Friday Fun: Winter Work in a Local Store

While much of our country is still digging out of a huge snowfall that has left them feeling overwhelmed, life can be very challenging when it comes to training, socializing and exercising dogs in crummy Winter weather conditions!  Dogs have needs no matter what’s happening in our lives or in nature around us.  A puppy exploding with energy has that need whether or not it’s sunny and warm, gloomy and cold, or pouring rain for days on end!

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When the weather is bad out and it’s too cold or nasty to work outside, I always turn my focus to training inside.  A garage can work in a pinch, and the door can be opened up to allow some levels of distractions without having to work in extreme conditions.  You can pull your cars out for the training session and work for 20 minutes, and pull them right back in when you’re finished.

A basement or covered porch can also work.  It helps minimize exposure but allows for distractions which are helpful to the progress of your dog’s understanding and focus on his handler.

A great idea for training, is to simply pop your dog in the car and go to a store which allows pets to visit.  Home Depot is one of my very favorite places to train with client’s dogs.  It’s huge, and you can walk a good long while, which means that your dog will get the exercise he’s missing outside.  I tend to stay away from the garden areas where there are plants or potting soil….so that the dogs I’m training don’t get the wrong idea about using the store as a potty place!

Here are my general rules for working in working in a local store or business with your dog:

  • First of all….only housebroken dogs should be allowed in a public business.
  • Make sure your dog has pottied before you go into the store.
  • I tend to go during the week….non peak hours to start….so that there’s not as much going on.
  • Always check in at the courtesy counter to let them know that you’re in their store with a friendly dog to do some training.
  • NO retractable leashes….a standard 6′ leash ONLY!
  • Be sure that your dog can walk nicely on a leash and can respond nicely to some basic commands.
  • Bring a bait bag with some yummy high value treats so that you’ll have opportunities to treat your dog when he’s doing a great job for you!
  • Think of being in and out in an hour or less.  You’ll need 10-15 min in the parking lot, 10-15 min to adjust to the store, and 30 minutes or so to train and socialize!
  • Remember that it’s a privilege to be allowed in a store or business!!  Be sure to be a pleasant guest so that you’ll be welcomed back, and so that the store will continue to allow dogs as guests!!

Here are some things that will help you to be successful when you’re working in a store like Home Depot:

I always start out walking a dog in the parking lot for a while to knock off the extra excitement and energy of going some place new.  Ten or fifteen minutes makes all the difference in the world.  You have a chance to be like a coach, helping your dog get his head in the game!

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Keep in mind that when you walk your dog, you want to keep your dog engaged with you.  You want to see him look up at you frequently….checking in to see where you are, and what you’re doing.  Offer treats when he does, so that he will stay closer to you, and he will keep checking in.  This engagement burns mental energy from your dog, and that translates to a tired pooch!

Winter training in a store can focus on different types of things than you deal with outside in your neighborhoods.  Walking down long aisles are perfect to work on “Heel” in a short segment….using the end of an aisle to practice an auto sit.  There are often bins of things or kiosks that make perfect objects to weave around and practice turns, which is going to be much more interesting for your dog than the boring neighborhood walk of straight lines only.

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When a dog is getting a bit tired, I tend to work more on “Leave it” and “Watch me.”  At the first part of the walk in the store, I avoid populated areas, because I’m getting a dog tired and acclimated to a new situation.  Keep in mind that a store can really be sensory overload for a dog.  Think of the smells, the objects at eye level, the sounds, etc.  Put yourself at your dog’s height, and walk through a store looking at things through the lens of your dog’s mind and emotions.  Each time you visit, things will get easier, and your dog will focus better.

It’s a great time to help your dog see that unusual objects make noise or move.  At Home Depot, I love to visit the hanging rugs which move back and forth, the doors, windows, shower doors, etc., which also move and can make a little noise.  I visit the lumber section and wiggle molding or edging pieces to make some noise and create movement.  I take advantage of everything the store has to offer, so that a dog is getting socialized with sights, sounds and smells.  If there are any really loud noises, I tend to keep a dog back a bit…a few aisles away… unless I really know he’s okay with loud noises.

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Once a dog is getting a bit tired, I visit aisles where customers are shopping or staff are stocking shelves.  It’s the perfect place to teach a dog to ignore people and focus on you.  It’s also a great place to teach your dog to greet strangers politely if someone wants to meet your dog and you’re ready for that.  Always be sure that your dog focuses on you first, and then the new person.

Towards the end of the visit, I work on sit/stay or down/stay at an endcap near the check out area.  This is a great place to let your dog watch shoppers, carts, and just stay relaxed and calm.  You can offer treats for quiet, calm behavior, and that’s going to help your dog really enjoy his trip!

A simple shopping trip to Home Depot can really make a wonderful training experience for you and your dog!!  It will really boost your confidence and your dog’s ability to focus on you despite distractions.   Your dog will be much more calm and focused in a crowd of people, and that’s everything in making progress with training any dog!  Calm, relaxed behavior is always the foundation for any kind of successful training, and this can really be effective in helping you get there with your dog!




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