Thursday, June 12, 2014
Written by Karlene Turkington
A couple of weeks ago I spent some time in Chesapeake Beach, Md., Washington, D.C., and the northern Virginia area. I had a wonderful time with my husband, but I found myself missing my fur family and very jealous of people I saw vacationing with their dogs.
The presence of the dogs in the city caused me to reflect on behavior skills I would want to work on should I find myself on big city streets with one of my mutts.
The first command I would brush up on is the “heel” command. When a dog is at heel, he walks with his shoulder in alignment with the owner’s knee and sits automatically when the person stops. Walking down busy streets, crowded with people, it’s important that your dog stays next to you. While you can accomplish that by holding your dog’s leash closer to his collar, it’s much more pleasant to walk with a dog that stays in place without tugging. The automatic sit is a critical step in this process. When you reach the street corner, the “Don’t Walk” sign is lit and you stop as traffic rushes past, you don’t want your dog hopping off the curb in front of a taxi.
“Leave it” is a critical command for busy city streets. Amazing amounts of trash, food debris, rodents and other nasty substances are everywhere. Some of the things are toxic, some will upset your dog’s stomach and others are just plain gross. Rather than constantly screaming “no” or tackling your dog to remove a pigeon head from his mouth, consider teaching your dog the wonderfully useful “Leave it” command. Properly taught, the dog hearing this will ignore whatever it is he’s going after. I could hand my Gemma pieces of steak and interrupt her with this request while she was in mid-bite. She would literally open her jaws and let go of the meat.
Another useful tool for a trip to the city is “Wait.” If you tell your dog to “stay,” you’re telling him to remain in whatever position you’ve left him in. “Wait” is different. This tells your dog not to move forward but allows him to choose his position, whether sitting, standing or laying down, so he can be comfortable. This comes in handy if you want to eat at one of the many outdoor cafes. Rather than tugging on the leash the entire time, you can hook the end of the lead to a table leg and relax and enjoy your meal without worrying about your dog’s behavior.
In addition to useful commands, there are some other things you should work on with your dog prior to your city vacation. Aggressively socialize your dog before you go. Take him as many places as you can, and expose him to sounds, vehicles and lots of different people. Your dog may encounter taxis, cars, motorcycles, street cleaning machines, double decker buses, construction equipment – you name it. He’ll also encounter constant noise and see people of every size, type and nationality. Give him the opportunity to explore as many new things as you can before you go, and be patient with him if he’s nervous or afraid. Don’t baby him, just praise him as he deals with new things.
Also work on crating your dog and leaving him in the crate by himself. He won’t be welcome everywhere you go. In D.C., for example, we visited the Smithsonian and Kennedy Center, took a tour of the monuments by water, rode a double-decker bus around town and ate at many upscale restaurants. A dog would not have been welcomed to any of these places and would have had to remain in the hotel. Even if your dog is great at home alone, I would not leave a dog unattended in a hotel room. Not only is there a danger of your dog escaping from the room should housekeeping enter, but you don’t know how he’ll handle your absence. Dogs can do a surprising amount of damage in a short time. You could return to your room to find furniture, bedding and even walls and windowsills destroyed. A housebroken dog under stress can ignore his training, or stress might give him intestinal issues. You could leave for two hours and return to thousands of dollars in damages.
Traveling with your dog can be a lot of fun, but you need to plan ahead. If you’re planning to take your pup on a trip to the bright lights, work on these skills before you go!
Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.