You love your dog. We do too! Yes, we know they're perfect. But sometimes that can make it hard to know what is and isn’t okay when you're out in public with them.
Many shared spaces are heightening pet restrictions because of irresponsible dog parents. Some people even see dogs as more of a modern nuisance than man’s age-old best friend.
It’s best for everyone—your dog, you, other people, other animals, and the environment itself—if you take a few simple steps to be a good dog neighbor.
Here’s your cheat sheet to the unwritten social rules of bringing your dog in public!
- Your dog’s public behavior affects everyone around you. It also impacts her opportunities to go places and get socialized.
- It’s not hard to be a good dog neighbor. A little consideration goes a long way.
- Not everyone wants to greet your dog. Give them space.
- Take your dog out of any environment if she seems overwhelmed. Continuous barking, leash pulling, and other signs of stress aren’t fun for her or the people around you.
- Always pick up your dog’s poop. It’s not fertilizer. It's a pollutant with public health risks.
- Watch out for entryways and blind corners. Ask your dog to hold a sit stay while you check if the coast is clear.
- Don’t let your dog meet other dogs while on-leash. It's unnatural and can contribute to long-term reactivity. You can always say no thanks.
- Follow leash laws and train a solid recall before going off-leash. Call your dog back to you when you see another person or animal. It's especially important around protected wildlife.
- Respect public property. Follow the rules when you take your pup to a pet-friendly store, restaurant, or coffee shop.
Why you should care how your dog behave in public
Your dog’s public behavior affects everyone around you and influences their long-term opportunities to see the world. Some people are afraid of dogs. Others are allergic or simply not up for saying hi. Unruly pets can disrupt public spaces, harm the environment, and injure other people or animals. Taking a few simple steps to be a good dog neighbor helps keep your favorite public spots dog friendly. You’ll also give dogs a good name and support your own pup’s socialization and mental health, too!
Not everyone loves dogs (and that’s okay)
It’s a hard-to-swallow reality for us dog lovers, but it’s true: Not everyone loves dogs—and even people with pets of their own don’t always want to be approached by ones they don’t know.
There are many reasons someone might feel uncomfortable around a new dog:
- More than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States. Most of these bites are minor with full physical recovery, but they can still be traumatic. This is especially true for children (who are the most common victims). When you pass a stranger out in public, you never know if they’ve been bitten or watched a loved one get hurt.
- As many as one in twenty people have cynophobia, an intense fear of dogs. This persistent phobia goes beyond mild discomfort or uncertainty. While no one knows what causes every case, past trauma can certainly play a role.
- Many people have had bad experiences with dogs jumping, ripping clothing, or otherwise being disruptive. Some have had limited experience altogether, meaning that a single negative incident can have a lasting effect in their memories. (Not unlike the way your puppy learns about the world during her socialization period!)
- Between 10 to 20 percent of people are allergic to dogs. Reactions range from mild to severe. In some cases, simply touching an object that was previously held by a dog can cause an immune response. That’s good reason for affected individuals to give your pup a wide berth (no matter how cute she is).
- We all have personal preferences. We’re dog lovers here, but we can’t expect everyone to be quite as excited to say hello to our good boys and girls.
Mismanaged pet dogs can cause serious problems
Out-of-control pet dogs can cause a range of problems beyond bites to humans. Businesses and governments often place even more restrictions on pet ownership when issues come up. That’s a shame for us dog parents—it can be hard enough to find dog-friendly spaces to exercise and socialize our puppies as is.
Let’s take a look at where these increased regulations come from.
Dogs can disrupt public spaces
- While it’s natural for dogs to vocalize here and there—and most pet-friendly places are understanding of the occasional woof—excessive barking can make it tough to enjoy public spots.
- As mentioned above, some people are afraid of dogs or simply uncomfortable being approached. Out-of-control pets can make them feel unsafe in shared spaces.
Dogs can harm the environment
- Dog poop is a big environmental concern. While it might seem like a natural fertilizer, dog waste pollutes water and spreads bacteria—made worse by the fact that only about 60 percent of dog parents regularly pick up after their pups.
