Cities have different feels to them. In the U.S., many western cities tend to have a fairly open feel with plenty of large areas such as parks or parking lots where you can train your dog, which is especially helpful if you don’t have a backyard.
Eastern cities in the U.S. seem to feel tighter. There isn’t as much public space for you and your dog. If you live in downtown Manhattan in New York City, there’s almost no place to train your dog besides crowded sidewalks and occasionally empty streets. You and dog can go to certain “designated” areas in certain parks between about 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. or 9 p.m. and midnight, but these are rare. And no one has a backyard.
When I adopted a two-year-old Pit Bull, who I named Bunch, I knew training her in this crowded city was going to be a challenge, made more so by her youthful and strong exuberance. So, after deflecting many evil stares as Bunch pulled me down the street, lunging at every smell (and, Lord, there are so many smells in New York City), I decided to get down to business with my training in the city.
The tools you use may vary from this list, depending on the type of training you use, but here’s a starting point of things you must have:
A very strong leash is uber-important when you’re training in a city. A leash that snaps because your dog just saw a rat dive in front of her means a dog who can then run into traffic or worse. The strongest type of leash I’ve found is made from bungee cords. Never use more than a six-foot lead; a four-foot lead is usually better.
This will definitely vary according to the type of training but the one common trait is that the collar you use should not be able to slip over your dog’s head. This most likely means a prong collar, chain collar, or a martingale collar that is “no slip,” preferably with a chain. Nylon training collar and head halter type collars are not usually recommended in the city.
Always, always bring water and a bowl (collapsible bowls are easier to carry) even if you think can you pop into a store at anytime for it. Often, dogs are not allowed in food stores, even convenience stores.
Your treats and poopie bags and anything else goes in this, which can be a svelte metrosex purse (very NYC) or a small backpack or fanny pack (surely there’s a better name for that now) if you have an attachment for the water bottle.
In many cities, as in New York, you will find that early morning (very early, like 6 a.m.) is the quietest time to train. This is good for the beginning when you’re getting your dog to pay attention to you and learn the commands.
As you progress with the training, go to more and more crowded areas to create distractions for your dog and get your dog used to the flow of people and other dogs.
Why the dog park doesn’t work: Although most cities now have dog parks, training your dog on-leash while all the other dogs around here are off-leash is asking for trouble. Your dog will feel trapped and at a disadvantage. And other dogs will feel they have an advantage. Bad chemistry. You’ll also constantly be bombarded by the other dogs.
Why designated areas in parks don’t work: Same as the dog park, because other dogs will likely be off-leash.
Spaces that work:
To live well in a city with a dog you have to be creative. You might come up with creative commands for your dog, such as the “Run Round” command I use with Bunch. When we have a bit of space but she needs to stay on-leash, I’ve trained her to run in a circle, sort of like you see with horses. A little extra exercise and it’s fun.
You may encounter some people when you’re working with your dog who say it’s cruel to make a dog live in a city. I wonder if they think that applies to “city dogs” like Bunch, who has roamed the streets with at least some enjoyment for two years. My humble opinion is that, as long as a dog is well exercised, apartment life works very well for most breeds or mixes. And, since training a dog in the city is not an impossibility by any means, and since smells are really better there, your city dog can live a full, interesting, safe, and loved life, even in New York City.
Read more on life with dogs in the city: