I wrote this post last year prior to lockdown hitting and never got around to sharing it – now that things are starting to open up once again I think it’s time that this post finally got shared!
This post was inspired by listening to the fabulous “Drinking from the Toilet” podcast by Hannah Branigan and her discussion with Laura VanArendonk Baugh. They were discussing puppy socialisation and how to do it appropriately. It got to a point where they were saying that if you take the dog to an event such as a country fair, or a dog show, then the dog is your priority. Laura used an example where she wanted to give one of her puppies some experience in a competitive obedience ring, but knew that she was likely to become competitive as soon as she entered the ring, so in order to make sure that she kept her puppy the priority, she purposefully messed up the first exercise so that they would be disqualified as a team from the competition. I absolutely love how honest Laura was about her desires in comparison to what she knew would be best for her dog and set herself and the puppy up to succeed.
It’s a fabulous example and I think it applies to all dogs. If you take your dog out to an event, then your dog is your priority. If you’re not willing to accept that and deal with the consequences of putting your dog first, which can include missing certain aspects of the event like watching a busy ring where your dog can’t cope with the crowds, or not being able to say hi to any human friends there because your dog has had enough and needs to go for a bit of a break, or even needs to go home. In extreme cases, it may mean paying a £20 entry fee to turn around and go home within a couple of hours.
This is exactly the reason why I don’t usually take Timon or Pumba to events where I know there is a high entry fee for the site, or it’s far away from home and being able to bring them for a brief period and then dropping them home won’t be possible. I know that my desires for the day wouldn’t match up with doing the best thing for either of my dogs and the frustration I would feel at my expectations for the day not being met isn’t fair on either of us.
If you want to take your dog to a large event, but aren’t sure if they’re going to be okay with it I would suggest sitting down and thinking about the possibilities of the day. I would give yourself a list of if… then… contingencies to work with. Here’s an example for me and Pumba:
- If Pumba seems calm and is sniffing a lot, then we can stay and continue
- If there is a large group of children, then I will move away to a less child populated area
- If there is a narrow path that is really busy but I need to get through, then I will pick Pumba up and feed him cheese until we are in a calmer area and I can give him a few minutes to sniff
- If there is a display that I would like to see which Pumba may not be comfortable with, then I will ask my mum to walk him somewhere whilst I watch the display. Or, if this is not possible, I will miss the display
- If there is something I would like to see and Pumba would be okay within a certain distance of the ring then I will stand back away from the crowds and watch through binoculars whilst Pumba enjoys a scatter feed attached to me with a waist belt
- If there are X reactions in Y time period, then Pumba will be taken home
- If I feel my frustration starting to build, or no longer enjoy the experience then I will take Pumba home
- If I no longer feel that Pumba is enjoying the experience, then he will be taken home.
Notice that the above points address Pumba’s emotional needs (if he is calm and sniffing) and then specific needs that address how to keep him happy and safe (people dense areas), as well as some of my own needs and desires as well. I can go into that scenario knowing exactly what I do if certain issues happen, I’ve considered safety and how to include the needs of everyone involved to help set my expectation so that we all have a good time. I know at exactly what point I will call quits on the experience and go home to keep everyone safe and happy. If I just waltzed into an environment such as a country show without these expectations and contingencies, I would constantly be dealing with situations as they occur which means that by the time I’ve thought of what to do, another situation has likely developed and I’ll always be one step behind what’s going on.
So, next time you think that a family day out will be a great idea and want to bring the dog along, consider what you’ll do if that experience is no longer in the best interest of your dog and consider exactly what those contingencies will be so that you have a plan of action going in. Keep your dog your priority and do the best thing for them at every turn. You’ll have a much nicer experience than if you go in without having considered what you might run into I promise!