To a dog parent whose dog struggles with dog reactivity, "dog-friendly" basically means "a place you should probably avoid."
I was talking to a friend about wanting to visit Austin, Texas sometime, and she mentioned that I should definitely come and that it was super dog-friendly. My immediate reaction was that I would probably not be able to take Kono anywhere in Austin, in that case. I definitely understood her intention, but to me, "dog-friendly" means lots of dogs, which means Kono would not do well in those settings.
My ultimate goal in everything that I do, is to try to set Kono up for success. He's great with people and sometimes small dogs, though in general we try to practice neutrality, or the practice of not becoming overstimulated in the presence of certain things.
We practice this in a couple of ways. I never let him greet other dogs on leash, and while he's good with new people, I usually just decline to let others pet him while we're out and say that we're in training. If we do go out to a brewery or restaurant, I make sure to sit far enough from other dogs so that he's under threshold.
When we were in Seattle on our road trip, I Googled "dog-friendly" restaurants. I had to rule out places where the outdoor seating was on the sidewalk, because Kono can't handle dogs passing by.
I'd say right now, his threshold is probably at least across the street. If a dog is closer than that, I can often pick up on Kono tensing his body, or staring a bit too intently. I know him well enough that I won't let him get close enough for that to happen, though sometimes there are situations that are just out of your control.
When I'm looking on Yelp at dog-friendly places, I check out the photos to see how close together the tables are. Honestly, it's rare to find a place that's spaced out enough for Kono to handle, even in the midst of a pandemic.
And that's okay.
I've come to accept that Kono doesn't need to come everywhere with me, and that it's actually nice for me to take a break from taking care of him all the time. When I do take him out, I can't fully relax anyway. I'm constantly scanning the environment for dogs sneaking up on us, and I always have an exit route. It seems extreme, but I'm determined to help him live his best life and wouldn't have it any other way.
So where can reactive dog parents go?
I've learned to be creative with our outings. Some parks are okay (read: don't have too many off-leash dogs around), so we'll get take out and go to the park to eat. Here are some other tips for going out with your reactive dog, if you decide to take them out:
- Avoid "dog-friendly" places
- Get take out and go to a park, or a community college campus, which is not as likely to have dogs around
- Rent a Sniffspot to enjoy some off leash time
- If you do take your reactive dog to a brewery or restaurant, leave them with someone outside the venue, if possible, while you go scope it out to see how many dogs are inside
- Crate train your dog so you can enjoy a dog-free afternoon!
Just because a place is dog-friendly doesn't mean there's something wrong with your dog if they can't thrive in that environment. There are plenty of other things you can do to provide biological fulfillment and enrichment for your dogs!
My hope is that one day, there will be a section on restaurant listing apps for "reactive dog-friendly" places. How great would it be to go out to dinner and know that other patrons and their dogs will respect your space so you can enjoy a dog-friendly night out?
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