Dog Etiquette in Public

Our dogs are members of the family, so most of us enjoy taking them out in public, whether it’s for a walk in the park, shopping at the farmers’ market or an outdoor concert. While we might be enthused about bringing them along, we need to consider how our dogs might feel about it. (We also need to consider how others might feel about our dog’s presence.) To that end, it’s important to give some thought to what rules of etiquette might apply.

Considering your dog’s comfort level

Before choosing to take your dog someplace new or letting strangers pet him, always consider how comfortable and safe your dog will feel. Busy, loud or crowded events or locations — such as fairs, sporting events and playgrounds — may be stressful for some dogs. Even a dog who is considered friendly may struggle in these environments if he is not used to them.

The best way to discern how your dog is feeling is to pay attention to his body language. For example, let’s say you’re out and about with your dog, and a stranger approaches, wanting to pet him. If your dog becomes very still, his body stiffens or he seems to want to avoid the interaction, he’s probably not comfortable in that particular situation. For him to feel safe, it might be best to decline the person’s request to pet him.

More about dog body language

Are dogs welcome?

You might feel that your dog will be perfectly happy at an event, but make sure that it’s a function or setting where dogs are welcome. At many restaurants and public venues, and some parks, only service dogs, who are trained to perform specific tasks, are allowed. You should also think about whether you’ll be able to leave the event early if you see that your dog is not doing well.

Two dogs on leashes meeting and looking ate each other

Supplies to pack for your dog

Always bring plenty of water, a travel bowl, training treats (if needed) and poop bags for your dog. And don’t forget to check the weather. If the event involves spending hours in the hot sun (or the freezing cold, or the pouring rain), your dog will likely be more comfortable and safe at home.

Dogs with a bite history and fearful or reactive dogs

If your dog has a bite history or is very stressed around strangers, please do not bring him to crowded or loud events where many strangers will be present. When it’s necessary to take these types of fearful dogs out in public, such as to the vet’s office, be prepared to ask for more space from people as needed. It’s also a good idea to train your dog, in a positive way, to wear a muzzle.

When it comes to other dogs, if your pooch tends to be reactive (barking or lunging, etc.) to other dogs in public, remember to bring training treats with you so that you can reinforce the behaviors that you want to see. And make sure that there will be enough room for you to keep far enough away that he doesn’t become very reactive. If you’re attending an event, do some research beforehand about the location. If the space will be cramped or your dog has injured another dog before, it is best for him to stay home, both for his sake and for others. At the very least, a barking dog will almost certainly be unpleasant for those around you.

More about reactive dogs

Leash laws

You should also be sensitive to the fact that not everyone likes dogs. Other dogs (and some people) may not be comfortable with your dog approaching them, even if your dog is very friendly. Most public spaces have leash laws, so be sure to respect them and only let your dog off-leash in places where it is allowed.

Dog behavior etiquette tips

Here are some other tips for good dog etiquette in public:

  • Try not to allow your dog to jump up on people; even if your dog is friendly, it’s not polite behavior.
  • Be especially careful not to let your pooch jump up on small children or the elderly, since he can potentially scare or injury them.
  • Don’t let your dog approach someone unless that person solicits attention from your dog.
  • Bring training treats with you and use the opportunity of being out in public to teach your dog polite greetings.
  • Get down low so that you can effectively manage an interaction your dog has with a child.
  • Be prepared to gently interfere if a child is behaving inappropriately with your dog.

A circle of people including three children all reaching down to pet a small dog

Ultimately, it is up to us to make sure that when we take our dogs somewhere public, we have the comfort and safety of everyone — our pets, other people’s pets, other humans — as a top-of-mind priority, so that everyone can enjoy the experience.

Well-mannered dog tips