small dog held on an outdoor patio by woman in a black jean jacket

Pets in Public Places: Training and Socialization Tips

Maybe you want to plan an adventure with your dog. Or you need to hop on public transit to take your cat to the vet. Whatever your reason for taking your pet out in public, some training and thoughtful planning can help make sure it’s an enjoyable experience for you both.

Is Your Pet Ready for the Public?

Pets in public places should be on their best behavior. If they’re barking, whining, yowling, acting aggressively, or generally getting out-of-hand, you’re not going to make any friends with the people around you. You and your pet aren’t going to enjoy yourselves very much either.

Ask yourself if your pet is up to the task. Can they be around new people and pets in unfamiliar surroundings without acting out or getting upset? If the answer is no, you may want to leave your pet at home where they’re happiest.

But take heart. This doesn’t mean you can never take your pet out in public. You can train your pet to behave in public by taking baby steps.

golden retriever mix dog wearing a plaid bandana on a patio at a restaurant with a man in a black and red plaid shirt

How to Train Your Pet to Behave in Public

Going out in public is tricky because you can’t control the surroundings. There will be lots of new and strange sights, smells, and excitement for your pet. You can help get them ready by introducing them to similar situations at home and then gradually outside.

Basic Commands

Your pet should understand basic commands, including sit, stay, come, and down, before you head out in public. Set up some distractions while you practice commands to help teach them to keep their focus on you. For instance, turn on the TV, play music, or have family members walk by while you’re working on commands.

Quick Tip

Instead of store-bought treats, you can reward your dog during training with safe fruits and veggies. So much healthier!

Pet Etiquette for Public Spaces

You’ll need to teach your pet to have good manners in public spaces. Here are some rules of thumb:

  • Greeting etiquette: Your social butterfly might want to greet everyone in sight, but some folks may have allergies or feel nervous around dogs. Heel your dog until you get the OK for your pooch to approach them.
  • Table manners: Train your pet not to beg for scraps or sniff around the floor like crazy looking for crumbs. You’ll also need to ensure they don’t eat anything harmful.
  • Potty patrol: Try to have your dog poop before you go. It helps if your dog is on a regular potty schedule. If they end up doing their business somewhere embarrassing, avoid scolding them and don’t try to hide the evidence. Clean it up quietly with a quick apology. Other pet owners will understand.
  • Clearance room: Make sure your pet isn’t blocking any pathways or in a spot where they might trip someone up.
  • No jumping: Spend some time training your dog not to jump up on people when they greet them. It can be annoying and even dangerous if they knock someone down.
Did you know?

You may be embarrassed by your pet’s behavior, but while pets have emotions, it’s not really clear if our pets feel the same way.

Leash Lessons

Dogs should be able to walk nicely on a leash. That means they stay in step with you, keep a little bit of slack on the leash, and don’t pull you every which way.

Your dog may be a pro at walking on a leash outside, but what about inside? You may need to show them that the same rules apply. Walk them on a leash around your house to test it out. Make some sudden stops and quick direction changes like you might need to do if you were navigating a busy place.

You’ll also want to leave the retractable leash behind when you go to a public space. They can make it harder to keep firm control of your dog. Plus, they can get wrapped around objects or people’s legs, which can be embarrassing or cause an accident.

What About Cats and Leashes?

It takes time and a lot of patience to train a cat to walk on a leash, but it can be done.

  • Buy your cat a leash and harness that fits comfortably.
  • Leave the leash and harness out on the floor so your cat can casually check them out. If your kitty’s not interested, lure them with a treat.
  • When your cat seems OK with the leash and harness, try putting the harness on first. Eventually, you can add the leash and let your cat drag it around.
  • At some point, you can pick up the leash and walk with them.

Remember to reward your cat with praise and a treat each step of the way. If they’re not loving the leash, you may need to ditch it. You can always take them out in a comfy carrier where they’ll feel safe and secure.

woman with blue hair in a coffeeshop holding a black French bulldog in a tan sweater

Before You Go

Think about your pet’s personality. Will they be able to enjoy a particular outing? For instance, some dogs might love a bustling street fair, while others may prefer a quiet outdoor coffee shop. You should also call ahead to make sure your pet will be welcome and if there are any rules about pets you should know.

Once you have a plan, you can pack for your pet. You’ll need essentials like water and a bowl, treats, pet-safe wipes, and waste baggies. Depending on where you’re going and how long you’re staying, you may want to bring a puzzle toy or other distraction to keep them busy and a blanket or towel for them to lie on.

Your pet should have a secure collar and ID tag (cats too). Also, make sure your pet is microchipped and that the registry has your most recent contact information. Hopefully, your pet will remain by your side, but you never know.

Don’t forget to check the weather. You might need to grab a large umbrella if there’s a chance for rain or pet sunscreen if it’s going to be a scorcher.

Quick Tip

Even with all that fur, pets can get a sunburn, especially on bare areas like their noses and bellies. You can use a pet-safe sunscreen and sun shirt to help protect them.

Public Outing Ideas

Tired of the usual dog park or hiking trail? Here are some fun ideas for public outings with your pooch:

  • Ice cream shop – Lots of ice cream shops have outdoor seating where you and your pup can lap up a sweet treat.
  • Sculpture garden – Find a sculpture garden where you and your dog can roam around and enjoy the artwork.
  • Pet store – Many pet stores will welcome you and your dog to come in and browse. Treat your dog with the purchase of a new toy.
  • National parks – Head out to a national park where you and your dog can wander along the trails, check out a lake, or maybe rent a canoe. If you plan to take a boat ride, don’t forget to bring a lifejacket along for your pup.
  • Drive-through – If our dog likes riding in the car, take them to a drive-through. Some fast-food chains will give your dog a special treat.
  • Drive-in movie – Pack up your pal and head out to a drive-in theater to take in a movie. You might be able to find one that suits your dog, like “The Secret Life of Pets” or “Lady and the Tramp.”
  • Cafés or coffee shops with outside patios – You and your dog can people-watch while you enjoy a bite or a beverage.

Wondering if you should take your dog with you on a date? It depends on your dog, your date, and what you have planned. Get tips on dating and pets.

What About Cat Outings?

Unlike dogs, most cats are not natural wingman. They tend to be homebodies who’d rather nap in a sunbeam on the carpet rather than head out for an adventure. But there are some cats who enjoy being out and about.

Depending on your kitty, you may be able to take your cat along to some of the same places that are great for dogs. For instance, if your cat likes to ride in the car, bring them along to the drive-through. If you’ve trained your cat to sit comfortably in a carrier or walk on a leash, you may be able to take them to a park or a coffee shop with an outdoor patio.

Cats may have less patience for the sights, smells, and noises of a busy place. So, keep a close eye on your kitty and head home if they seem anxious or agitated.

Your pet’s safety should also be top of mind when you’re in a public space. But if something does happen and they get hurt, pet insurance can help you with the vet bills.