By Kathy Santo | Updated: April 13 2019
For dogs that live in the suburbs, life has a very ‘scripted’ feel to it. They can run in their fenced yards, go on daily, scheduled walks in familiar neighborhoods, and pretty much have a consistent rhythm to their day-to-day encounters. For example, on my student’s morning walk, at approximately 8:13am, she walks past by her friend Gary’s house. As usual, Gary is outside walking his dog, Patch. He barks at her once, and then returns to sniffing. In the afternoon, Dante the Doberman is sleeping on his front steps, and barely gives her a look as she walks by. And at 7:09pm, the lovely Tina the Maltese is barking non-stop from the back of her owner’s couch as she walks by their house. It’s like the movie, Groundhog Day.
But for city dogs, that’s hardly the case. Every walk has different experiences, different sounds, and different encounters. And that’s why there’s a particular set of skills that I teach my “City Dog” students to help them cope with life in the urban world.
Waiting politely for an elevator (and sitting and staying while in one!), sitting at a street corner, and doing a down and stay while you’re eating at a sidewalk café, or sitting on park bench is a MUST for city dogs. Teaching the command “Under” (your dog lies down under your legs while you’re sitting) is a great alternative to a down, because it collects your dog closer to you and keeps him out of the path of other people, bikes, skateboards, and dogs!
No one knows the perils of a dog grabbing forbidden things on the ground better than my student, Angela. She currently lives in an apartment in the city, above a chicken and rib restaurant. Every day, all day, chicken and rib bones are strewn on the sidewalk, so her walk through the bone minefield is akin to a military strike. She tells her dog “Leave It” so many times while walking past that area, that more than a few people thought that was her dog’s name! But, having that command saved her and her dog a trip to the vet ER many times!
A city dog needs to be comfortable with close encounters with people in uniforms, in wheelchairs, on bikes, in skateboards, running, yelling, pushing carts, etc. Creating a positive association with these things by using high value food rewards is an awesome way to start. However, if you have a very fearful dog, speak to your vet and get a recommendation for a trainer to help you work through h it. For dogs that are OVERLY friendly and want to greet everyone, use a leave it or a “Look” command to keep your dog focused on you
Well, not really, but I do teach my students to work towards having their voice be the primary method of controlling their dogs on leash. You may be thinking “But…..they’re on a leash. Why do you need voice control?” Because unlike in suburbia, where you take your car to a store, buy what you need, load it in your trunk, and drive home, many times my students are walking and carrying something. It could be a bag of groceries, or a package they need to mail, but when their hands are full, they can’t rely on leash pressure as their main form of communication with their dog. So to help them help their dogs, we teach “Easy”, “Wait”, “Sit” as well as a few other commands to make life easier for everyone!
If you live in a house, chances are when you come back from a walk with your dog, you open the door, let him run into the house, and that’s the end of that. But with a city dog, the process is a little different. At the end of that walk, you most likely walk into an apartment building where you’re faced with a slippery lobby floor. This is where the “Easy” command wins the day. By having your dog walk slowly alongside you (without pulling!), your dog can more easily and safely navigate the slippery surface. Life gets even easier if you make sure your dog has short nails so he’s not ice-skating across surfaces like this. In addition, trimming the fur on the underside of his pads will help him get the traction he needs.
Kathy Santo has spent her entire career as a dog trainer and handler, training dogs and winning over 500 obedience, agility and Canine Good Citizenship titles. Working with her own dogs, she has achieved every competitive obedience title the American Kennel Club (AKC) has offered and earned the prestigious AKC “Obedience Trial Champion” title (OTCh) multiple times.
In Ramsey, Kathy teaches classes, private lessons, and oversees the training of her student’s dogs using her extensive knowledge, experience and intuition to handle problems from the benign to the serious. Her engaging personality has won her the respect and friendship of her many students, who now consider themselves part of her extended family.