City Dogs Crossing Street
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.
Weimaraner in the City
Walking through crowds and crossing busy streets, you can’t depend on just the leash for control — you need a dog who’s attentive and responsive despite the distractions.

"If I’m holding a bunch of bags, say I just came from a store, and my dog pulls, and I can’t get him back with a verbal command, without a physical correction of some kind, and you’re in crowds and traffic — that’s a problem," Cassidy says. "That’s where you need that kind of respectful attention."

Becker adds that it’s also important to use the right equipment. Retractable or very long leashes can be dangerous.

"It’s important to be very aware of where your dog is and how far out he is," she says. A dog on a long or extendable leash can easily dash into traffic or out an elevator door, which can lead to tragedy.

The Dangers of Litter

Another big city hazard is addressed in the Urban CGC exam by this test item: "ignore food on sidewalk." 

"Chicken bones, gross things dogs are interested in like Band-Aids, food wrappers… it’s going to be out there," Becker says.

Many basic obedience classes teach a leave it command, but most people never take it out of the classroom and work on it outdoors. It’s important to do that in controlled situations if you expect it to work in real life. A drop it command is also important, since your dog is always going to be closer to the ground than you are.

Becker says, "One time we were out walking, and [my Pug] Bruce happened upon part of a sandwich. Before I even saw it, he already had it in his mouth. It was too late to say, ‘Leave it.’"

Even a dog trainer’s dog can’t resist a sandwich on the sidewalk. Fortunately, she had also trained Bruce to drop it, so he spit it out. Considering the things a city dog can find, these commands can be a lifesaver, or at least a vet-bill saver.

Dogs, Dogs Everywhere

Consistent attention and control helps with another big challenge: dealing with other people’s dogs.

"It’s not like being out in suburbs or the country where you come across a dog once or twice in a walk, if that," Becker says. "A lot of the time, you’re seeing dozens of dogs on a walk."

Becker recommends not letting dogs greet on leash, where it’s hard for them to use the correct body language and withdraw if they’re uncomfortable. She suggests that you meet your dog’s social needs in controlled situations like playdates and day care, and teach them alternate behaviors for walks, so they’re calm when they see another dog.

"You could ask them to do leave it, look at me, heel, hand target — anything to get their attention back with you and away from the other dog," Becker says.

This is an issue that the Urban CGC test also takes into account. "We had a specific test where our dogs had to walk past another dog and not even look at it," Macchia says. "That training is invaluable."

Macchia says this is one of the best skills that she and her dog got from the test, because one of the biggest challenges of urban life can be other people whose dogs are not under control. Though you can’t change their behavior, you can change your own dog’s reaction. "You can liken it to defensive driving — you have to watch out for the other guy," she says.

"You’ve got perfect control, and your dog is comfortable, not fearful and not aggressive," Macchia says. "It goes a long way to defusing potentially nasty situations."

The more your dog can deal with this and other challenges in a well-mannered way, the more the pleasures of city life will be available to him. He’ll be an ambassador for his kind as well.

"It’s appreciated by other people, especially non-dog people. When they see a dog who’s listening, and quiet, and a pleasure to be around, they think, That’s not so bad," Cassidy says. "More doors open to you when you have a respectful dog."

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