How to Train Your Dog to Behave in Public

Medium
2-8 Weeks
General

Introduction

Does it matter what people think about your dog's behavior?

You should care, because when out in public your dog is an ambassador for canine-kind. If he behaves badly by lunging at strangers, jumping up, or barking, this is unpleasant and intimidating for others. However, a well-behaved dog that walks nicely to heel and sits politely to greet people is a positive pleasure.

A dog that behaves in public means you can relax and enjoy walks, rather than be on edge all the time in anticipation of problems. Remember, the dog and his behavior are your responsibility, both in moral terms and in the eyes of the law. Should your dog jump up at a senior citizen, knocking them over so that they fracture a hip, then you could well be liable for their surgical expenses.

Defining Tasks

To behave well in public means having the dog under control at all times, both on and off the leash. This skill doesn't happen by magic but by putting in the time with regular obedience training. Even a basic command such as "Sit", along with walking to heel, equip the dog with a great grounding so that he is able to meet and greet strangers without showing you up.

Training both puppies and adult dogs does require time, persistence, and patience. For the puppies, the world is a big exciting place full of new sights, sounds, and smells, so distraction is rife. For the adult dog, they may have deeply ingrained bad habits that need to be replaced with new good behavior.

For both young and old, be sure to use reward-based training methods. This rewards the dog's good behavior, which sets them on the path to thinking about what they need to do to please you and earn a reward. Old-fashioned methods based on dominating the dog are outdated because they use intimidation and punishment to cow the dog into obeying. Not a happy scenario!

Getting Started

Basic obedience training requires little other than:

  • A collar and leash to restrain the dog

  • Bite-sized tasty treats to use as a reward

  • A bag that clips onto your belt, in which to keep the treats handy

  • Time, patience, and consistency

Train your dog a couple of times a day for 10 to 15 minutes. You can also incorporate training into your walks, such as getting the dog to sit curbside. However, be sure to make training fun and always end on a high with a command the dog knows and can do well. This helps build self-confidence and enthusiasm for the next session.

The Walk to Heel Method

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Most Recommended
2 Votes
Step
1
Start without distractions
Train in a backyard with few distractions. Have the dog on a collar and lead. Walk forward. If the dog surges ahead, stop immediately.
Step
2
Wait for a "sit"
Now ignore the dog and wait for him to sit. Once he sits, reward him with a treat. The idea is that the dog learns he is to stop when you stop.
Step
3
Stop when he surges ahead
Walk on again. If the dog walks nicely on a slack lead, praise him and toss a treat. If he surges ahead, stop and wait for the sit. Then reward the sit, and start off again.
Step
4
Label the "heel"
Your dog now has two choices, he can walk by your side and be rewarded, or if he surges ahead you stop and he has to sit and wait. Either way you are in control. When you move off and he heels, say "Heel" is a firm but happy voice, and reward him.
Step
5
Build the behavior
With the dog now listening to you and watching for treats as he heels, start extending the amount of time he is expected to heel before he gets a treat. By making him travel further each time, he will eventually start to heel automatically. And if he surges ahead, you simply stop, meaning that he gets nowhere fast and finds it more rewarding to behave.
Recommend training method?

The Not Jump Up Method

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Effective
1 Vote
Step
1
Know jumping is self-rewarding
When a dog jumps up, he rewards himself, therefore you must prevent jumping up so that it doesn't become a habit. If you can see a flashpoint, such as a friend approaching, have the dog sit and "Look" at you.
Step
2
Restrain the dog
Other strategies include stepping on the dog's lead so that it is too short for the dog to jump up. This may feel rather a negative thing to do, but know you are preventing the dog learning bad behavior.
Step
3
Withdraw attention
If your dog jumps up when you come home, ignore the dog and walk off to a different room. Return, and only acknowledge the dog once he is calm with all four paws on the floor. Then make a big fuss of him. The lesson is that jumping up means no attention, while sitting or standing nicely means a fuss.
Step
4
Practice with friends
Now practice the dog greeting friends. Perhaps do this outside and tie the dog to an immovable object such as a tree. Have the friend approach but stop and walk away as soon as the dog goes to jump. The friend only continues once the dog is calm with four-on-the-floor.
Step
5
Teach an alternative behavior
Jumping up is an action, but so is sitting, standing, lying, or 'Look'. Decide on an alternative action you want the dog to perform in order to be greeted and work on this. For example, tell the dog "Sit" and only fuss him when he is in a sit.
Recommend training method?

