Be sure your dog is familiar with being in a courtroom by allowing the dog to inspect the room and the witness box when the courtroom is empty. During this time practice having the dog lie down in the witness box for an extended period of time. We recommend that your dog use a portable mat while in the witness box. This will be another cue to the dog to quietly lie down on the mat. The dog’s handler should be able to provide oversight of the dog’s behavior from a distance and out of view of the dog. Ask a judge if it would be permissible for the dog to visit the courtroom during an unrelated trial and while there, have the dog maintain a down/stay behavior on the mat without causing any distraction to the trial proceedings. Your dog will soon begin to realize that lying down quietly in a courtroom is an expected behavior.
Getting your dog and the witness prepared for testifying in court.
- Be sure your dog and witness have developed a relationship prior to the trial. It is ideal if they could meet several times beforehand.
- At times the witness and the dog can engage in some playful interactions. However, it is very important that when you are discussing legal matters with the witness, that the dog should either be physically available for calm petting next to the witness, or the dog be placed on the floor to lie down and calmly be in view of the witness.
- The dog and the witness should also practice being in the witness box together with the dog lying on a mat on the floor for an extended period of time while distracting activities occur around the courtroom.
- Some witnesses like to take off their shoes and put their feet on the dog for body contact. This is better than the witness reaching down to touch the dog. Less obvious contact between the dog and the witness is preferable because it reduces the likelihood that the jurors will be thinking about or see the dog.
- Allow the witness to hold the dog’s leash because fingering the leash is another way to reduce stress. This will give the witness more of a sense of control and comfort without drawing attention to the dog. Make sure you explain this to the judge and opposing counsel during the pre-trial motion. You want to get this information on the record for the appellate courts to make note of it.