If you want your dog to behave in public, you have to teach him in public. Teaching your dog at home or at obedience class is a good start, but if you expect that teaching to carry over to "real life," you're going to have to work in that situation.
Because public work is a necessity for service dogs, we start our public training very early. Last week, I attended a day-long meeting and it was the perfect opportunity to introduce Monti to public life. The picture above shows her (finally) taking a nap during the meeting. That relaxed behavior doesn't happen naturally -- especially not in public with so many interesting sights, smells, people and goings on -- so I dedicated this meeting time to teaching Monti that she could, indeed, take a nap even in public.
I went very well armed: I had her breakfast and lunch with me, able to dole it out in small bits throughout the morning to reward good (quiet, calm, focused) behavior. In addition, I also brought chew toys (that didn't squeak, much to my meeting-mates relief), and rawhide chews to occupy Little Miss Social during the meeting. As you can see in the picture above, I also had a portable water bowl, as well as a little soft bed so she could get really comfortable.
Monti's training thus far has been active training -- she's always been reinforced for doing something. Maybe it was sitting, touching my hand, laying down, going into her kennel, whatever. But this little girl knows that doing gets reinforced. So imagine her confusion when I asked her to down, reinforced her, then ignored her (I had to pay attention to the presentations, it was a business meeting afterall!).
I started to spread out my rewards -- if she was quiet for five minutes, then eight, maybe three, then twelve -- so we got longer periods of inactivity from squirm-worm Monti. She quickly caught on and began to put her head down on the blanket. Bingo! Now, that was the only way she'd earn a goody. Head down = reward!
I then lengthened the amount of time her head had to be down. Before she knew it, she was asleep! Ahhh, the joys of a sleeping puppy.
It didn't take long for her to learn that relaxing was the key to it all. Is my job done? Heck, no! It'll take several more of those one-day meetings to help this feisty little Labrador figure out that public time = time to sneak in a nap. But we'll get there. Every outing will be easier for her (and me) -- the more experience she gets, the better service dog she'll be for her partner.
You can do the same training with your dog that I'm doing with service pup in-training Monti. Find public places that allow dogs. And frequent them. A lot! Remember, if you want your dog to behave in public, you have to teach them in public.
Do you have a favorite place you like to take your dog to teach him in public? What do you like so much about it? Please leave a comment!