Special Skills Every City Dog Needs to Know

City Dogs Crossing Street
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Exposing your dog to the many sights, smells and sounds of the big city will make urban living much more enjoyable for both of you.

Living  in the city can be great for dogs — as long as you teach them to enjoy it and stay safe from its dangers.

"There are things you can do with your dog in the city that can be just as enriching as running around in a field," trainer Mikkel Becker says. "But to be able to do that, your dog has to be well-mannered. You need to be sure you can handle it and that your pet is comfortable."

Calm Amongst Commotion

City dogs, like city people, need to deal with commotion. Noise, traffic, people and dogs — there's more of everything, as Becker found out when she moved from Idaho to the Seattle area. Her dogs hadn't been bothered by noises before, but they were nervous the first few months around loud trucks. "Garbage trucks have been a huge one," she says. "It was surprising to me to find out how many dogs are terrified on garbage day."

Canines may also need gradual introductions to elevators, the slippery floors in stores and apartment building lobbies, and even automatic doors.

If your dog is just a bit wary of such things, the solution may be simple. "It may just take treating them by it, getting them used to the movement and sound of it, so they're nice and comfortable before you proceed through it," Becker says. The treat helps build a positive association, which may be enough to solve the problem.

For a more fearful dog though, throwing him into the deep end can make matters worse. Get help from your veterinarian, who may recommend a veterinary behaviorist or positive-reinforcement trainer.

City People

The diversity of city life is part of the fun, but a dog may not be used to how different people look and act. Dogs notice clothing, like uniforms, and if they've never seen a person in a wheelchair, riding a bike or pushing a shopping cart, they may be alarmed by the strange moving object.

"Skateboarders are really big in this area," Becker says. "My Pug, Willy, had never been reactive to skateboarders — he even knew how to skateboard some himself — but when we got here, he started to bark when skateboarders go by. They go by really fast, and it seemed scary to him."

Urban life also means so many more people on foot — and they may want to get friendly with your dog. So it's important to both teach your dog how to greet people politely and to know how and when to say no. Not all dogs enjoy being petted by strangers; even some who like it may be wary of children or just not in the mood on a certain day. So don't force it.

"Being their advocate is really important — knowing what your dog is comfortable with and not pushing him too far," Becker says.

City Skills

Along with a general tolerance for the busyness of city life, specific skills are important, too. The American Kennel Club recognized this recently with the introduction of a new title: the Urban Canine Good Citizen.

The prerequisite is the basic Canine Good Citizen (CGC) title, which tests your dog in skills like sit, down, come, accepting petting by a stranger and grooming. The new title requires additional skills, tested in a real-life urban setting.

One of the first dogs to earn this title was Mary Macchia's Greyhound, Vera. Macchia, who lives near West Palm Beach, Florida, thought this training was important even though she lives out of town. "I travel with my dog quite a bit. I can pretty much take this dog everywhere," she says. "It's nice to have a dog who is very steady and not worried about any sort of situation."

Control and Attention

The Urban CGC test recognizes that taking your dog around a crowded urban area requires more training than just loose-leash walking.

"One of the most important things is having your dog under control at all times, not just not pulling on the leash," says Catherine Cassidy, whose miniature longhaired Dachshund, Sophie, also holds the Urban CGC title.

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