FAQ: How do I get my dog to sit outside while I go into _____?

There are some people who say you should NEVER leave your dog tied outside while you go in somewhere (to a coffee house, grocery shopping, etc). The argument here is that if you aren’t there to watch over and protect your dog, someone else’s dog could snap at them, creating a dog fight. Someone could steal your dog, or tease your dog, provoking a fear or aggression response. Someone could zip by your dog on a scooter, and your dog could think it’s prey or a game and snap. There’s all sorts of reasons never to leave your dog tied up somewhere, and before you do, you need to consider these, consider your dog, and consider how much activity is going on and, if you think your dog can handle it, where it’s safest to do so.

Note: If your dog has shown any inclination to snap, whether in play or aggression, DO NOT leave them tied up alone somewhere.

Now, all this said, I’m of the human philosophy: humans screw up. Humans are not perfect. Humans often will do what they want to do regardless of whether it’s the best thing, because sometimes it’s a more fun thing, or an easier thing. I’m guilty of this myself. So, if you have a non-aggressive dog and you want to teach them to sit outside because you already know in your heart of hearts that you’re going to leave them outside so you can:

  • Grab a Starbucks
  • Drop something at the post office
  • Walk with them to the corner market and then go inside without them
  • Buy groceries after realizing it’s too hot in the car to leave them

Or any of a hundred other reasons you might leave your dog outside, then read on.

I’m going to assume your dog is no longer a puppy, and not leaping and chewing on people anymore. I’m also going to assume your dog doesn’t have aggression issues. (If your dog is a puppy, start working on “stay” in calm, controlled areas. You’ll need that before you can continue. If your dog has aggression issues, DO NOT LEAVE THEM TIED OUTSIDE.)

First, find a quiet, calm spot to tie your dog. Then tie them. Tell them to “sit” and “stay” (or whatever you’d like your command to be). I actually give my dogs a “down” and “stay” command, because it’s their cue that they’re going to be there a while, and they might as well get comfortable. (If your dog doesn’t know “sit” or “down,” start working on it at home.) Now, once they’re down and staying, walk away. If they hop up, go back and — without saying anything — put them where they belong. Then walk away again. If they hop up, repeat. If they hop up a third time, I make my bad dog noise and put them back where they belong. I also know that if I’ve failed a third time, I’m asking too much of them. I’m going to shorten the distance or time that I’m gone so that I can praise them before they get up.

Next step: when you and your dog succeed (you stay away for a moment), start praising. Go over and give them a pet and a treat, or toss a treat. Then repeat. If you start praising and your dog gets up, stop praising, put them back where they belong, then praise again.

Most dogs get this initial idea within a few minutes, and you can extend the distance to 5-10 feet within the first session. What we’re really doing here is practicing a down-stay while you walk away, so that your dog stays put. When he can do this, increase the distance.

If you practice daily, it will probably take a week for you to be able to wander around the room or a quiet park without your dog getting up. Practice the same thing at a park with people walking around. Note: your dog will magically forget all his commands as soon as you’re somewhere distracting. That’s normal! Don’t panic, just start over and he’ll get it quickly.

Once your dog is pretty good at staying put while people are walking around (another few days), it’s time to practice going in somewhere. When I started doing this with my dogs, I picked coffee shops or post offices where I could see my dog through the window. I knew that at that point my dogs were really good at listening, and I could gesture a “down” if they forgot. (I did this by pairing a gesture with the word every time I said it.) Then I walked inside.

Almost as soon as the doors closed behind me, my dogs hopped up. I went back, made my bad dog noise, and gestured a down. If they laid down, I told them, “Good dogs,” and went back inside. If they didn’t, I made my bad dog noise, went over, and put them back where they belonged. We repeated this for what seems like forever.

At this point, there are two ways to continue.

1. Continue as above, gradually increasing time, distance, and distraction. Your dogs will be AWESOME. More awesome than mine, because I did it the slap-dash way. It will take a month of regular practice.

2. The slap-dash way.

At some point I said, “Forget it! I’m not losing my place in line again!” If your dogs will respond to a gesture through the window, hooray! If they won’t, don’t fight them standing. Take a breath and ignore the bad behavior. (If my dogs aren’t looking at me, they won’t respond. I have been known to rap on a window to get their attention, and then gesture.)

Now, when you come out of the coffee shop/post office/etc, stop as soon as your dogs can see you and gesture a down. When they lay down, say, “Good dog!” and start walking toward them. If they stand up stop walking, and gesture again. It’s a waiting game: wait until they lay down. Then praise, and start toward them again. It always helps if you have treats when you get to them, and can reward a down-stay with food.

This is the slap-dash way because it’s not perfect. You didn’t just teach your dogs to be perfect no matter what. You taught them to be pretty good, but that if they break it’s not the end of the world as long as they go back to their spot. My dogs know the slap-dash way. If someone walks by to pet them, they stand up to get petted. Once that person leaves, they lay back down because they know I’m not coming back until they lay down. Occasionally Cash will stand to try and spot me, and stay standing until I’m in view. Then he lays down again. It’s not perfect; if I want perfect, I need to do the first way outlined, and build up their time and stamina for holding a perfect stay under distraction. I tend to err on the side of movement; working with a lot of dogs who have fear aggression has taught me that I want my dogs to know they can escape if they need to. That means they can’t feel stuck. That means… my slap-dash method works just fine for my dogs!

If your dog is super friendly to every human and dog who passes, even the ones who aren’t friendly, then you’re better off with the first way and teaching them a perfect down-stay. You don’t want them frightening a little kid, or getting in an aggressive dog’s face on accident. You are not, after all, there to protect them.



3 thoughts on “FAQ: How do I get my dog to sit outside while I go into _____?

  1. Jenna, I am often alone and my dog is my best friend that i would like to take every where but I can’t. For example I love going to coffee houses and sitting on their patio with said dog but the thought of tying him to a pole, etc. while I run in for a few minutes to purchase coffee gives me anxiety. What if someone takes him? Sadly, I haven’t any friends so going for coffee with friend while they watch dog as I get our coffees is not possible. What about asking another patron sitting on patio to watch him while I quickly purchase coffee? Of course, they could steal him as well. Nevermind, it seems hopeless. If you have any other ideas please post. Thank you.

    • I totally understand. While I’m not worried about my dogs getting stolen. I worry about my African Gray getting stolen!

      When I’ve been in your situation, I do in fact find another patron. I look for a parent with children (or another dog), explain my concern, and ask if I can leave my pet at their table. Personally, I think the risk of leaving my pet with someone is acceptable; it’s HIGHLY unlikely they’ll do anything, especially with kids or pets in tow. (This has the added benefit that you’ll speak to them for a moment. Studies show that people are less likely to commit crime against others who have spoken to them or looked them in the face; the former because both people are now seen as people, and the latter because they don’t want to risk being identified!)

      Another option is “I BITE” handkerchiefs they make for dogs. (I found this after searching for “I Bite” in the pet section of Amazon. There were a lot of variations for this, too!) While it might not fool someone if your dog is wiggling, it might also keep people from taking the risk of stealing a possible biter. (Not that your dog is a possible biter, but that the collar might make them think so!) Then you can take it off when you sit down to eat.

      Another option, of course, would be to do something like padlock the leash to your dog’s collar and the leash to a pole. Unless your dog is small enough to carry off, no one is likely to take the collar off and steal a dog.

      Really, though, it comes down to this: are there dognappings in your area? If not, leaving your dog with a patron is a very safe choice. Even if they are, leaving your dog with a patron is a very safe choice! In my book, it’s the safest thing you can do.


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