City Dog: The How To Guide

By: Tyler Kent CPDT-KA

We can all agree that dogs are great. We can also agree that some dogs may need to work on their manners. Luckily, when it comes to teaching our dogs to be stand up citizens, all it takes are some treats and consistency with the rules. But What are the rules? Well, like most things, rules are subjective, so I’m going to cover what seems basic, and hopefully obvious.

We can go round and round discussing exactly what a “good dog” is. Every niche has its own idea of how a dog should act. For the sake of this post, we are going to talk about how your pet dog should act on the leash, at a dog park, and in the city.

I work and live in New York City.  Owning a dog here is tricky. I can’t let him out to the back yard. He can’t bark… at all. He has to be nice to people, he has to be easy to walk on a leash, and he has to know how to greet other dogs.

How should your dog greet other dogs?

I know it is difficult to make something so cute do things it doesn’t want to do to get what it wants, but that’s life. Here’s what you need to do: When you see another dog approaching, make your dog sit next to you. You want your dog to be calm. Do not let them greet the other dog until you say so. You’re not going to say so until your dog is calm, like real chill. You might even want to say, “be cool honey bunny.” It works on my dog.

Exercise: How do I get my dog to chill? Good question, use the treats you brought on your walk. You brought treats right? You can call it bribing or call it bartering. The only way your dog will listen to you is if you have something you can give them in return. If you don’t have treats, I guarantee your neighbor’s dog is a more powerful stimulus than you are. I hope that doesn’t hurt your feelings, again, that’s the way it is.  When you see a dog approaching, move to the side and have your dog sit. Bribe them with lots of treats. If they are calm, let them say hello. If they are not, move on without a greeting and try again on the next dog. Eventually, you will be able to use the other dog as the reward. Meaning, when your dog sits calmly, reward him with the other dog’s butt. Using treats helps you build up to that moment.

Staying Consistent

So now your dog is calm and sitting to greet his dog friends, that’s great. REMEMBER, you have to do it the same way every time. You can not slack on this stuff. The minute you let your dog pull towards another dog to greet them, you’ve undone all your hard work. This goes for anything you teach your dog. If you want them to sit before walking through doorways, you have to do it every. Single. Time. If you want your dog to walk in heel position, you have to practice it. Every. Single. Walk. Dogs don’t understand if you’re letting them “get away with it” only once.

The Same rule applies for all behavior. Take for example the couch. If you don’t want your dog on the couch, you can never let them up there, never ever. If you do, when you leave, they WILL get on your couch. It’s all your fault. You were the one that invited them up that one Friday night to watch Homeward Bound on Netflix. I understand, I did it too, but I don’t get mad when I find out he’s been chillin’ on the couch all day. He’s not allowed on the good couch or the bed, and he understands these rules because we never break them. If you don’t have a dog bed already, get one. This should quell their need to get on your couch. Your dog just wants something comfy to lay on man.

Greeting Strangers

Are you with me so far? Next, when you’re walking your dog and you see someone else with a dog, don’t assume they want to talk to you. Watch their body language. Are they avoiding eye contact, moving WAY out of the way, crossed arms, angry expression. That person can’t give you any more signal other than shouting, “leave me the f*** alone.” Most people aren’t that rude. They hope people like yourself and myself will read their cues and leave them alone. Who knows, maybe their dog is a jerk, maybe they had a hard day, it doesn’t matter leave them alone. Dogs don’t look at the person to make sure it’s ok to say hi to their dog, that’s your job. If your dog is leading you towards closed-off-body-language-guy, you’re doing it wrong. See the above exercise.

When approaching other people and their dogs, it’s always a safe bet to ask if their dog is friendly. If you get the ok for a friendly sniff fest, practice the calm sit technique, then let your dog sniff away. If it is your dog that is aggressive or fearful, by all means, be vocal. There is no one in the world that knows your dog better than you do, “he’s never done that before,” is not a valid excuse. Sometimes dogs don’t want to annoyed other dogs. Especially puppies because of their high chaotic energy. It is your job to make sure they get their wish.