- Mismanaged dogs impact wildlife. Barking, chasing, and digging disrupts the habitat of already sensitive species. (It’s no wonder bird watching communities often find themselves at odds with local dog parents.)
Dogs can injure people and damage property
- Dogs can cause car and bicycle accidents, especially if they’re off-leash in areas where they aren’t allowed.
- It’s also easy to trip over dogs in public. While this might sound silly at first, the risk is real in crowded spots or when a pup darts into a walkway without warning.
- Dog-friendly businesses sometimes report damaged merchandise and scratched floors—not to mention the public health risks of bathroom accidents, particularly at restaurant patios.
- Not all dogs are excited to interact with other dogs. Greeting every canine they come across is actually pretty unnatural! While dogs are very social, they’re are best known for creating close familial bonds. No one wants their best friend to feel trapped or pressured by strangers.
Simple actions can improve everybody’s experience
The reality of out-of-control pets in public is a blow to us dog lovers. Thankfully, it’s not hard to prevent those problems! A little knowledge goes a long way to be a good dog neighbor.
When we take small steps to consider how our dogs affect the world around us, we:
Keep more public places dog friendly
Many public shopping centers, parks, apartment buildings, and even entire cities have increased pet restrictions due to irresponsible ownership. Some spots have banned dogs entirely. The more we respect the rules of pet-friendly spaces—like keeping dogs on-leash and respecting other people’s space—the more places welcome us.
Give people and your puppy positive experiences
Polite dogs give people positive experiences that can help them feel better about canines over time.
And these good experiences for people around you directly translate into good experiences for your dog! Domestic dogs are incredibly sensitive to human cues from the time they’re puppies. If strangers are uneasy around your pup, there’s a chance she’ll pick up on it and possibly start to feel uncomfortable herself.
Keeping some distance from other people and dogs naturally helps your puppy get used to the world without too much stress. Being respectful in public is a good socialization move.
Set future dogs up for success
Exposure to the world is key for our dogs, but there’s a catch-22: You can’t socialize your puppy in an environment that she isn’t allowed in. And if she isn’t welcome, she won’t develop the skills to handle it.
Following guidelines to keep spots dog-friendly helps break the cycle to integrate dogs more fully—and thoughtfully—into our lives.
How your pup and you can become good dog neighbors
It’s not hard to be a good dog neighbor. A little consideration goes a long way! When you take your dog in public, give other pets and people some space unless they explicitly say they want to interact. Pay attention to your dog’s emotions and take her out of a situation if she seems overwhelmed (which can quickly lead to disruptive behavior). Respect leash laws and train a solid recall. And always pick up your dog’s poop.
In all situations
Give strangers some space
Remember that not everyone wants to greet your dog, and that doesn’t mean they don’t like you. People might be afraid of dogs, training their own pet, or otherwise busy. Respect their space!
Keep tabs on your dog’s behavior and emotions
If your dog is continuously barking, pulling on the leash, or showing other signs of being over threshold, take her out of the situation. That level of arousal isn’t fun for her, for you, or for others in a shared space!
- Recall her out of your front yard if she’s barking at someone walking past (or distract her with treats or a toy)
- Leave the park, shopping mall, or other public area and scatter some food or play a game to destress
- Give a wider berth to other patrons while helping your dog calm down
Scoop the poop
It should go without saying: Always pick up your dog’s poop. It’s not a natural fertilizer. It’s an environmental pollutant with public health risks.
In apartment and office buildings
Watch for entryways and blind corners
Check around blind corners before letting your dog run ahead. You can prevent surprises that might startle both your dog and your neighbors by training a simple sit-stay. Ask your dog to wait one step behind while you look around. A similar stay or wait cue works well on elevators to keep her from bolting out the door when it opens.
Don’t crowd elevator bays or building entrances while waiting with your pup. When in doubt, stand between the door and your dog so no one’s caught off guard.
Practice polite manners
Remember that while jumping up for a greeting might seem cute to you, not everyone appreciates it. (The same goes for sloppy kisses.) Consider training your dog to keep four on the floor or teaching a specific cue that lets her know when it’s okay to jump up. Your elderly neighbor and the small kids from down the hall will thank you.