The Sit on Command Method

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Least Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Get his attention
Hold a treat between your finger and thumb, just in front of the dog's nose so that it holds his attention.
Step
2
Raise the treat in the air
Use the treat as a lure, moving it slowly so that the dog follows it with his nose. Raise the treat is an arc over and behind the dog's head. As he follows the treat, as his head goes up and back, his butt will drop to the floor.
Step
3
Label this "sit"
As soon as his butt hits the deck, say "Sit" in a firm but excited voice, and reward him with the treat.
Step
4
Try without the treat
Practice with the treat until he starts to anticipate and sits as he starts to see your hand move. Now, start phasing out the treat, perhaps rewarding him for every second, then every third sit, rather than each time.
Step
5
Take your training outside
Now practice in different places and with distractions until he responds regardless of what's going on and has a rock-solid sit.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Amy Caldwell

Published: 10/06/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Lily
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
4 Years
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Question
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Lily
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
4 Years

My challenge is that I failed in Lily's early years to properly train her for reactivity, and now she is very anxious in public and new places, and she is not good on a leash (pulls and doesn't follow our lead). I want to work on this so that she can go more places in public with us and be less anxious and able to enjoy outings without it being a stressor.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1104 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brynne, Is she aggressive or tries to get away when scared? If she isn't aggressive, check out the article I have linked below on shy dogs. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-socialize-a-shy-dog/ Also, check out this youtube channel series on reactivity. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a And this one on shy dogs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AElTVoIPlOw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWoivpkvXgqhAC44tlofiw-CS If pup is aggressive when afraid, I would desensitize her to wearing a basket muzzle before training. The trainer in the videos also has a video on how to properly introduce the muzzle slowly, so pup won't be fearful of it. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Milo & Henry
Miniature Schnauzer
5 Years
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Question
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Milo & Henry
Miniature Schnauzer
5 Years

Moved from South Africa to New Zealand, staying in Auckland CBD. Dogs are not used to city and a lot of people. Henry (2 years), struggled with a leash as he cries. Milo(5 years), barks at people and other dogs. Would like to train them to behave beter in public.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1104 Dog owners recommended

Hello Arnu, For the barking, check out this article and the video series I have linked below. Quiet method and Desensitize method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Barking video Series: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAA4pob0Wl0W2agO7frSjia1hG85IyA6a For the leash walking, is pup protesting being on leash in general, or crying due to the people and experiences around them, like leash reactivity? If the issue is being leashed, check out the Pressure method below. Even though pup isn't a puppy anymore, the training for a dog not yet used to a leash is generally the same. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash If the issue is with pup not walking with you well, check out the Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel If the issue is the distractions around pup, I would use the Quiet method I already linked for your other dog, and the methods for addressing the barking in the barking video series with this dog too, since the underlying reactivity is similar, even if expressed a bit differently. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Dante
German shepherd mix
7 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Dante
German shepherd mix
7 Months

Dante is very hyper, so he wants to play with other dogs and people. Whenever we play outside or go on a walk, and he sees another dog, he starts to freak out and tugs on his leash trying to get to the dog. He does not only do this to other dogs, but kids on bikes or scooters, he also barks really loud. Can you please give us advice? :)

