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Should You Take Your Dog to a Fall Festival?

With the brutal Texas heat starting to subside, many of us are excited to get out and about with our dogs. There are lots of festivals, pumpkin patches, farmers markets, and other events throughout the fall that welcome dogs. In some cases this can be a fun way to bond and let our dogs experience the world! However, it often turns out that we would have all been happier had our pup stayed at home.

When we are trying to decide if we should take our dog along, the first thing for us to consider is our dog’s temperament. If they’re prone to reactivity or anxiety, they likely won’t have a good time at a festival or similarly crowded event. If they love everyone and are happy to go with the flow, then we may find that they enjoy some events!

Second, let’s consider our dog’s level of training. Will they be able to walk nicely on leash through a lot of distractions? Will they try to snatch a churro out of a toddlers hand or jump on others passing by? They don’t need to be perfect to enjoy going out, but their behavior can make the event more frustrating and stressful for us, and possibly for the other people around us if they are a little too wild. If our dog will be a little too distracted by all the excitement, it’s best to plan these outings as a training opportunity and make sure that our dog can have our full focus while we are there. It’s perfectly fine to leave your pup at home if you’d rather focus on having a good time yourself rather than trying to keep them under control.

Third, let’s consider our dog's experience level. Does our dog go out and about in public often? If our dog doesn’t have a lot of experience going out in public, then a crowded big event is probably not the best place to start. Instead, let’s try going out to some dog friendly stores or patios first. These spaces will also be exciting and full of distractions, but it will be to a lesser degree, and you can easily leave if it’s not going well.

It is, of course, important to take the different environments into account as well. Your dog may have a really unpleasant time around tight crowds downtown, but would love to sniff around at a pumpkin patch. Research is our best friend before we hit the road! If the event happens for more than one day it can also be helpful to go without your dog first, and come back with them if you feel they will enjoy the event.

Even if we are confident our dog can handle the excitement of the festival or pumpkin patch, we should still be prepared for things to go wrong, and just be prepared in general. Bring water and a travel bowl since water likely won’t be provided for your dog. Even as the weather cools off, you’ll want to give frequent water breaks if you’re out for a long time. You should also bring treats along to reward good behavior and help you manage through sudden challenges such as another dog barking and lunging at yours. Even the most confident dogs can get thrown for a loop, so having treats on hand will help get their attention back on you, and help them feel better if they were scared. Keep in mind that you may need to take a break or go home if your dog is really struggling.

So how do we know if our dog isn’t enjoying their time out? Sometimes it can be quite obvious (shaking, hiding, lunging at people or other dogs), but sometimes it’s a bit harder to tell. Some of the signs of stress you should keep an eye out for are yawning, lip licking, pinned ears, and rapid panting. These are some of the most common signs you’ll see in a dog that is overwhelmed. Your dog may also have a harder time listening to you. Maybe they can normally walk nicely on leash, but suddenly they’re pulling, sniffing frantically, and darting all over. This isn’t them trying to be “naughty;” they are stressed and don’t know how to cope with it. Brief moments of stress are okay, as long as they can bounce back. But if your dog can’t relax at all, they should go back home to decompress.

Personally, I don’t take my dog out to big events. She can get quite anxious in new places, and is overwhelmed when there is a lot going on. She enjoys other types of outings like quiet coffee shop patios or certain pet friendly stores but she’d much rather take a nap in her bean bag chair than walk around a crowded festival. This is honestly the case for a large portion of dogs, so there’s no reason to feel bad if your dog is the same.

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