Lennea and Sirius at mount vernon
Me, with Sirius Black, on the lawn at Mount Vernon

Last weekend, I took my dog out to Mount Vernon on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was crowded, but we skirted busiest areas, sticking to the woods, the dock, etc. We avoided getting too close to the livestock (despite Sirius’s earnest appeal to be allowed to play with the cows). Overall, I think all of us had an enjoyable time. However, as we headed home, I couldn’t help but consider questions that I have considered many times before – when and where should your dog accompany you on trips, and how do you make that decision? That night, I posted a few tips on Twitter. However, I wanted to take this opportunity to expand on the comments I made.

Today we went to @VisitMtVernon . Love open air places that allow dogs – be around lots of ppl but still have space. pic.twitter.com/PChPmUHjyF

— Next Best Pet (@NextBestPet) August 5, 2013


1) Pick your spot. As I said in the tweet above, I like Mount Vernon because it is an open air location. Many dogs feel threatened by closed-in spaces. Additionally, closed in spaces make it much more likely that you will unexpectedly come face-to-face with a person or dog at a proximity much closer than your dog can tolerate. That being said…

2) Your dog must have the training to handle the tight spaces that will most like exist. For example, at Mount Vernon, you have to walk your dog through the Welcome Center on the way in and down a corridor and past the gift shop on the way out. This means your dog needs to be able to walk close to other people, including children, elderly and the disabled, and possibly other dogs, without becoming reactive or frightened. This second one is important – we sometimes drag children (or reluctant adult relatives) to historical locations for the educational benefit. That logic does not apply to our dogs. If you know your dog can’t tolerate the tight spaces or level of activity, look for quieter places to bring him or her.

3) Make sure having your dog along won’t ruin your experience. Most siteseeing locations that allow dogs will also have places where dogs are not allowed. For example, at Mount Vernon, dogs are not allowed in the building. That means, if you plan to tour the mansion, you should leave your dog at home. Personally, since I live close to the park, I usually get a yearly pass. I come once or twice a year without Sirius and tour the mansion, look at new exhibits, etc. When I bring Sirius, I am looking to enjoy the outdoor spaces.

Mount Vernon
A good zoom on the camera means we don’t have to get too close!

4) Bring good treats. Whenever I am working with a new client or a new group class, I try to emphasize the importance of matching the type of treat to the environment. Some dogs will work for anything edible almost anywhere. However, most dogs are a bit more picky. A higher stress environment, or one with more distractions, will usually require a higher quality treat in order to be rewarding. Don’t fight this by telling yourself “my dog should just listen to me because he loves me”. Think about your own life. Is there something you do as a volunteer? You don’t get paid, but presumably the rewards you do get make it worthwhile. Now, think about your paid employment. Would you do that for free? In most cases – no matter how much you love your field – the answer is “no”. For whatever combination of reasons, there is something about that work that means you need to be paid. Your dog is the same. If you’re going to a distracting environment, bring high quality treats and save yourself a lot of trouble.

5) Be prepared to ask people to give your dog space. OK, we have already mentioned that you will probably have to pass through tight spaces with your dog. However, that doesn’t mean that adults or children should be allowed to approach your dog without asking. As in any situation where you are in public or around strangers, be prepared to stand up for your dog. Ask people not to approach your dog, or to approach in a manner you prefer. This is especially important if you are using your trip as a socialization opportunity with a puppy, potential service or therapy dog, or a dog who has been working through some type of behavior modification. And, of course, make sure you and your dog are equally respectful of other people’s space!

I’m sure there are many other great tips I didn’t have room for here. Feel free to share your advice or your favorite places to site-see with your dog in the comments section.

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