Q: I am thinking about taking my dog out to some Christmas parades and Christmas events this year. I have never done this before and last year there were no events to go to. Is there anything I need to do or to think about before we go to make it a good experience for both of us this holiday?
A: Well, let me tell you, the Dascoli family took a collective deep breath and ventured forth with our two Scottish terrorists (as I call them) to the Charleston Christmas parade. There were lots of pets there and was it ever crowded on Capitol Street but we all survived.
As I watched the dogs in the parade — I loved Valley West’s group and the Kanawha Humane Society’s beasts — and the pets on the street, I realized that some animals and some owners are great with pets in public and some just need a little tweaking to make the experience more enjoyable for those around them.
So here is a quick list of reminders to consider before journeying out in public with your dog.
1. Make sure your pet is healthy enough to endure the event.
That means to be sure their vaccinations are current and they are also flea and tick free and taking monthly treatments year-round. If your pet is old and will have trouble walking longer distances due to arthritis or an injury, then maybe that pet should stay home and guard the house or couch while the humans go out.
2. Please, make sure your pet has some form of identification on them.
This could be a simple tag on their collar. Owner’s names and cellphone numbers are often the best way to return lost pets that have broken away from their owners. Microchips are great too with the microchip tag in their collar as well.
3. Bring multiple disposable poo-poo bags.
True story. Our female Scottish terrier did in fact relieve herself on the sidewalk in front of Pies and Pints and it seemed like the entire city of Charleston saw it. The crowd parted like the Red Sea and we surrounded her to give some privacy for some unknown reason? I was blessed to have our poo-poo bags and that my husband knows how to efficiently and quickly pick up the stool as I stood guard apologizing to the crowd for the odor.
4. Which brings me to the next point, watch them constantly and do not let them eat things they find on the street and sidewalk.
They will put anything in their mouths and it can be swallowed before you even know it. This is true for old food, stagnant water, trash, and even other pet waste.
5. Bring your own treats and fresh clean water in a cup or thermos.
They will be excited to be out in public and will need to drink at times due to panting and maybe even jogging with you. The treats serve to reward good behavior and also to get their attention if their nose starts going the wrong way and you need to refocus them.
6. Leave your retractable leash at home.
Who ever invented them had good intentions but they are not practical in a crowded situation. First of all, they are flimsy and can break if your pet really pulls against you, which will happen in a new situation. Please now refer back to point #2.
Also you don’t want to let them go that far from you in a crowd. Bad things will happen that you won’t be able to stop if they are 20-30 feet away. Opt for a gentle leader, harness or training collars and leashes for this situation especially.
7. Make sure your pets do not get scared easily by noises.
In the parade there were sirens and drum bands and honking. That is a lot for a dog. Luckily I only heard a few dogs howling to the sirens and none of them were ours.
8. Consider the weather at your event.
If it is going to be cold, consider a festive sweater or coat to keep them warm and dry. If you are worried about broken glass and gravel, consider booties to protect their little feet.
9. If you remember nothing else from this list, then try to remember this, pay attention to your pet at all times.
Watch for little children who innocently will want to pet your dogs. Have control and watch body language of both the children and your pet to be sure they will be OK. Pay attention to adults. They are just big children and will want to pet them too.
Watch. Pay attention to other dogs. A little sniff is OK if both parties are in agreement and so are their owners. But be prepared to jump into action if fur starts standing up or the tail wagging slows.
10. Lastly, please know that people LOVE dogs. People like to watch dogs being dogs to see what they are going to do next. They are sort of part of the experience for people around them. They bring smiles to faces and start conversations between complete strangers. I learned the stories of several Scotties that had died from a couple of different people standing near us. It was pretty cool.
So that is kind of a starting point as you consider taking your pet out into the world with you this season. Remember to be like a Boy Scout and be prepared (#1-#9) but also enjoy and notice the positive effect dogs have on people as you go by (#10). Happy holidays from a proud dog mom of two not perfect but very lovable Scottish terrorists.