California recently released guidelines for restaurants looking to begin offering dine-in services. These guidelines include limited capacity and expanded outdoor seating. As counties begin to meet Phase 2 reopening criteria, many residents are looking for safe ways of venturing out into the world with their two- and four-legged family members in tow. It might be some time before most of us are comfortable going to restaurants again, but now is a perfect time to begin teaching your dog some patio protocols to make your outdoor dining experience more enjoyable. If you're ready to spend some time in the outside world, and your dog has been desensitized to people wearing masks, these tips will help you make the most of your doggy dinner date.
Mind Your Manners
First and foremost, be sure that the establishment you’re visiting allows dogs on their patio or outdoor seating areas. Not all restaurants are dog friendly. Please be respectful of the business and only bring dogs where allowed. Not all people are dog friendly either. Part of having an enjoyable dining experience is making sure that your dog isn’t being a nuisance or distraction to other diners. You are responsible for your dog at all times, and should be proactive in assuring your dog won’t be causing problems in the space you’re sharing with others. Be sure your dog is positioned in a way that doesn’t obstruct pathways, and be mindful of other dogs who might be sharing the area as well (after all, they might not read this blog!).
Now that human manners are taken into consideration, let’s discuss how you can help your dog have a successful and stress-free dining experience.
Beggars CAN be Choosers
If you’ve ever been stared down for a cookie or tried to sleep in past your dog’s breakfast time, you’ve undoubtedly experienced your dog’s affinity for all things consumable. Food is an awesome tool for training wanted behaviors, but it can also be used to reinforce unwanted behaviors. If you’ve given in to sad eyes and offered a scrap of food from the table, you might have reinforced behaviors that can result in begging. Food begging can quickly escalate from sad eyes and intense stares to barking and whining. When dining outdoors, all of these behaviors would be unwanted and annoying—both to you and to other patrons. If your dog is prone to begging, now is a great time to start showing them that an appropriate behavior, such as remaining in a down stay or going to their mat, will be much more rewarding. You just have to help them make a better choice.
Consistency. Retraining a dog that table scraps won’t be an option requires the entire family to be on the same page. Your pup isn’t going to learn that the table is off limits if your partner is sneaking bits of steak at the dinner table. If anything, this lottery system of reward might actually teach them that being persistent will pay off eventually. This can lead to escalated begging behaviors.
Redirection. If getting the occasional table scrap is good, you have to make the alternative behavior even better. Begin by putting your dog in a down stay near the table. If you have them trained to go to a mat to rest, use this spot as a target. Reinforce the stay by occasionally tossing treats. If your dog is having trouble staying, you could provide them with a stuffed Kong or food puzzle to help keep their interest.
Keep it Up! For many dogs, begging is a behavior that has rewarded them with enough consistency that they are motivated to keep trying. Before a behavior that is no longer being reinforced will declined, it will typically escalate into what’s referred to as an “extinction burst.” This might mean that your dog escalates from sad-eyed staring to pawing or barking. If you give in to those behaviors, you’ll end up reinforcing them. Keep in mind that unlearning a behavior is a process, and you will need to be patient and consistent.
Place and Space
Once you’re confident that your dog won’t be whining to join your meal, it’s time to think about how your dog will be accommodated while you dine. A benefit of these Covid service modifications is that there will likely be more distance between tables. If you have a big dog, this extra space will be particularly welcomed. Wherever your dog is placed, be mindful of the needs of servers. Not everyone will be comfortable around dogs, and it should not be their responsibility to step around your dog to serve you.
Four on the Floor. Your house rules might allow for your dog to sit at the table with you, but the restaurant will likely take issue with this. This might include putting your small dog carrier or mat on an unoccupied chair. Be prepared to have your small dog on the floor, under the chair or table. Under no circumstances should their paws be up on the table.
Settle on a Travel Mat. A thin, roll-up mat can be an excellent tool to transition from settling at home to settling in a space outside. Once you’ve trained your dog to settle on a mat, you can take their safe spot with you on the road. If you have a small dog, settling in a portable crate is another great option.
Keep Them Occupied. A dog that is happily occupied with their favorite toy (no squeakers, please) or chew will be unlikely to bother others. Bring a long-lasting chew, toy puzzle, or other non-disruptive interactive option to encourage the dog to peacefully remain in one place while you enjoy your meal.
Stay in Control. Resist the urge to tie your leash to the table or chair. When in an outdoor space where unexpected food drops or other distractions are likely to happen, having your dog anchored to something that isn’t you is a recipe for disaster. A dog who rushes to try to snatch dropped food or tries to bolt after a squirrel might take your table with it or, even worse, escape. Hold on to the leash or use a hands-free option like a belt attachment. Don’t give your dog too much slack, and be sure to keep them within an arm’s length.
Make Sure it’s Fun
Just like people, dogs can have varying degrees of enjoyment for social situations. Before you ask your dog to hang out and eat dinner with you, be sure this is something they actually enjoy. A busy street, an outdoor patio, people walking around, and sudden noises can all be stressful for a dog. If you find that your dog is stressed in these situations, consider leaving them at home. You can help build their independence and short sessions at home alone can help prevent Separation Anxiety from developing.