Summer is our favourite season – with the warmer weather and the longer days come the outdoor festivals! The best part about these festivals is that many allow our dogs to join us. This enables us to spend more time with them and include them in more fun outings. There are even festivals that are all about dogs and have a wide range of activities geared towards them.
As much as we love dog-friendly festivals, we see too many unhappy, stressed, and over-heated pups. We are proud to have driven more focus on creating safe and cooling places for dogs at these festivals in Calgary. We have hosted splash parks to ensure the dogs had a space to cool down and get out of the heat and are thrilled to see these at most events now. We also created zen tents to allow dogs a quiet space to settle if they were finding the activities too overwhelming. We’ve seen good progress, but we need to do more to ensure these events are fun and safe for all!
First off, what makes a dog a good candidate to attend a festival? Taking your dog to an outdoor event is not the place to test this. To ensure it is a positive and safe experience for everyone, your dog should be:
- Dog-friendly on and off-leash
- Is people-friendly with all types of people. This means your dog enjoys all genders, ages, and varieties of people
- Is confident and has not demonstrated any fear concerns or shyness
- Has been to busier public places before
- Is comfortable in noisy environments with many unpredictable and new experiences
- Walks well on leash or has an anti-pull harness to help minimize strain on leash
- Has a reliable recall
If you said no to any of the above, see below for how to get your dog festival ready! If your dog is fearful or demonstrates reactivity concerns, these are not the places for them. Get them into our Reactive UrbanK9 program where we help you integrate them successfully back into our busy human world.
Secondly, it’s not just the dogs that need to be well-behaved. Below are the traits of a good festival dog guardian:
- Supervises the dog 100% of the time
- Understands the signs of stress in dogs
- Can recognize the signs of heat stroke
- Sets the dog(s) up for success and goes at their pace
- Will go home if the dog is stressed, unhappy or too hot/tired
- Does not punish their dog(s). If your dog is struggling, they need help. It is common to see excitability in response to stress. Provide guidance and ensure you make this a positive experience. It is not your dog’s fault if it is too much for them – it is your fault and your responsibility to ensure they are comfortable.
- They are prepared. This means having:
- Water and a water bowl/bottle
- Treats (be sure they are something your dog loves)
- Poop bags for cleaning up messes
- The proper equipment (no retractable leashes and no choke, prong or shock collars that will cause unnecessary stress to your dog)
- An umbrella or something for pop-up shade
- Dog-friendly bug spray and/or sun protection
- Paw protection in case the asphalt is hot. Better yet, leave them at home on those extra hot days.
Now it’s time to think about how to set your dog up for success and properly introduce them to a festival.
Before going to the festival:
- Most importantly – make sure the festival/event is pet friendly and review any guidelines they have.
- Ensure your dog walks well on leash, has good attention, and is not easily distracted. We see too many people take dogs to these busy events and expect them to behave without training them in real world situations. This is unfair and will add unnecessary stress and frustration to everyone.
- Take them out to public spaces regularly. It is completely normal for dogs to be excitable in new environments. Work with a trainer and get into classes that help prepare your dogs for these real-world situations. Ensure you are taking your dog out regularly to help them feel more comfortable and be better behaved at outdoor events.
- Introduce them to as many people and dogs as possible and ensure they are comfortable and friendly with all. Ideally, we would not want to do introductions on leash, but this will happen at busy festivals. Be sure your dog is comfortable with this as it can be hard to fully avoid.
At the festival:
- For your first festivals, start with the quieter events and go at quieter times. Typically, first thing or towards the end of the day is best.
- Park away from the event and slowly approach. Give your dog time to sniff and take in the new environment. Reward all offered attention and ensure they are comfortable and relaxed.
- Do not go into the event if your dog is distracted or excitable as this will increase once they get into the busier space.
- Be prepared to leave if it is too much. If you are frustrated, that energy will go right down the leash to your dog. Take it as a learning experience and set up more training to help you and your dog be more prepared.
- Be well-behaved on leash. Yes, we are talking about you and not your dog. Do not yank or put tension on the leash. Be attentive to your dog and ensure you are not just dragging them around.
- Be sure you are giving them breaks away from the activity. Move away from the crowds to let them sniff and settle.
- Reward them frequently for all good behaviour! Too often, we ignore good behaviour and only engage when they are too excited or misbehave. Focus on showing them what you want from them by rewarding good choices.
- Keep the first sessions short and positive. Stay on the outskirts and actively observe your surroundings to ensure they are not put into a challenging situation. Be calm, upbeat, and have fun!
We love seeing more dog-friendly experiences! However, it is the responsibility of all dog owners to ensure these events continue and grow by making it a positive experience for everyone. If your dog is not ready, it is too hot, or too busy, keep them home. Supervise them, be fair, do not punish them and ensure you show them what a positive and fun experience it can be.
Not sure if your dog is ready or do you struggle with their excitability? Join our UrbanK9 Membership today to get help!