage Dumps. Yes, garbage dumps. There is usually a nice office, and lots of HUGE trucks going in and out all the time. The smells can be extremely distracting for dogs (ok, and for humans!), but this is another excellent training area often overlooked.
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  17. Festivals of all kinds quite often allow pets. Take advantage of them! Work the periphery until your dog gets used to the hubub. If you can find special events, such as hot-air balloon competitions, all the better. Or loud music of any kind. *TIP: if the music is loud for you, think about your dog's ears which are even more sensitive. Bring earplugs for you AND the dog!
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  18. Farmer's markets: In many towns and cities, weekend mornings offer a terrific opportunity to walk past vendor's tables. Some are posted "no pets," but others are not. Find out if you have one near you that allows people to bring pets.
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  19. Schoolyards: Park yourself and your dog outside a schoolyard during recess, to expose the dog to the squeak of swings, the squeal of children, running, jumping, hollering of kids at play.
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  20. Find small country bridges over roads that make noises as cars roll over them, or even noisy railroad tracks. Railroad yards are also wonderful places, and again, can be very pet friendly. If nothing available, find the timetable for freight and passenger trains and station yourself by a track when you know trains will be going by. Again, earplugs may be in order. <G>

Hope some of these help!

Debi Davis
scripto@azstarnet.com
copyright 2001 Debi Davis

 

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