Tips for City Living with a Dog
Much to my surprise, there are skyscraper apartment-dwellers who actually own dogs!
Several years ago I needed to go to New York City for business, and while there I visited some friends who lived deep in the heart of the city. I knew they had a dog, a mixed breed named Molly who probably had some Dalmatian in her ancestry somewhere, but I had no idea they lived on the 34th floor of the building.
I live in the Southern California suburbs where I can just open the back door to let my dogs go outside. Living on the 34th floor, catching an elevator and getting the dog down all those floors to get outside is just amazing to me. So I asked several dog-owning city dwellers for their best advice regarding living in a city with a dog.
Training is Important
Granted I’m a dog trainer and biased; I think all dogs need some training, but every dog-owning city dweller I talked to stressed the importance of training. When many people and dogs live in close proximity to each other, social rules are important. A dog who has no self control, doesn’t behave himself at home or out in public, and who barks, lunges, and jumps on people is a problem.
Training should begin early with puppy classes as soon as the puppy is vaccinated and able to attend. The basic obedience exercises include sit, lie down, stay, come, leave it, and walk nicely on a leash all have applications for city dogs. In addition, teaching the dog that barking is not allowed inside is also important.
Before visiting Molly and her owners, I had never really thought about housetraining a dog who lived on the 34th floor of a city high rise. Take the elevator to the ground floor and rush outside, I guess, and hope your dog has good control. Especially first thing in the morning.
Molly’s owners, however, taught Molly to use the shower to relieve herself if she couldn’t wait to get outside. Molly can easily get into the shower, the shower is easy to clean and disinfect and by giving Molly this option, accidents in the apartment (especially on the carpet) are eliminated. If Molly’s owners are late getting home, if the normal walk schedule is disrupted or if the weather outside is horrid, Molly can use the shower when she needs to relieve herself.
The owners of many small dogs use dog housetraining pads. The pads can be placed inside a cat litter box or on top of a sheet of plastic.
Walks and Outside Training
Many city dogs, however, do not relieve themselves inside at all and instead do so on their walks. After talking to quite a few city dog owners, I found that the average number of walks is four. One first thing in the morning, one at lunch time, one when the owner gets home later in the afternoon and one before bed at night.
When relieving themselves outside, the dogs can do so in a grassy area or a park if allowed. Otherwise the dog must relieve himself at the very edge of the sidewalk next to the curb or, if it’s safe, in the street next to the curb. It is considered rude (and sometimes even illegal) to let your dog relieve himself in the middle of the sidewalk. Of course, whenever the dog relieves himself, it needs to be picked up and properly disposed of.
Public Transportation Manners
In many big cities the best and easiest transportation is public transportation. Dogs are not always allowed, but when they are, it’s important that the dog behaves himself. No barking, lunging or other rude behavior is acceptable; nor is jumping on people. Instead, he should lie down by or between your feet. The dog should never block the aisle where someone could trip over him. The city dwellers I talked to said that correct social manners on public transportation for both people and dogs is very important and transgressions are frowned upon. Again, think of many people in close proximity to each other and you can see why this is important.
Jax, a Labrador Retriever, lives in New York City and his owner said that he taught Jax how to get in and out of taxis and the bus, how to go up and down stairs and how to safely ride an escalator. He recommended a pocket full of treats, a little bit of time and some training to help keep the dog safe.
Exercise and Play Time
A tiny dog in a city apartment can be easily exercised by throwing a toy down the hall and encouraging her to bring it back. The neighbors won’t hear her dashing back and forth. However, a larger dog like Molly or Jax will sound like an elephant running back and forth to the neighbors below.
City dog owners need to be inventive then to make sure their dog gets the exercise needed to keep the dog happy and healthy. Long walks help, of course, but dog-friendly buildings often have an area (sometimes on the roof) where dogs can gather and play. Some city neighborhoods have dog parks, inside or outside, and many neighborhoods have doggy day care businesses where the dog can spend the day playing with other dogs. Dog walkers are also common in big cities. Talk to other dog owners or local veterinarians and find out what services are available and which are recommended.
Commercial brain games, such as the Nina Ottasson or Kygen puzzle games, are made to order for city dogs. The dog and owner can have fun playing the various games, which range from easy to very difficult, and the neighbors won’t be disturbed at all. Food dispensing toys, such as the Kong toys, are great for amusing a dog left alone. Sassy, a Yorkshire Terrier mix, gets three tiny Kong toys stuffed with her breakfast every morning when her owner leaves for work. Sassy is so busy getting her food out of the toys, she doesn’t pay attention to her owner leaving and as a result, doesn’t bark.
All of the dog owners I talked to said owning a dog in a big city took some thought and consideration but none of them would ever give up their dog or not get another one.