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1104 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ava, I would start by working on a structured heel with pup without distractions around, and as pup improves intentionally work pup up to distractions. Check out the Turns method from the article I have linked below. Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Additionally, I would teach pup the Quiet and Leave It commands, reward pup when they focus on you, and see if you can recruit friends or family with dog friendly dogs to practice the Passing Approach and Walking Together methods from the article I have linked below. The goal in your case is not for the dogs to meet but to repeat the passes enough that the other dog becomes boring and your dog gets into the habit of staying calm around other dogs while walking. Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Passing Approach and Walking Together methods for heeling past dogs: https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Finally, if you are using a back clip harness to walk pup I would switch to a no-pull type of collar, front clip harness, martingale, or prong, collar (be sure to watch videos on how to fit properly because they are generally fitted wrong by most people). Having something clipped to pup's back will actually encourage more pulling (think sled dog), a clip in the front will act more like a horses bridle - turning pup when they pull instead of letting them put their weight into it. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bella
Cocker Spaniel
1 Year
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Question
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Bella
Cocker Spaniel
1 Year

She is usually a very calm dog but she is currently being trained to become an emotional support animal for a person with autism and she needs to learn to stay by the persons feet in crowded and busy situations she currently can’t go outside because we are waiting for the final letter to say She is eligible but we don’t know how to train her beforehand

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1104 Dog owners recommended

Hello Liam, I recommend looking for outside locations where normal dogs are allowed to accompany you, then intentionally practice at those places. Some ideas include: outside farmer's markets, public parks during kids sports games, outside mall areas, stores that allow dogs like petstores, some feed and seed or tracker supply stores, or hardware stores (just call and ask or ask at the door if it's okay - they place needs to not contain food), outside eating areas, like open patios that allow dogs, public parks in general - look for calm ones at first, then progress to ones that are busier and not inside an enclosed fence but have things like trails and open areas too that dogs are allowed in. You can also throw an outside "training/hang out" party and practice pup's training at the party among friends. Outside dog parks are another option, but make sure you practice the training outside the fenced area of the dog park, so the other dog's are background distractions while you do things like heel down the sidewalk or in the grass, and the dogs are not running right up to your dog, since it's not safe to bring food rewards, toys, or have pup's leashed inside a dog park. Plus you don't want to increase arousal but work on pup learning to ignore distractions. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Saber
German Shepherd
5 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Saber
German Shepherd
5 Months

My dog barks and try’s to run at both people and dogs when out in public. He is currently just under 30kg so big puppy and I’m worried soon he will pull me with him with this. How do I tackle this behaviour without losing my mind in public?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1104 Dog owners recommended

Hello Erin, First, I would start by teaching pup a formal Heel command if they don't already know it. The initial goal is just to teach pup what a word means and motivate them to learn. What comes next is intermediate obedience. For intermediate obedience, you will gradually work up to distractions and pup developing the skills to obey in those situations too - at first the distraction might be someone walking through the room, a squirrel in the yard, a leaf blowing by, ect...Start with less distracting environments, then gradually move onto harder environments and spend intentional time practicing in each of those new environments until pup can focus there too. For example, in your home without others around is easiest, your backyard is a bit harder, your front yard is even harder, your neighborhood is even hard, your home with guests present is even harder, a pet store is even harder, the park with other dogs around is harder or similar, ect...Go out of your way to practice at the current level pup needs to learn at and to create the distractions pup is ready to learn to overcome during training sessions when you can control things - so that pup can also respond when things are more out of your control in every day life, but keep the distraction level what pup is ready for at that point in the training so pup can still succeed with your help - the goal is to guide pup and provide consistent, calm boundaries at this point. Second, you may need to switch some of your training methods if pup knows the command and is sometimes choosing to disobey. If pup is pulling because they are aggressive, reactive, or fearful, and not just excited, you will want to work on more socialization and counter conditioning too to help pup associate people with good things. I would consider hiring a professional trainer with experience with those things, who comes well recommended, to help you in person if that's the case. Temperament issues like aggression and fear are very time sensitive with puppies. The sooner its addressed the better the future outcome is likely to be. Reactivity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo-L2qtD7MQ Some other methods to help enforce commands when pup is ready: Reel In method for Come: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall Turns method for Heel: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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