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Cafe Savvy Canines

Most people love the idea of visiting the local café with their dogs.

However, the image that most dog lovers have when they think of bringing their dogs along to the café is every different to the real-life scenario that unfolds.

This is probably due to that fact that we often pass cafes and see the calm and settled dog resting contently under the table, while the dog’s owner enjoys their morning coffee, while casually chatting with friends.  What we don’t see is how these owners created such a relaxed dog that is able to remain well-mannered in this setting.

Unaware of the beginnings of achieving a café savvy dog, people head out with this lovely picture in mind expecting the same outcome as they have witnesses. It is only after owners arrive at the café, and find that their dog is not coping, that they realise there is more to this activity than meets the eye. What seemed like such an easy and novel exercise quickly turns into a trying and stressful experience.

So, how does one get the same results as the owners that we see enjoying their time out relaxing with their calm dogs at the café? 

Firstly, it’s worth noting that it will take more time than you expected, but by following some simple guidelines and putting in the effort, you will be well on your way to enjoying café time with your dog.


  • Your dog will need to be socialised correctly and will need to have had some basic training before you both will be ready to tackle the challenges presented at a cafe.
  • Take a walk or a drive without your dog and plan your café trip in advance. Decide which café would be the most suitable. Ask the cafe owners if their venue is dog friendly, and if so when their quiet times of the day are, so you have options.
  • It’s a good idea to let the café owners and the staff know what you are trying to achieve with your dog prior to your arrival, so they are aware of your presence and your intentions.

    What to bring

    • Your dog’s favourite mat or bed
    • A bum bag including lots of dog’s treat
    • Something for your dog to chew on to promote relaxation
    • Water and portable bowl
    • Poo bags
    • Change for metered parking
    • Oh, and don’t forget your change for the parking meter

    How to begin

    Remember that this is a totally new experience for your dog, so to set them up for success you need to go slow and keep them as calm and comfortable as possible.

    Start practicing at a distance from the cafe

    • Prior to setting up, you will need to toilet your dog in an appropriate area away from the café. 
    • Start by visiting your chosen local cafe before the morning rush and sit on the out skirts of the cafe well out of the way of people and staff as they set up for service.
    • It is very important that your dog is comfortable during this time and is continually making positive associations with all of the new sights and sounds.
    • Use the mat or bed you have brought from home. This familiarity will give your dog a safe home base where it can relax.
    • Remember your bum bag filled with treats and to continually reward your dog for acknowledging all of the new stimuli present while they remain calm.
    • Reinforcement will need to be continual for your beginner dog, so don’t be stingy, reward away!
    • Your main focus will be on rewarding calm. They don’t have to be doing anything. The whole idea is to have your dog just relax in this new environment. You are aiming to Capture Calmness. This means waiting for your dog to “drop and settle”, with your instruction, and rewarding with a pat and praise when calm is achieved.
    • When your dog is distracted, encourage them to look at you and focus, and then reward them for doing so.  Then back to encouraging calm.

    Cuddles are OK to comfort your dog occasionally, but pop them back on their mats once they’ve settled. We are aiming to create confident and calm dogs.

    How to progress 

    When you feel that your dog is coping nicely with cafe visits at a distance, you will be ready to progress to the cafe.

    **Just note as this is your first trial, to ease the pressure off yourself make this a dummy run. This means you do not have to order off the menu. This first visit is just a trial.

    Visiting the cafe during quiet times

    • Don’t forget to toilet your dog before making your way into the café area, and to bring along the items on your check list.
    • Remember not to rush things. Even though you have both moved into the café area itself, it is highly recommended that you are still visiting the café during quiet times.
    • Your seating position will be very important as your dog is still new at this and is now exposed to more activity in a much closer proximity.
    • You are looking for a seated position where you will be comfortable and that allows room for you to tuck your dog in under the table, on its mat/bed, furthest away from the footpath and traffic flow.
    • Practising tucking your dog’s tail under its body, and tucking your dog under the table. This will keep both your dog snug and safe, but also keep them out of the way of staff walking by and patrons moving around them when you move onto busier café times.
    • Continue as you have been doing with a high rate of reinforcement as your dog adjusts to remaining calm in a more distracting environment. A chew may prove valuable for some dog to encourage them to settle.

