If you have taken enough dog training to be at the point where you are practicing many of your behaviors out in "more distracting settings", I can't emphasize enough how useful and important this is, and in order to encourage you in this effort I wanted to share with you some of the many places I go with my own dogs. Please see below. Keep in mind that your dog will never do as well in a new environment the first time as he or she will do on the second, third, and fourth visit. So go out often with your dog, and go to the same places over and over again. Each time you go, there will be new distractions but your dog will also be getting used to the environment and to that AMOUNT of stimulation all at once.
Don't forget to bring high value treats. Here are some places I like to go:
1) The "Promenade" or whatever they're calling it these days-- the shops below Peninsula Center, where the Equinox gym is. There's a ton of stuff you can work on here--
(a) going up and down stairs without your dog pulling (work on this the same way you work on "let's go"
(b) going into the elevator, asking your dog to sit, and going up to the upper floor (don't EVER take your dog on an escalator- I know of a
dog who became frightened, he layed down in fear, and his tail and penis got stuck in the moving parts. It's toooo dangerous)
(c) walking around and doing a series of short sits and downs near the fountain that squirts water up
(d) walk over to the window where you can see into the ice rink, and let your dog see that. Go to the toy store where kids ride some scooter toys out in front, and do some sits at a safe distance. Be prepared to gently and immediately intervene any time a child approaches you and your dog. If you have any qualms about the child's controllability, or your dog's comfort, act like you suddenly forgot your keys in the parking lot and turn and zoom off in that direction with your dog. You can hide the fact that you are avoiding the child. If you do want to interact, be prepared to hand the child a treat to give to your dog if your dog will take it gently. If your dog won't take it gently, let's work on that at home. Meanwhile, you can give the treat to the child, and then flatten your own hand like a plate, and say, "Give it to Fido by putting it in my hand" (and then you immediately let your dog take it from your hand), and then say, "Oh, he liked that, thank you for giving him a treat".
(e) I use the flat planter benches around a lot of the landscaping as a bit of agility practice, inviting my dog to hop up there, and using a treat to lure him along (so he stays on the flat part and doesn't fall off). I say "off" as he hops off. I say "jump" as he hops onto it. "Jump" means jump your whole body onto something (the grooming table, the sofa, the bench) and "up" means "put your front feet up on this surface" (the wall, my lap, etc).
(f) In these environments, keep your dog close to you-- don't use a flexi-lead, for example. Don't tie him up and go inside to order a Starbucks coffee (your dogs aren't ready for that yet). These environments ARE a good place to do the recall game at a relatively short distance (15 feet). If the Promenade is really quiet, you could do a longer distance, but do it quickly and discreetly-- the security guards get nervous when they see a dog on a longer leash, doing an exercise that takes up a lot of room. Out of courtesy, only do this when you won't be disrupting foot traffic or creating an uncontrolled situation. The security guards will make themselves seen and will quietly check you out. Show them that you're responsible and know what you're doing. They'll be relieved and will leave you alone.
(2) Terranea :Walk all over, and sit for a bit in one of the upholstered chairs outside, by the conference rooms, and practice having your dog lay by your feet and stay laying there. I hope I don’t need to tell you that it would be bad manners to let the dog up on the furniture there, ever. At Terranea there are a lot of people walking their dogs, especially little dogs, and many of those dogs are on flexi-leads and will be allowed by their owners to zoom over to you. Good practice for “leave it”, and making your dog walk away and stay focused on you. Please, no flexi-leads here either. This is an expensive resort, so take extra care about where you let your dog eliminate—as a courtesy, try to make it happen out of sight of the guests. If it’s the kind that needs picking up, as always, baggie it immediately and then look for a trash in a location that won’t create a nasty smell for the guests. Don’t deposit it by the pool, for example.
By the way, I’m not opposed to letting dogs sniff and interact, but I don’t feel obligated to do it with a every dog and person on the street—the opportunity is actually more valuable to me as a chance to practice “leave it” and focus. As long as your dog is getting lots of appropriate playtime with other dogs, he doesn’t NEED to stop and greet and sniff and interact with every dog on the street. I don’t want him to think that just because we see another dog or another dog is walking by it automatically means we’re going to greet them and interact. If you allow that, you create a dog that is unable to focus in the presence of another dog.
(3) Riviera Village: Catalina Avenue is a rich opportunity to practice walking calmly past café tables full of people and food (sometimes with a dog or two near the table as well). Pay close attention as you enter these situations—if there is a dog at the table and the owner is not paying attention, that dog may bolt and react when your dog approaches, which can scare your dog. So look to see if there is room to step away from the table as you pass if necessary—or is there a crowd of people standing there? Can you wait a moment until they move? If you see a dog at table reacting to other dogs, before you go by do the table a favor and walk around it the other way, giving them wide berth. When we dog owners show that kind of courtesy in doing what we can to avoid a barking spectacle (no matter whose dog is barking), everyone appreciates it. We like to walk all the way up one side of the street, down to the Esplanade along the upper part of the beach walk, and then back to Catalina Ave and down the other side of the street. (Note that you cannot take your dog down to the Strand along the beach in Redondo, sadly, but people walk along the upper sidewalk by the street).
(4) The grocery store: Keep your dog safely in your car (see my blog post about that) and after you shop and load your groceries into your car, take your dog out for a few minutes of loose leash walking and sits and stays in the parking lot and along the front of the store. The racket of the carts and the doors opening and the customers going in and out is great for distraction training.
(5) Del Amo mall (the outside section, where PF Chang’s is). Walk your dog around, practicing some basic behaviors. Great distractions from people walking, the dangling strings of lights above, the sounds bouncing off the buildings, water features, a large escalator, a staircase to work with, an elevator between floors. Do some backup-recalls and some down-stays.
Some stores don’t explicitly DISALLOW dogs but please don’t bring your dog into a store unless he is really ready for it and able to behave perfectly, and unless you are really able to focus on him. If you have a male, keep an extra eye on him to make sure he doesn’t mark a vertical surface—sometimes the unusual smells in a store can spark this behavior even in dogs who don’t normally do this. I’ve brought my dog into hardware stores, certain bookstores, a cosmetics store (Origins), and a few others.
If you discover that you’re the kind of person who wishes you lived in Europe where people are allowed to bring their dogs almost everywhere, please consider becoming a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence, which breeds and trains service dogs to assist people with mobility impairments. I’ve done 7 puppies for them, and 3 for Guide Dogs of America. Please ask me about it if you’d like to learn more.