Three times in the past week, I have been asked for advice on bringing a dog to visit someone else’s home. The idea of bringing your dog everywhere with you is extremely enticing. It sounds like such a good idea. When I was new to the world of dogs, in my early twenties, I had a young German Shepherd named Newton. Newton, or Newtie as we often called her was sweet, energetic and inquisitive, and I wanted nothing more than to have a dog who could go everywhere with me. When she was about ten weeks old, I brought her with me to visit a close friend. At the time, we lived in an apartment, and my friend lived in a very large house. Newton was reliable in OUR home, where there wasn’t much for her to get into, and I assumed that she would be fine in my friend’s home.
The first twenty minutes of the visit went well. And then I lost track of Newtie while I chatted with my friend and her parents. The first thing to go wrong was that she toileted on the rug in the family room, on the opposite side of the house from where I was sitting. Embarrassed, I cleaned up the mess, but once again became engaged in a conversation with my friend, and Newton took herself for a little trek through the house. A short while later, I noticed she was no longer with us, so I called her. And did she ever come running! In fact, she over balanced on the stairs and tipped head over heels with a mounted pheasant in her mouth. A mounted pheasant that had been shot and stuffed by my friend’s grandfather and that had until moments before been attached to the wall above my friend’s bed. Needless to say, Newtie lost her house privileges.
Over the years, I have been partnered with a service dog and as I have travelled I have had him with me when I have visited friends, when I have stayed in hotels and when I have been camping, and over all that time, he has never once embarrassed me. He is a perfect gentleman. I may not have learned my lesson when my puppy peed on the floor, but I sure did when she fetched up an heirloom! When I travel with a dog to a friend’s house, I have specific behaviours that I consider essential for success for my puppy or adult dog in their home.
To start with, regardless of the house rules, I don’t allow my dogs to wander all over the home. If necessary I use a leash to control where in the house my dog goes and if I need to move from one room to another, I take him with me. If I am sitting and chatting, my expectation is that my dog will lie at my feet and rest. I do not provide him with a chew toy; I teach him to relax and rest when I am visiting with a guest.
Do you really think this is what your host expects your dog to do while you visit for a quiet cup of coffee? Image credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_16755037_woman-drinking-coffee-on-the-sofa-with-her-dog-licking-her-toes.html’>iko / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
I have had the displeasure of travelling in the company of other service dog users who have relied heavily on pooch pacifiers for such situations, and have allowed their dogs to gnaw on all manner of toys and bones under restaurant tables or in my home. If my dog is not ready to lie quietly for the duration of a visit, then my feeling is that he is not ready for visiting! With young pups, I will often bring a crate with me so that they can practice hanging out for a little bit while I visit, and then retreat to their crate to rest on their own.
How do I teach puppies and dogs to hang out with me? When they are young, I will sit down with a cup of tea and ten kibbles. After each sip, I will give them a kibble. Ten sips, and then we are done. When they are good at this level of the exercise, I give them a kibble every other sip. And later I give them a kibble every third sip. If they are becoming fidgety, then I go back and feed more often. I work for about ten kibbles at a time and that is that; when the kibbles are done, then so is the practice time. This keeps me from making a pup practice beyond what he is capable of! And until my pups can lie quietly at my feet through a cup of tea, I don’t ask them to sit through a visit with a friend at their home!
When I am visiting with people I make sure that my dog’s needs are met by ensuring that he has plenty of opportunity to go out of doors to toilet, that he has access on a regular basis to water and that he has the opportunity to meet and greet the people we are visiting. Unless we are going to stay for an extended period of time, I don’t allow him to interact with the pets on the premises. If there is another dog, I will often suggest an off leash walk as a part of our visit so that the dogs can have social time together and if there is a fenced back yard, I allow the dogs to have periods of time where they can play outdoors if they are suitable to play together. Indoors though, I don’t allow rough housing; it just isn’t appropriate in most cases, so I don’t want to teach my dog to do that.
If I am staying overnight, I may allow my dog to have the run of the house for a period of time as long as he minds his manners. I do not allow my dog onto my hosts furniture even if they invite him. I want my dog to be able to pass through a variety of environments and it is more common that dogs, especially large breed dogs are not permitted on the furniture so I don’t want to create confusion for my dog by allowing him in some places but not in others. I try and teach my dogs that there are very specific rules for visiting; mind your manners, be quiet and calm indoors, toilet outdoors, stay off the furniture, and don’t harass the host or steal food from the table. It isn’t hard! These are similar to the rules I have at home, so my dogs are usually polite when we visit.
I also have a backup plan for if things don’t go well. If I have a host who insists on encouraging poor behaviour in my dog (and this happens more often than you might believe) I usually have my truck with crates inside and I don’t have any difficulty with putting my dog in his crate with a bucket of water and a chew item. In the winter, I will add in a heating disk to cuddle up with, although in my insulated truck, most of my dogs are plenty warm enough. In the summer, I have battery operated fans and can leave the truck doors open so the dogs are cool.
Perhaps the most common time that people want to bring their dogs to visit is when they have a holiday event such as Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving. At the best of times, holidays can be difficult for dogs; everything in their world, often including the furniture in the house changes. We do incredibly confusing things like bringing live trees into the house, or hiding food items amongst the couch cushions. We invite large numbers of people over to celebrate where we may sing and dance. These things just don’t make sense to most dogs! Take your dog to someone else’s house at these times of year and things can be even more confusing. I feel it is important to recognize that if we want to visit with friends and bring our dogs we need to identify the behaviours we want the dog to do, train for them and plan on what to do if the trained behaviours don’t work out.
Easter. The time of year when the humans hide chocolate around the house and the dog is supposed to know that he is not to find it, grab it, or eat it. Holidays are confusing for dogs and when we take them to other people’s homes during the holidays we can end up confusing them even more. If your dog doesn’t have impeccable and reliable manners at home, taking him to someone else’s home during the holidays can be a disaster.©Leah-Anne Thompson /123RF.COM
The key to remember about visiting someone’s home with a dog is that for the most part, we visit people to fulfill our social needs, not to fulfill the dog’s social needs. For centuries, dogs have accompanied us on a wide variety of journeys that involved visiting one another. Mostly we lived in small groups where dogs would have known everyone and visiting someone’s home would not have been unusual. Often in the past century or so, if you travelled to someone’s home with your dog, he would have stayed out of doors safe with the other dogs who lived there. Why would he have been safe? Because we lived in a slower world then; few or no cars, little to get into that could cause trouble and a population with a more consistent expectation of loose dogs than we have today. When we visit our friends that is for our benefit and not for the benefit of the dogs, and we have to keep in mind that turning the dogs out to play unattended may not result in the outcome we hope for. Plan, train and have a back-up plan and then go right ahead; bring your dogs over, and let’s have tea!