Training Your Pup Downtown
Whether you live in a small town or a big city, spending time downtown provides valuable training opportunities for you and your dog. If a dog is accustomed to the excitement of city streets, it guarantees that they are well-rounded and able to process information and work in any environment.
Opportunities for training in town are endless, as are the noise and distractions. Consider grabbing a cup of coffee and enjoying a chat with friends. Coffee shops often have outdoor seating areas that provide the perfect space for you and your pooch to settle in and watch the world go by. With just a handful of treats and some patience, encourage your pup to settle down and get comfortable with the sounds of cars, children, and other dogs passing by.
To help your dog become comfortable with unfamiliar stimuli, give him a treat whenever he acknowledges but doesn't react to different events. For example, if a fire truck with sirens passes, help your dog know that those sounds are normal by having him downstay and rewarding him for remaining calm. Walking in busy streets can be intimidating if your dog isn't ready for that amount of stimulation. Let him ease into the hustle and bustle by first having him sit down and get comfortable with the world without having to engage with it.
Once your dog is agreeable with streets and busy sidewalks from a distance, you are ready to start walking with your four-legged friend! Walking around town is a great way to teach your dog leash skills under different distractions. Sometimes, it is best to use a cookie lure to get your pup through a big crowd. This can also help keep his focus away from an off-leash dog. The more you can reward success and avoid failure, the more comfortable and engaged your dog will be.
To work through less intimidating stimulus, teach your dog to automatically check in with you when he is unsure of what to do next. A good tool for this is to teach him to be aware of the road and stop at crosswalks until released to walk across the street. Simply ask your dog to sit at every crosswalk and only give him the okay to cross when he looks up at you and seeks out your eyes. This way, forward movement and crossing the street acts as his reward. Not only is this an important safety measure around cars, but it can prevent negative reactions from your dog like pulling toward or barking at something scary.
A fun leash skills game to play with your pup in town is the pacing game. This simple game keeps your dog engaged with you and encourages him to cue to your body movements. When you are walking with your dog, randomly change up your pace and reward your dog for slowing down or speeding up with you.
Many shops allow dogs, so your pup can become your new favorite errand buddy! Before entering any business, I always call ahead of time or have a friend walk in and ask permission for me to enter with my dog. To have your dog become a stellar shopping buddy, have him learn to downstay while you check out merchandise by randomly offering cookies to him while he stays in a down. Play around with having your dog calmly go into dressing rooms and bathrooms with you and don't mind the skeptical look he gives when a potential new shirt doesn't quite fit! Before you take your dog on a full-day shopping spree, do quick training sessions in advance to expose him to the sounds of toilets flushing, hand dryers, and automatic doors.
Remember that training your dog should be a fun and rewarding experience for dog and trainer alike. Help your dog ease into new activities by practicing skills in a low distraction environment. The first time you venture downtown with your pup, keep your sessions short and positive, and build up to spending a fun afternoon roaming the city with your best friend.
Amber Pickren BA, CPDT-KA
Amber is owner of GentleCanineLLC. After earning her bachelors in Psychology, Amber found her passion working with dogs and has never looked back. Since 2004, she has been training dogs, specializing in behavioral issues. When she's not busy helping other pet parents with their dogs, she can be found running and climbing around Durango with Sadie, Lily and Imogene.