March 1, 2016

Winning Over Dog Haters

We know it’s a shock — but not everyone in New York City loves dogs. And sure, it’s natural to want to just tell those people where they can step off, but that’s not really going to get anyone anywhere on this issue.Some reasons why people don’t like dogs include: excessive barking, retractable leashes, owners who don’t pick up poop or curb their dogs properly, fear of aggressive-looking dogs, and experience with jumping dogs and their dirty paws on dry-clean only clothes.In all these cases, dog owners can do a lot to help dog haters become, at the very least, dog tolerant. Remember, this is a shared burden. It’s not all on them to accommodate you and your dog. You need to do your part in creating a dog-friendly society.Excessive Barking: There are many reasons a dog may bark excessively (especially when you’re not home). Separation anxiety, nervousness, anticipation, or attention-seeking are just some and all can be addressed with proper training.If you’re getting complaints from neighbors about your dog barking all day when you’re gone, seek the advice of a Certified Separation Anxiety Specialist immediately. If your dog has separation anxiety you need to act. While separation anxiety treatment can cost money, not treating will often lead to an eviction notice from your landlord, and nothing in New York City is more difficult and expensive than finding and moving into a new apartment.If your dog is an on-the-street barker (at other dogs, skateboards, children, etc), you’re going to have to start redirecting your dog in anticipation of the bark and ask for a different behavior. One of my favorites is a simple “Look at me” followed by a Sit and then Quiet and Wait while the dog/skateboard/child passes. If you’re not sure what to do, a single session with a positive reinforcement trainer will give you the basics. (In the future, I’ll be adding a video on this to the site.)Retractable Leashes: How many times have we seen a dog walking down the street on the curb-side of the sidewalk and their owner 15 feet behind on the building-side? All too often! Retractable leashes are hard for pedestrians to see, can easily trip up the elderly and provide absolutely no control should your dog get excited. The solution is simple: Use a fixed-length leash of four to six feet. Always. The only time a retractable leash is acceptable is if your dog won’t eliminate close to you. Make sure for walking you’ve locked your retractable leash at around four feet and stay aware that it’s an imperfect system.Poop and Pee Etiquette: All dog owners must pick up their dogs’ poop at all times. This includes on nights when it’s raining and on days when it’s snowing. It’s a matter of both public hygiene and aesthetics. First off, owners should train their dogs to pee and poop at the curb, not in flower boxes or on garbage bags that have to be picked up by our sanitation workers! This is not hard—just lead your dog to the curb when it needs to eliminate and reward. After a while the dog will choose the desired spot on its own. Keep rewarding for a while, and then only intermittently. But tell her she’s a good dog every time.When it comes to picking up waste, we’ve seen it all. Newspaper, latex gloves, store bags, produce bags, and designated dog waste bags. My preference is actually for newspaper because of the low environmental cost, but I don’t use it. And the reason is kind of sad. In my neighborhood, we have a fair number of homeless people looking for reusable items, recyclable bottles or even food, in our corner garbage cans. Adding loose poop to that mix is just wrong in my book. NYC is about to ban plastic store bags, so I’m proactively moving away from reusing those, too. I’m in the process of vetting all the bio-degradable bags on the market and will post my results when I have them.But no matter how you do it, pick up your dog’s poop. It actually belongs to you.Aggressive-looking Dogs: Call it breed discrimination, but an “aggressive-looking dog” (read: a Pit Bull or Pit Bull mix) can make people who fear dogs very nervous. Even some of the other terrier breeds are “mistaken” for Pit mixes by the general public. Of course, as an urban trainer, I absolutely love a good pit mix. They’re truly awesome dogs, body and soul. So count your lucky stars if you have one! But rather than let your nose get out of joint when someone displays fear, be a goodwill ambassador and put a pink bandana around your dog’s neck. A little softening goes a long way to general acceptance of these dogs. And that’s what we want, right? In addition, try teaching your tough-looking canine pal a silly trick, like waving hello and goodbye. Not even a wary neighbor can resist such displays of cuteness on command!Jumping Up: Your dog should never jump up on a stranger, and you should never encourage jumping as part of your own greeting routine. It’s natural for dogs to want to jump, as face-to-face contact is part of their own greeting ritual — and our faces are pretty high off the ground! But it’s risky for children and the elderly, who can easily be hurt by a powerful jumper, and does little to impress everyone else. You can train a dog not to jump by stepping away when she does and asking her to sit instead, followed by a big reward and lots of affection. The whole point of the jumping was to engage you, so if you instruct that not jumping is what engages you, she will quickly modify her behavior to get what she wants.So what do you do when a stranger encourages your dog to jump? Ask your dog to sit and reward it continually while you explain to the stranger that your dog needs to keep all four paws on the ground when greeting people. Stay friendly! Then ask the stranger if she’d like to reward your dog for maintaining the sit. If so, hand over the treat. NOTE: Do not do this if your dog has a “hard mouth” when taking treats. You’ll have to train your dog to take treats gently first. So in this case, just keep your dog sitting and stay friendly.Remember: Urban dogs live in very close quarters with lots of people with varying levels of dog acceptance, from the stranger who encourages your dog to jump up on them to the toddler who lets out an ear-piercing scream on sight. Sometimes it helps to see the training session that’s right in front of you. You’ve been working on not jumping with your dog when someone encourages jumping? Treat and praise your dog if he hesitates, and give the no-reward marker if he doesn’t! Child screams at your dog? Have your dog sit in the middle of the commotion and flip him a treat. If we want a dog-friendly society, it starts with us.

About Jennifer Reed