How to Train Your Dog to Behave in Public

| Jasey Day

Train your dog to behave in public and spend more time with your best friend outside the house. Teach your dog to stay calm in public with these tips.

a man sitting with a dog in a cafe

Want to spend even more time with your best friend? Beef up your training so that you can take your hound out on the town.

Master Basic Skills 

Become proficient at basic skills before going out in public. Teach sit, down, leave it, and go to your bed. Generalize the “go to your bed” behavior to something like a towel for easy transport in public. This useful skill has your dog maintain a relaxed down position on the towel. You can also translate the “go to your bed” or down-stay behavior to a large, flat rolling cart in a hardware store (or anywhere that may be dangerous) – just be sure to stabilize the wheels so your dog isn’t startled by movement.

Socialize Your Dog to New Experiences

Speaking of wheels, was your dog safely socialized as a puppy to be comfortable around strange or new objects? Stores and restaurants require that your dog be composed and confident in the presence of carts with wheels. To prepare, ensure they have positive associations – such as earning food rewards – with wheels. Slowly expose them to wheels from a distance and then gradually get closer to different items – strollers, skateboards, dollies, and so on.

Find a Pet Friendly Place to Visit

Many hardware, home improvement, sporting goods, hunting, dog treat bakeries, agricultural supply, book, and pet stores are dog-friendly to well-mannered pups that are under proper leash control. Outdoor patios of coffee shops, restaurants, and breweries are sometimes pet friendly as well. Call ahead to confirm the pet policy.

Prepare a Training Bag

Pack, bring, and restock your designated training bag. Ideally, this is a small backpack, not a tote, so that your arms are free to maneuver your dog’s leash and food rewards. Keep it stocked with a clean towel for the “go to bed” behavior, poop bags, a treat pouch and treats, a clean bowl for water, a clicker, and anything else you may need. This backpack could be designated just for dog outings and training so that it’s always packed – make it easy on yourself by only needing to add fresh water and treats before you dash out the door for a training adventure. If you’re headed to a food establishment, bring cash and an empty plastic food container for any leftovers in case you need to quickly pay and depart.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Hazards

At hardware stores, avoid chemical and fertilizer aisles so that your dog does not prance through any accidental spills or residues. These could later be accidentally ingested if your dog licks their paws. At restaurant patios, scan under your table for dropped food and discarded trash items so that you may pick them up before your dog consumes something that could cause gastrointestinal upset or an allergic reaction. In general, you’ll need to keep your attention on your dog and not on your interactions with other humans – be mindful that your dog doesn’t take things from store shelves for which you’ll need to pay.  

Tips for Success in Public

  • Start with a relaxed dog. Bring your dog out when they aren't overly energetic. Try a one-mile neighborhood walk before your public outing.

  • Begin with a bathroom break. Make sure your dog has gone to the bathroom before going into a store or onto a restaurant patio to reduce the risk of an accident.

  • Keep visits short and build duration slowly. Perhaps this is your dog’s first visit to a coffee shop. Plan to stay for five minutes. Next time, you can stay longer and actually order a drink.

  • Place your dog in the least trafficked part of a restaurant patio, such as a corner, to keep them away from food and foot traffic.

  • Be ready for skills training. Are you helping your dog get more confident in public or increasing their duration of “go to bed” behavior? Are they ready for dog-dog greetings or do you want your dog to associate going into stores with focusing on you and remaining calm?

  • Give space to other dogs. Keep your dog on 1-2 feet of your 6-foot leash and ensure they are respectfully 3-5 feet away from other dogs.

  • Politely communicate your dog’s needs to others. For example, “My dog doesn’t want to meet right now - we are training.” It’s always OK to decline a person’s request to pet your dog or have their dog meet yours. If you predict that your dog will become overexcited and start jumping, vocalizing, or pulling on the leash, then decline socialization offers. It’s important that your dog does not practice negative behaviors like these in public.

  • Have a strategy if things go wrong. What will you do if your dog suddenly leaps and tries to jump on other shoppers? Will you ask them to sit? Will you leave? Will you return to your car for a few minutes so you can both mentally regroup before re-entering?

  • Focus on training, not shopping or socializing. If your dog is too excited for you to wait in line for the cashier, put your items back and return to the store at a later time without your dog.

  • Leave when your dog is no longer having a good time or shows fatigue. Be prepared to exit when or if the environment becomes too overwhelming – perhaps the previously quiet restaurant patio is now buzzing with activity and distractions. It might be time to pay your bill and head home. 

Want more help? Train and take the AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test to help you prepare for real life situations. Beyond the CGC, you can do even more advanced training with the AKC Community Canine and AKC Urban CGC.


Pet insurance can help pay for unexpected vet bills. Get a pet insurance quote from AKC Pet Insurance today (underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company) and prepare for accidents, illnesses, and much more.

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jasey-day
Jasey Day

Jasey Day holds the Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT) credential through the University of Tennessee. She is a member of the Bobbie Lyons K9FITteam - a team of compassionate canine fitness instructors who actively teach others and continually expand their own knowledge. Since 2004, Jasey has taught a variety of workshops and classes on the following: Puppy, Canine Good Citizen/Family Pet, Advanced Family Pet, Canine Fitness, Canine Swimming, Rally, and Agility. In addition, Jasey has earned over 60 titles in Dock Diving, Agility, Rally, CGC and Trick Dog. Jasey has worked full time for the American Kennel Club since 2007 and teaches at Care First Animal Hospital in Raleigh, NC. Jasey’s Labrador Retrievers spend their free time hiking, training, and snuggling with Jasey.

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