In the neighborhood
Give fellow walkers some space
Always keep at least a few feet between your dog and any other people or pets. Don’t ride their bumpers when approaching from behind—this can make even the most social dogs uncomfortable (This is good advice even if you’re on a stroll without your dog. It’s especially important to teach kids not to directly approach dogs from behind!).
The faster you’re moving, the more distance you should maintain. Give an extra wide berth when out on a run so your quick approach doesn’t startle your neighbors.
Avoid on-leash greetings with other dogs
As a default, don’t let your dog meet other dogs on-leash. Approaching head-on can be seen as threatening in the canine world. Plus, tethers can make it hard for dogs to freely move their bodies and express intentions.
Leashes also remove a dog’s “flight” ability if a situation makes them uncomfortable. This can result in your pup feeling trapped, reacting suddenly, or even developing long-term fear reactivity.
Remember: When someone asks “can the dogs meet?” it’s always okay to say “no thank you” or “not today.” There’s no shame in advocating for your pup!
Err on the side of caution
Before passing another dog on the sidewalk, do a quick scan of each dog’s body language to make sure everything feels right.
If you don’t like how your dog looks when approaching another human, pup, or object in the environment (or if you just aren’t sure) it’s completely okay to redirect their attention.
You can do a range of things like making clicking noises, shuffling your feet, bending at the waist to draw your dog closer to you, or using treats to get her turned around.
It’s also 100 percent okay to:
- Walk at an angle to create a little more distance between your dog and one you’re going to pass if you think either one of them might struggle to stay chill.
- Pull over to the edge of the sidewalk and ask your dog to sit if you don’t think she’ll be able to control herself. Let the other pup go by, and then release your dog to sniff where they walked.
Follow leash laws
We know: Leash laws can be annoying. There’s nothing like watching our dogs run free! But the guidelines are there for a reason. Leash-required spaces:
- Protect sensitive wildlife
- Give dogs in training or rehabilitation the opportunity to safely enjoy time in nature
- Allow people who are afraid of dogs to go on hikes without worry about being approached
- Keep our dogs safe on potentially treacherous terrain
Recall your dog when you see another person or pet
Call your dog back whenever you’re going to pass another person or dog. It’s a good idea to ask them to hold a sit, down, or heel position—or better yet, reclip their leash for peace of mind until the coast is clear.
If you aren’t confident in your dog’s ability to be off-leash, there’s no shame in using a long line. These tools are perfect for giving more freedom while maintaining physical control—they can be an important step in the recall training process!
Think about your dog’s impact on wildlife
As a general rule, don’t let your dog chase or catch wildlife. Pay attention to how far they venture off the marked trail. Intervene if you see them getting too close to another animal’s den or nest.
In stores, restaurants, and busy streets
Don’t block entrances or walkways
If possible, sit at a corner table when visiting a pet-friendly patio with your pup. Avoid blocking any store entrances or main walkways. Try to imagine someone entering the space who is afraid of dogs. Is there enough room for them to move around you without feeling uncomfortable?
Listen to other dog parents’ instructions
Don’t be that guy who gets someone else’s dog really excited while they’re on-leash and then walks away. That’s like an uncle who gives his nephew too much sugar then gives him back to his parents. Not cool.
Respect public property
Follow business guidelines. In general, keep your dog off of public benches, tables, and chairs.
Don’t let your dog use the bathroom on a patio or in a store. If she does have an accident (we all know potty training isn’t a seamless process) let a staff member know right away.
Three rules of thumb to start using with your dog today
Being a good dog neighbor can feel like a lot to think about, but it really comes down to a few simple concepts:
- Give strangers (human, dog, other animal) some space unless they make it clear they want to meet with your dog.
- Respect shared areas. Be mindful of your dog’s energy level and noise. Don’t interfere with public property.
- Consider how your dog affects the environment. Be thoughtful about when and where you let her off-leash. Always clean up her waste. And follow the old cliché: Leave spaces better than you found them.