How to Adjust Your Dog to City Life
Introducing the GOOD Guide to Smart Living with City Pets. This five part series, brought to you by GOOD in partnership with Purina ONE®, explores how pet owners can keep city pets happy, healthy, and balanced, so that pets enjoy being part of their community as much as their owners do. Check out more stories at GOOD Pets.
Whether you’re a pet owner moving from a large house to a cozy apartment or bringing a new dog into a smaller dwelling, your pet may experience some unique behavioral and adjustment issues. Here are expert tips for coping with the most common problems when it comes to owning city pets.
If neighbors are complaining about barking when you’re out, your dog may be feeling anxiety and fear because you’re not there. This separation anxiety is probably the root cause of incessant barking, says Renee Payne, a certified professional trainer and dog behaviorist in Brooklyn, New York. “The best thing you can do is prepare your dog to be left alone—ideally as soon as you get him,” she says. Give your dog what Payne calls a “high-value treat” (a special, once-in-awhile treat that you know your dog loves), and then leave the building for a few minutes. “Don’t just stand outside the door to try to hear what he’s doing,” she warns. “He’ll know that you’re there.” Repeat this exercise, extending the amount of time that you’re gone. The dog will start to get used to the routine, becoming more comfortable and at ease when you’re gone.
You’ll know your dog is bored if he’s barking constantly while you’re home, chewing things, or just generally being destructive, says Katenna Jones, the director of educational programs at the South Carolina-based Association of Pet Dog Trainers. “They need to have both their mind and body challenged every day,” she says. Try puzzle toys, designed to release treats when levers and buttons are pushed. Or hide treats around the apartment and have your dog sniff around to find them. “That’s called nose work, and dogs find it completely exhausting,” says Payne.
“This is my most popular seminar,” says Payne. Leash aggression—when a generally well-behaved dog lunges, barks, or otherwise acts aggressively while leashed—is usually caused by one of two things, she says. “Either the dog is excited by something and frustrated that he can’t get to it, or he sees danger and feels trapped and vulnerable.” To prevent barking and growling outbursts, she suggests teaching the dog a word, like “look” or using a clicker and giving him a treat when he looks at you. Start by doing this on a park bench until the response is solid. Then start employing it when passing strollers, other dogs, taxis, and other distractions common on city streets. “It creates a positive association and gives them something to do besides react.”
Fear of People, Things, or Noises
Jones recommends exposing your dogs to whatever they are afraid of—jackhammers, groups of people, motorcycles—through slow, controlled exposure and (you guessed it!) the positive association of a treat. “Think of it like this,” she says. “If you are afraid of a spider and I bring you into a room full of spiders, you’d feel completely out of control. But what if I offer you the most wonderful thing in the world and show you one spider from 50 feet away? It might be scary, but it’s more manageable.” As with everything, repetition is key as the dog becomes more comfortable with closer and longer exposure.
Overly Enthusiastic Strangers
Just a spin around the block might result in multiple requests for petting and hugging your dog. “If your dog likes affection from all people, then it’s fine,” says Payne. “But if it makes him nervous, you have to respect that.” Though there are ways to condition your dog to be comfortable with strangers, you can’t give everyone on the street that lesson in 30 seconds. “Remember that this involves people standing over him, reaching in, and looking him in the eye—all of which are problematic for an anxious dog. If he doesn’t want the attention, it’s your job to protect him by asking people to back off.”
Injury and Illness
Both of these are more common in crowded environments where bacteria and hazards abound, says Dr. Fred Goldenson of the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association. “One particular city dog problem is the potential of picking up intestinal parasites,” he says. Along with keeping vaccinations up to date, walk your dog on a short, non-retractable leash, and make sure he or she isn’t eating anything off the sidewalk. Look out for broken glass and hot asphalt, which may cause injury to their paws. Goldenson recommends health insurance to cover emergencies as well as microchipping for identification, which involves injecting a small capsule—the size of a grain of rice—between the dog’s shoulder blades. “Shelters and animal control units are required to scan for them now,” he explains. “It’s a dog’s ticket back home to their family and part of being a responsible pet owner.”
Consult a pet behaviorist to understand your dog better. Click here to say you'll DO it.
This is part two of five in the GOOD Guide to Smart Living with City Pets.
Illustration by Zoe Zoe Sheen
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