Today there are more dogs than ever in urban settings. They have to deal with large crowds, ride elevators, wait patiently for their owners to eat a meal or enjoy a coffee, and mind themselves inside stores. Some dogs you see seem to handle this ease, others not so much. Here are a few tips to help your dog learn to manage the crazy concrete jungle we live in today.
The earlier you get your dog used to all the craziness outside, the better. If you have a puppy, start taking them out as soon as possible. If they have not had all their shots, carry them. Once they are vaccinated, make them walk! Walking on their own allows them to sniff, feel, and see things from the viewpoint they will most likely be looking at the rest of their lives.
If you have a rescued adult, give them a few weeks to get used to you and then start conquering that jungle.
Regardless if he’s a puppy or an adult, make sure his experiences in the world are positive and expose him to:
Walking with large amounts of people. start somewhere with thin crowds, and build up to those times when you can barely move. Dogs have to learn to maneuver around people without getting stepped on or feeling threatened.
Elevators. Some dogs naturally seem to not care, while others think that big metal box is a death trap. Reward your dog heavily for getting in and out of the elevator nicely.
Strangers. If your dog is shy about meeting strangers, it’s probably best to have them wear a harness that says something like “ask before petting,” “do not approach,” “shy – do not pet” etc. It is YOUR job to watch your dog and make sure no one comes up and bothers them. People, especially kids, do it all the time, so you need to pay attention. Puppies should be petted by as many people as possible, as long as it’s positive and they are enjoying it. If your puppy shows signs of fear or stress – DON’T FORCE THEM – it will only make it worse.
Kids. They are a different challenge altogether. If your dog is not a kid dog, don’t take him to the park on a Saturday afternoon. Instead, opt for park outings while kids are in school. This can help you avoid a lot of trauma and stress on both you and your dog. If you have a puppy, make sure they meet a lot of nice kids and have positive experiences, to help them grow up liking kids.
Along with just exposure, there are certain behaviors that can help your dog do well in crowded environments:
“Formal” Heel. Loose leash walking is great for casual walks where your dog has room to wander around you a bit. However, on tight city sidewalks, inside stores or malls, or at a busy park, your dog needs to stay right by your side in order to not trip someone, get hit by a car, skateboard, or bike, or knock a store display over. For these times, teach your dog a formal heel, where they stay right on the side of your leg. Then, have a release cue that lets them know it is okay to go explore a bit.
Sit or Down Stay for restaurants. Start with teaching stay at home with no food distractions; then stay at home while you eat a meal; then outside with no food distractions; and finally in public with food. Take small enough steps that your dog stays successful. This is hard! You are asking your dog to ignore all those delicious smells and not knock over the waiter. This is also good for inside a store when you stop to shop, this way your dog is not getting into things on the shelves when you are not looking.
Watch Me. I love this cue when I am taking my reactive dog out. He is a herder, so fast movement makes him want to bark and chase. I use “watch me” to get him to focus on me, instead of whatever he sees. It works really well when you need your dog to pay attention to you and not everything else around you. It can help nervous dogs feel more confident and stop reactivity.
Leave it. Probably the most important. Your dog needs a firm leave it so he does not destroy property or eat something harmful.
Above all, watch your dog for the “I have had enough” look. Don’t do hours of shopping or sit at a cafe all afternoon and expect your bored dog to behave. If you have an energetic dog, do an activity like fetch before going out so they have taken “the edge” off.
About the Author
Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She also owns her own custom pet products company, A Fairytail House, where she makes personalized collars, leashes, beds, keepsake pillows and blankets, and anything else your imagine can think up. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.
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