Have you ever taken your dog bar hopping? If not I highly recommend it. Taking Tango pretty much anywhere provides its own set of anxieties for me: Will there be other dogs or animals that he may not like? Maybe several small children he’ll want to tackle. Or my personal favorite, that one person that thinks it’s totally fine to get right up in a strange dog’s face because it’s OK, all animals love them. I never truly know how well (or not so well) he’s going to do. But there are two important things I have learned about Tango over the years:
1- There is a direct correlation between my anxiety and his level of reactivity. By all means, your fur buddy can sense when you’re on edge. If I’m on edge, he’s on high alert. Everything becomes a threat. So my first order of business is to chill out!
2- Tango is most relaxed in large groups. Safety in numbers. If we’re on our own on a walk and he spots a person, animal, or really any foreign object within a 5 mile radius, he goes ballistic. But take him into a heavily crowded area and he couldn’t be more at ease.
My favorite place to vacation with Tango is Key West, FL. It’s largely a pet friendly area with many hotels, restaurants, bars, parks, and even museums that welcome our fur friends. And at any given time it’s relatively crowded, especially at night. Our evening starts off at the Sheraton on Roosevelt waiting for a cab to take us to Duval Street. If you’re not familiar with Key West, Duval would be the like New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. If that reference still doesn’t do it then… bars, bars, drunk people, bars, more bars, and so on. While waiting outside the lobby a day drinking, middle aged, ex-frat man decides we are his new best friends and we should all share a cab. Being the friendly social bug she is, my girl friend and best travel mate agrees before I can decline his company. I don’t readily allow others in my circle and it usually takes a more social friend or my crazy dog to do it for me. Much to my delight, though, Tango incessantly barks in our new friend’s ear the entire way to Duval. The entire cab ride. (*giggles*) Not to be deterred, day drinking dude briefly tries to join us for dinner before his wife – who we love and later become friends with – finds him and takes him away.
Finding a dog friendly establishment is easy in Key West. There are plenty and one just needs to ask at the door. They all offer a bowl of water (ice water on hot days) and sometimes treats. These types of places are the perfect environment to practice Tango’s down stays and manners. Does he still occasionally put both front paws on the table to stand to greet a waiter or demand attention? Yep. But 80% of the time he’s spot on following commands and that’s close enough to perfect for us. He listens to the passing waiters as they say “sit” before handing him a treat or setting down his water bowl. He thrives on the attention and shows off as if he were always this well behaved. He high fives patrons, never showing any hint that in another situation his friendly demeanor would turn to fear and skittishness. This is his stage. This is where he shines.
We make our way through the sea of people down Duval with the same ease. Tango is a superstar. Everyone wants to pet him, talk to him, feed him, and be his friend. After much socializing we settle into my favorite bar, Rick’s. It’s not officially dog friendly, but the bartender doesn’t seem to care or notice. We stay on the porch that looks out on to the street, giving us the perfect people watching view. Tango becomes Rick’s official greeter for the night. He approaches incoming patrons demanding at least a head pat before allowing entry.
He’s not barking, lunging, or employing any otherwise “bad” behaviors in his arsenal of fear aggression tactics. These are the moments I realize I do in fact have the coolest dog ever. I’m still carrying a smallish ball of anxiety with me, unsure of myself more so than him. But he takes the lead. He’s got this.
It’s important to mention that much of Tango’s training in group classes took place in public environments with lots of distractions, people, etc. I may not always know how he’s going to behave but having a strong foundation helps (Translation: years and years and years of private lessons, group classes, and cognitive behavioral therapy).
As our night unwinds we hop into a cab and Tango begins his usual low growl, almost like a whisper. His body tenses up. The people in the streets that he happily greeted not 10 seconds ago are now enemies of the state. It’s all about his perspective, and now it’s changed from being surrounded by friends to being “attacked” by strangers. I just smile, give him an “it’s OK” pat and think to myself Yep, there it is. There’s that barking mad lab I know and love.
We love finding new places to take our crazy bunch. If ever you’re looking for dog friendly vacation spots I personally recommend BringFido.com. It’s my go-to website to find the best hotels, restaurants, and activities for our fur crew.