I was once asked, while sitting and reading with my service dog lying at my feet, how I had trained him to behave so well on an airplane.  The truth is, I hadn’t.  Not exactly, anyway.

The only way to prepare a dog for certain experiences is, well, to let him experience them.  Though I was told to take him to the airport and walk around, I might as well have taken him to Macy’s in order to prepare him to fly.  The airport, the mall, the hardware store or Macy’s, none of those places feel the way it feels to be on an airplane.  So I didn’t do any of those things.  Instead, what I did was take him to the movies.  At the movies, he was stuck in close proximity to strangers.  Many of them were eating and he couldn’t.  There was a lot of noise, the way there would be on a plane. He couldn’t leave until I got up to go, and, for a dog, it was dead boring.

But there was more.  Everything you do with your dog should prepare him for anything you might do.  The more he’s socialized, particularly when he’s young, the more he’s trained, particularly in a way that emphasizes the bond between you, the more he gets the chance to exercise both his body and his mind, the more he gets to explore, with you, new and different places, the more blase he becomes.  This, plus the fact that dogs can and do generalize, is the way to prepare a dog for plane travel or, say, going to a museum.

Is this only important for service dogs?  Surely not.  While Sky got to navigate the circular ramp of the Guggenheim yesterday and pet dogs would not be welcome to do that, a pet dog who is flexible, who adjusts to change, who can, for example, lie quietly next to your table at the outdoor cafe where you are having brunch with you mom for Mother’s Day, becomes an easier, more fun companion who will be welcomed in more places.

You might decide to take your dog to nursing homes or hospitals to do pet-assisted therapy.  You might love to eat outside, even when it’s not Mother’s Day, now that the weather is warm.  Or you might just like to take your dog along when you go to the bank, the hardware store, the park.  With good manners, he’ll be welcomed everywhere you go.

Good manners shine, even when they are yours.  Planning a trip to the Guggenheim meant getting off the bus about two miles south and west of the museum and walking the dogs through Central Park to get there.  If you plan to dine alfresco and have your dog along, he’ll need more than an understanding that he should sit or lie down near your chair and not bark or whine or beg.  He’ll need some exercise beforehand and a nice walk afterwards, too.  If he needs to learn how to wait on line, the way city dogs do, start with a short-ish line and work your way up.  And yes, take him wherever dogs are allowed so that he begins to learn the canine equivilant of “an inside voice,” so that even the most active dog, see picture above, can contain herself when that’s the polite thing to do.

Start small and at home.  Teach your dog to lie near your chair when you have breakfast and work your way up to dinner.  When your dog barks inappropriately, call him to you and ask him to lie down, praising him for doing so.  Teach the command Back Up, great for helping him squeeze between tables in an outdoor cafe.  And help him to have the patience he will need by making sure he’s well exercised before he has to use his best manners.  A companion dog, like a service dog, can be a better companion with enough experience to generalize and understand that good manners are not just for holidays, they’re for every day.

Happy Mother’s Day, one and all.

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