Behavior breaks down to two reactions, fight or flight. When your dog is on a leash, tethered to you, they can not flight! Their only other option is to fight, and that is not fun for anyone. I find that social interactions go much better when the leashes aren’t attached. This is not an invitation to let your dog roam free, he or she should have a modicum of manners before you do this. Leashes lead to barrier frustration. Barrier frustration leads to mixed meta signals. A good dog off leash may lose his cool on the leash.

The Dog Park

Which brings us to our next topic, the dog park. Again, if your dog doesn’t like dogs, why are you at the dog park. That’s like giving a speech if you hate public speaking, you’re gonna have a bad time. It does suck not being able to enjoy the off leash open space, but it’s less your right to be there if your dog is a jerk. In New York, we have 4 dog laws. I’m talking literal legislated, government enforced laws. One: Rabies vaccination is a must. Two: Your dog must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Three: You must clean up after your dog. Four: The curb your dog law. Which means that if your dog is a jerk, it is your responsibility to keep other people safe from him. I would recommend going to the dog park at off times so you guys can be the only animals there. If you want to work on this behavior, seek the intervention of a behaviorist. Or try your hand at some desensitization through counter conditioning. Even a bad public speaker can learn to do it well.

If your dog is a “good dog” and loves to socialize with other pups, the dog park is the best place to do this. It would be a good idea to be able to get your dog to come when called, there is nothing better than a dog that listens well. Imagine you go to the park, and the guy with his jerk of a dog is there. He’s leashing him up to avoid confrontation when you let your dog into the park. Your dog starts to approach the jerk dog, when the man says, “he’s not friendly.” At that moment, you call your dog back. If your dog does not come back to you, it may cause quite a scene. Which is why you should work on your dog reliably coming when called.

Off Leash

How do I get my dog to come to me when I call him?

Imagine if every time your friend asked you to come over to her, it was in a loud abrasive way. You wouldn’t go to her. Then imagine your friend pursuing you and poking you because you didn’t come to her. Sounds ridiculous, but that is exactly what is happening to most dogs at home. You will never get your dog to come to you if you are angry. It doesn’t work on people and it doesn’t work on dogs.

Exercise: Dogs will reliably come too fast, high pitched sounds. “Come, come, come, come,” said at a high octave should work to get your dog to come see you. Once your dog gets to you, make it the greatest thing that has ever happened. Give him belly rubs and steaks and toys and kisses. Practice this inside at first, then use your hallway if you live in an apartment building. Or use your backyard if you live in a house. When your dog is coming to you. And I mean, they’re running at you so fast it almost scares you, move on to bigger outdoor space. Put your dog on a 30-foot lead. If they venture out too far and don’t come when called, give them a little tug to come back, then reward reward reward. If you take your dog on a hike off leash, call your dog back every minute or so and reward them. If your dog “checks-in” on their own, reward the crap out of that, like 55 treats.

Listen, there will be times when your dog doesn’t come and that’s ok. Go get them and put them back on the leash and remove them from the stimulus. Known as negative punishment (funny but true),  it’s like a time-out. You are taking away something your dog wants. Think of it like your parents grounding you without wifi. In my case, they took away my ninja stars. Give them little bits of freedom and re-confirm your training, then let them back into the world. Like all other dog behavior, you must do it the same way. Every. Single. Time.

Don’t feel bad if you have to work on these behaviors all the time with your dog. Even service dogs have refresher courses every three months. As well as working with their companions on a daily basis to remember their training. It’s a literal “use it or lose it” scenario. This is also a good thing because it ensures that you will be able to undo all the bad behaviors your dog may have accidentally learned.

Pick Up The Poop!

And Finally. If you leave your house without poop bags and then leave your dog’s feces all over the ground, you are a terrible human. Feces carry all kinds of bacteria and it never comes out of the tiny spaces on the soles of your shoes. If your dog is sick, the disease is most likely spreads through the fecal matter. Pretty much every bad thing a dog can get is passed on through feces. Pick it up. Bags are two cents a piece.

Having a dog is a lot of responsibility. The companionship, the protection, and the love outweigh the headaches. You owe it to your animal to do the work that is necessary to keep them happy. By no means are my dogs perfect, they’re probably the worst. But we work on their manners daily. Now go teach your dog something cool. Remember, be calm, be consistent, and reward the behaviors you like.

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