Coffee shop is a great way to teach your pup to relax, and even better for helping pup to acclimatize to all the hubbub outside. So often, we rush around outside with our dogs that that is what they come to expect when we are out. Wouldn’t it be nice if your dog learned to slow down a little and smell the flowers? Wouldn’t it be nice if your pup loved hanging out and being calm? This little exercise does just that–and guess what? It can help with loose leash walking too!

(For the error-free enthusiasts, this is a great alternative to the common older and more coercive methods. If your dog struggles–choose a more boring, warmer and more comfortable spot!)

Equipment

  • Collar or harness
  • Leash
  • Comfy mat (dog sized or slightly larger, plenty of padding)
  • High value treats
  • Toy(s)
  • Chewy bone or longer lasting treat
  • Low value treats

Technique

Find a comfy place to sit outside at your favorite pub or coffee shop (do check with staff to make sure it’s OK). A bit of a quiet corner where you and the pup can watch everything going by is great. Avoid sitting next to corners or walls where traffic can “pop out” at your pup. You want a clear view, but
also a place the pup can retreat away from traffic behind your legs etc. if needed. The pup also should have one side (or more) protected, so he doesn’t have to worry about things coming from behind. I like a flat wall—it provides plenty of protection from behind, while also providing plenty of
visibility and “escape” routes to help the pup relax as much a possible.

Note that, for most pups, it is probably best to do this on your front porch or in a really quiet alley or other boring place to start. Most dogs are not ready for a real cafe or pub just yet. Don’t worry–you will get there!

Seat yourself at the table and allow your pup to look around. Mentally relax, but keep your attention on your pup. Keep the leash loose if possible. Use a “soft” leash technique to prevent banging or snagging against a tight leash. Keep the pup from ranging too far, but let him sniff and look
around. Place your treats in an easy access location

Drop the mat on the ground near your feet—make sure it is away from traffic areas. It should be in front of or beside you, not behind (the rare pup will want o hide behind your legs-this is OK, but ideally we want the pup to feel confident and comfortable in our location). Pup needs to feel like “you got his back” but he isn’t forced to look at you. Do not force pup to go to his mat—just put it there for his convenience and comfort.

RELAX! Your pup DOES notice and feed off your energy! If you are worried or nervous, your pup will notice. But your pup will also take a clue from you and start to unwind if you are fairly casual and relaxed yourself.

STAY ALERT! Did I just say that? Yep! Your job s to be relaxed, but totally and 100% focused on your pup. You are training. Your job is to keep him safe (#1), and promote the skills you want him to have—in this case relaxation about “the world” and attention on you. You should be scanning the “horizon” for scary things (dogs, bikes, scooters, even people and cars) and checking your dog for where his attention is at. Your ability to be successful will depend on your ability to keep your pup feeling safe, and your ability to notice when he does something “good”, so buy finger food and keep scanning.

Wait. Relax, enjoy yourself. You may need to be very low key and quiet at first. You want your pup to be getting used to the environment, not worrying about what you are doing. Just wait. This is important! Enjoy your hot (or frosty) beverage and don’t say a word. Eventually, your pup will go from alert to “I’m getting tired of standing” or even “why aren’t we going anywhere”. This is going to be your cue. If he comes and sits down on the mat (nice and comfy), give him a treat or three. If he glances at you, give him a treat. Then let him return to watching the environment. Remember–it’s like a carnival out there for him!

What we are doing here is allowing him to check out the world around us and find out it isn’t scary, or exciting, and it isn’t going anywhere. He can check in with you and the world will not disappear.

Dog looking at sandwich
Beau considering his lunch options…

Troubleshooting

Scared

If your pup is worried, go ahead and give him some attention and comfort. If he is worried for more than a few seconds, pack up and try again a different day. Don’t be upset, it’s all good—give him some happy pets (his favorite) a treat if he can take it (he may be able to take it once he is back in the car). Or just a glimpse of his favorite toy (again, the car might be a good place to offer a 10 second toy break). He faced his fears—he’ll be ready for more next time if you aren’t upset. If you are upset, he may think there was something scary there.

Too aroused (won’t settle)

Is your mat comfortable? What about the view, is it relaxing? Are there any bugs or things that are stressing him out? Try to find the cause. If there is no obvious cause, you may need to move to a more relaxing place, or take a sniffy walk in a big circle to release some tension.

Other possible issues

Doesn’t offer calm behaviors–wait a bit longer, reward smaller attempts at checking in, gently capture attention with a squeeky noise or escalating interruption (stay tuned–we will be talking about this soon!), or offer some food low down and on the ground to encourage laying down and foraging.
Scared of flies or bees–leave and find an easier spot. Parks and eateries often have wasps, try a clean urban or rural setting away from food and waste.
Too friendly–try using a soft leash to prevent interacting with people. Interacting with strangers can be very rewarding for some dogs! Premack cautiously. Ask visitors to ignore—allow sniffing at shoes to prevent increased frustration.
Barking, excitement, boredom or frustrated behaviors. Try rewarding any lessening of arousal or moments of silence with a large sniffy circle to blow off some steam and reward small steps in the desired direction.

What if your pup does wonderfully?

Yay! Celebrate! Now you can start asking for moments of engagement or play. Make sure to keep it easy and let the pup go back to “checking out the scenery” as soon as possible. One second is a big start for a pup! Make sure to quit if pup starts losing interest.

Dog jumping up engaging with Caitlin
Remember, a dog needs to be fully comfortable in his environment to perform at his best!