Not every dog is comfortable in crowds and some dogs may even become unhappy or stressed.
We know this from our own experiences with our nervous dog, Keiko.
Particularly while when he was younger, he would feel nervous and overwhelmed at events and activities with lots of people, dogs or other animals, sights, smells, noises and activities.
Throwing your dog in the deep end and hoping/expecting they will be fine is not the best approach and may actually make things worse. To help those with nervous dogs or those about to attend their first big dog-inclusive event, we’ve put together tips to help ensure you and your dog have a wonderful time.
Keiko was nervous attending the RSPCA Million Paws Walk for the first time
Tips for Preparing your Dog to Attend a Large Event
- Start socialising your dog with groups of dogs before the event – head to popular dog parks or organise a play date.
- Always be considerate of your dog’s comfort level when deciding on events to attend. If you over estimate their comfort, and place them in a situation where they are overwhelmed and you don’t remove them – they will likely become even more fearful.
- Start at smaller or more intimate events. Pick those events where they are unlikely to become over stimulated then build up in the size of events.
- Attend events that are based around an activity, like a walk. Dogs can often become anxious or worried when they are standing around in a group of strange people and dogs. Many of these dogs are less likely to become nervous when engaged in activity that engages or diverts their attention.
- Consider purchasing an awareness collar, leash or vest for your dog to wear. Options at a Friendly Dog Collars include ‘Space’, ‘Nervous’, ‘Caution’, ‘No Dogs’, ‘Deaf’ or ‘Training’ and they give other attendees have a quick visual of the needs your dog may have in this setting.
- Pack treats. Treats won’t solve high anxiety in a dog, but they can help manage some situations when you’re in a distracting environment. Often times when there is a large amount of stimuli, it will still be necessary to gain your dog’s focus and your dog will only pay attention to you if you’ve got something they want – yummy treats.
Tips for your Dog Whilst Attending a Large Event
- Arrive early so that your dog has time to become accustomed as more and more people and dogs/pets will arrive.
- Be aware of any nervousness or stress that you have yourself in taking your dog into this environment. Dogs will pick up on this and react the same from your energy. Project a calm and assertive energy that gives your dog confidence in your company.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Be a diligent owner by watching your dog and what is going on around them. We have all seen it where the person is busy talking to someone or on their phone, while their dog, usually on a long leash, has wandered away to pester a person or another dog or eating something that they shouldn’t.
- Leave the flexi-leash/retractable leash at home. A fixed length leash is safer and provides more control in crowds by helping keep your dog close by your side.
- Give every dog space, including yours and always ask permission before a “meet and greet”.
- Read your dog’s body language. If your dog starts to becomes nervous, position yourself so that you’re a little removed from large groups of people/dogs, and so that your dog is not feeling ‘surrounded’ by dogs with no ‘escape’ option.
- Monitor your dog for stress signals, signs of discomfort and their warning signs – if your dog needs a break, it’s fine to retreat, wait, move to the back or to the side to distance you and your dog from the crowds until they calm.
- Ensure your dogs comfort to interact. Of course, your dog is adorable and plenty of people will want to meet or pat them. Not everyone knows how to properly approach a dog, especially young children. It’s up to you to make sure they are comfortable with the interaction and to protect them when its an unwanted advance. Step in if a stranger to your dogs approaches without asking and feel free to walk away when your dog has had enough.
- Keep your pup’s leash short so that they are right by your side. This is the time to use the ‘heel’ command. Ensure that they are not approaching other dogs and possibly causing or contributing to their nervous experience.
- Respect fellow pet parents when your dog is meeting other dogs. Always ask first. Allow enough space for them to move around one another and sniff – dogs generally don’t approach one another for the first time head on.
- Attend with a friend or partner so that one person can always be minding the dog while the other stops at stalls, make purchases or visits the restroom. That way your dog can wait off to the side and isn’t forced to stay in tight spots or be put in tense situations.