    Moving into the café at more busy times

    When you feel your dog is coping nicely with the café at quiet times, you can then move into the café at busier times.

    • Again, remember to toilet you dog as usual prior to moving into the busy café area.
    • Your dog should be very familiar with your routine local café visits by the time you reach this stage, so remain consistent in your actions, and remember to bring all of the things from home that will assist them as they cope with even more activity.
    • Now there will be patrons at the café, so be aware of the best possible seating position available given the distractions that may surround you and your dog.
    • Still aim for a seated position away from the footpath and high traffic areas and remember to tuck your dog under the table on its mat/bed as per usual, with treats at the ready to reinforce all calm and correct behaviours.
    • Busier times mean lots of other distractions including two that are the hardest for most dogs to adjust to… children and other dogs.

    Other Dogs

    • It is wise to avoid other dogs while you are teaching a dog to remain calm
    • Refrain from all on-lead interaction
    • Focus solely on the relationship between you and your dog
    • Keep in mind that other dogs at the café may not be trained and may not be friendly


    • Children can be loud and unpredictable, this is scary for a dog that is a beginner
    • Always be aware that children may rush towards your dog and want to pat or touch them
    • It is perfectly fine for you to intervene to prevent your dog from being overwhelmed by the presence of children
    • Explain that your dog is in training and is not allowed to be touched. This should be enough for children and their parents to understand

    Training vest

    • Some owners like the idea of their dogs wearing training vests/jackets to keep people at bay so they can continue their training without added distractions and interference. If this is something you think may be helpful for you and your dog training vest/jackets are easy to find and should be comfortable for your dog to wear. Click here to see examples of Training Vests

    Signs of Stress!

    When it’s too much too soon

    Even though you have started slowly and worked your dog’s exposure up slowly to the café scenario, your dog can begin to feel that it’s all a bit too much at any time. The great thing is that if you are watching carefully, you will be able to recognise their stress signals and remove them from the café before they build a negative association with this environment.

    • Stress signals include; lip licking, full body shake offs, yawning and head turns just to name a few.
    • It’s extremely important for you to know when your dog is feeling stressed as these signs will tell you if you’re moving too fast toward your end goal, which is the busy cafe
    • If your dog is displaying signs of stress, you will have to reconsider your plans to move forward, and perhaps move further away for the cafe, and move more slowly than you had anticipated.

    Click here to see examples of Stress Signals in dogs

    Cafe no-nos

    As you’re working so hard to create a calm Cafe savvy dog, the last thing you want is to make a mistake that will interrupt all of your good work, so here is a list of things “Not to Do” at the Cafe.

    Do Not

    • Tether your dog and leave your dog unsupervised. This will cause your dog undue stress and it also leaves your dog open to very negative experiences. Children and dogs may be free to approach leaving your dog without instruction and with no way to escape. Unsupervised tethering is both risky and irresponsible.
    • Feed your dog human food from the Cafe table. Use only your dog’s treats or you will have a dog that is continually begging you and other patrons for snacks.
    • Ignore you dog’s stress signals and remain at the Cafe.
    • Allow any on lead dog interaction.
    • Allow any patting or touching from children and adults that your dog is not prepared for.
    • Sit your dog right near the footpath or main traffic areas.
    • Sit your dog in the way of moving patrons and staff.

    Success is near

    As you can see creating a Cafe savvy canine is not as easy as it seems but certainly well work the effort. If you put in the time and follow the rules you will be sitting in the Cafe enjoying a latte with your dog at your feet in no time.

    Set out with a positive attitude and make this learning experience a special time that is just for you and your best friend.  With the right mind set, correct skills and information your dog will start to love the Cafe as much as you do!

    Good luck. We look forward to seeing you and your dog at the Cafe.