As a dog owner, you cannot underestimate the role of good socialization in creating a well-rounded dog. We’ve written previously about why socialization matters, and how exposing your pup to a variety of different settings can help to create the environmental stability to build reliability in their behavior.
To build that stability, our professional dog trainers will often encourage dog owners to participate in training sessions in public settings. This can be particularly useful if your dog is timid or has issues around people, other dogs, or in unfamiliar settings. With controlled supervision from your dog trainer, these sessions help to increase confidence – for both you and your dog.
Even after your dog training program ends, it is important to continue to take advantage of these socialization opportunities. This ensures that your dog maintains those solid behaviors, irrespective of the surroundings.
But where are the best places to to take your dog? As national retailers each have varying policies on whether dogs can be brought into their store, it can often be confusing to know whether or not it is acceptable to bring your pet dog into them. And what about if you’re looking to vary it up or need inspiration for future socialization outings? Well, now you can bookmark this page before your next outing to get some ideas!
But first - some caveats
Depending on your location, you may not be in close proximity to many or any of these potential ideas in this article. You can always contact local or independent stores directly to find out more about their pet policies.
Individual locations of the retailers listed below may have the authority to introduce slightly different policies – or may be obliged to do so due to local health guidelines or legislation. If you are in any doubt, it is always worth checking with your local store in advance.
Finally, this article is focused solely on pet dogs. Service animals are, of course, permitted to enter most public places.
A pet store is perhaps the most obvious place to start if you’re a dog owner looking for socialization opportunities – and as you’ll always need to buy food, toys and treats, it makes sense to bring your dog along!
The vast majority of nationwide pet stores actively encourage you to bring your pup into their store, and some even offer treats for your dog when you’re checking out.
Below are some examples of larger pet retailers which allow you to brings dogs into their store:
Additionally, a word of caution! Make sure to keep a close eye on your dog whilst you are in a pet store. These places are often teeming with dog owners who have the same idea – which can be great for socializing your pup with dogs of different sizes, breeds and temperaments. However, even a well-behaved pup can be startled if they meet a dog unexpectedly (i.e. round the corner of an aisle).
Home Improvement Stores
With locations typically covering a large surface area – and long, wide aisles providing ample visibility – a home improvement store is a great place to bring your dog in public. Rules may vary from location to location, so it is worth calling to check ahead.
Many of these home improvement stores will be happy to welcome you and your dog into their stores:
Remember that, as in any public place, whilst your dog is in the store, he or she should be on a leash and must not bother or inconvenience other shoppers or staff members.
Outdoor Recreation & Sporting Stores
Coffee Shops, Bars And Restaurants
Usually, you can’t bring your pet dog in confined indoor locations where food is prepared – this is due to health and safety regulations.
However, some coffee shops, bars and restaurants will feature a patio area where you can bring your pup, as long as they don’t interfere with other customers. Many dog-friendly places will often provide water bowls for your four-legged friends. You’re probably also aware that coffee chains like Starbucks will provide puppuccinos (a small cup of whipped cream) for your dog on request.
To take it one step further, there is also a growing number of ‘dog bars’ that actually specialize in providing enjoyable treats designed for your dog. This is an ideal way to meet up with friends and bring your respective dogs along for a relaxed, enjoyable outing!
Depending on the size of the city/town, a downtown area can be a great way to socialize your dog. Ideally, you don’t want the downtown space to be too busy or cramped, as this will likely turn from a low-key outing to a stress-inducing game of ‘dodge the human’. On the other hand, if your local area is particularly quiet, then bringing your dog there will be no different from a walk in a secluded sub-division.
With a variety of sights and smells on offer, bringing your dog downtown can create great socialization opportunities for them. In a perfect world, your dog will be able to encounter friendly strangers, in addition to interacting with other dogs.
If you do take your dog to your local downtown area, be conscious of your dog’s paws and overall health in warmer conditions. Downtown areas are typically paved and have little in the way of grass or shade, so it can be uncomfortable or even result in burns to their paw pads if they walk on the hot surface.
Whilst they might seem like a natural choice for dog owners, a dog park could actually provide a negative experience for your dog – and it all depends on the dogs who are there at the time.
Some owners may not exercise care and attention with their own dog, or may not even be aware that their dog is displaying bullying or aggressive behavior. For example, some owners might brush off biting or fighting as “oh, they’re just playing!” – when in reality, this could be having a harmful effect on the other dog in the equation.
If you do take your dog to a dog park, remember to supervise your dog at all times. Before entering, make sure to take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the dogs that are already inside. Study their behavior and look for potential warning signs of unfriendly behavior. Bad socialization might require remedial work – so take care before you put your dog in an uncontrolled environment.
Group Dog Training Class
A group training class for your dog can provide the controlled, positive socialization your dog craves. At Highland Canine, we have found that these classes are not only a wonderful opportunity for dogs to brush up on obedience commands or learn a new skill, but because they are supervised by a professional dog trainer and entirely on-leash, it provides peace of mind for owners, too.
Specialized puppy training classes can help to build your puppy’s confidence during their critical developmental phases.
Throughout a group training session, your trainer should be able to assess which dogs are likely to be good playmates, and which should be kept apart. This helps to contribute to positive experiences for your pup – therefore building their confidence around a variety of people and other dogs.
Socialization is important – but more than that, good socialization is important. Bringing your dog out into the world (particularly if they are a puppy, but even if your dog is a little older) allows them to explore, offers mental stimulation, and ultimately contributes to building a well-rounded, stable dog.
So if you’ve ever been stuck for ideas or become bored of taking your dog to the same place, now you have no excuse! Refer back to this list and plan your next trip with your pup.