There’s nothing unusual for urban dog owners about walking their pet just a few metres from the bus or tram, or even getting on public transport with them, or taking their dog to a shopping centre. Dogs growing up in such an environment are likely to automatically become accustomed to these things. However, if you live in the suburbs or in a small town and your dog has never been in such situations, you should consider a few things before you take them to the city.
What to take with you?
For travelling by public transport, the best idea is to choose a harness that is easy to put on. Take particular care to pick the right size and make sure that the harness fits correctly. Leading manufacturers always give detailed size and fitting instructions along with their products.
Ideally, this should be neither too tight, nor too loose: the aim should be that you can slide two fingers between the equipment and the dog’s skin. When picking a harness, you should choose one with a handle to allow you to help your dog get on a bus or tram with steep steps. It could also come in handy if you need to walk through a crowd and you want to keep your dog close to you. If you’re taking an evening walk, it makes sense to use a harness with reflective elements, so that your dog is visible from a distance.
When you’re walking in a big city, always hold the leash firmly but avoid keeping the leash tense because it will make your dog tense, too. Always keep some treats, or perhaps dog toys, on you. They will come handy when you want to reward calm behaviour or if you need to divert your dog’s attention for any reason. Treats and toys can also be useful when you encounter a new experience that might scare your dog and they need a little extra reassurance.
In the summer or if you plan to spend several hours in the city, always take a bowl and water with you, otherwise you might not be able to give a drink to your dog when they need it. Keep a dog waste bag on you at all times.
Occasionally you may need a muzzle, for example, when travelling on public transport, so it’s a good idea to get your dog used to wearing a muzzle from an early stage in life. It’s best to train a dog to accept a muzzle gradually: use treats to get them to put their nose into the muzzle first. When they have started to put their nose into the muzzle on their own, you can then fasten it securely for a short period only. Keep rewarding them with treats, and slowly increase the time spent in the muzzle. If they’re irritated and try to get it off by pawing at it, this means you have gone too fast, so you need to go back a stage, and try again, more slowly. When you choose a muzzle, always make sure it’s big enough for your dog to pant. Never buy muzzles that fully close your pet’s mouth!
Bus, underground, tram
When it comes to travelling by public transport, you should specifically socialize your dog for the precise type of transport, instead of e.g., taking a bus ride without any preparation. First get on a bus parked at the terminal, preferably at a time when the engine is not running. You should frequently reward calm behaviour with treats both when you’re getting on and when you are already on the bus. When you can do this without a problem, the next stage is to take your dog on to a moving vehicle. In addition to the sudden movement, the dog may also be surprised by the warning signals of the closing door and the subsequent slamming noise, so it makes sense to prepare for this and divert the dog’s attention with a command that they recognise, or by offering a treat or toy.
If you want to travel on the underground, you should consider how you are going to reach the platform. The only way to transport a dog safely on a moving escalator is if you carry them, since their paws can easily be caught at the foot of the stairs if they don’t step off the moving escalator quickly enough.
Fortunately, dogs are allowed in more and more shopping malls nowadays. You no longer have to leave them at home or in the car if you want to pop down to the shops or you have to get some chore done. Shopping malls typically have automatic or revolving doors which may be unsettling for your dog at first. If they go through the doors without any problem on the first attempt, praise them, and if they get cold feet, invite them in nicely with a treat. If they are stubborn and don’t want to go through the door at all, check around the entrance area, because malls usually have a conventional door too. On this occasion, that’s what you should use.
Since shopping centres are quite busy places, make sure that your pet does not irritate other customers or, heaven forbid, try to pee on a potted plant! If you want to travel on an escalator, always pick up your dog. If you can’t do this, look for a stairway and use it instead.
If you need to wait for something, have the dog lie down at your feet and praise them if they wait patiently. You should prepare them for this at home well in advance because they may be too excited to do it easily in a new environment if they have not practiced at home first.
Always expect the unexpected
If you’ve never been in an urban environment with your dog, you may encounter situations where the dog loses confidence or perhaps gets frightened. Always keep some treats or your dog’s favourite toy on you so if they won’t budge or won’t dare to cross over a grid-like surface, for example, you can use these items to get them to move or go through. If your dog gets frightened by something (such as an engine that’s too loud or a person who moves in an unusual way), stop and talk to them in a soft, calm voice and call them to you. If possible, use a treat to lure your dog towards the frightening person or object so that they can see there’s nothing to worry about. If the other person agrees, you can also ask them to give a treat to your dog. There’s one thing you must never do, however: don’t start nervously stroke your pet because you will only reinforce the idea that they should be afraid of the thing they’ve just experienced.
If you want to stay longer in the city, you should plan your day to allow time for your pet to run around freely. The best idea is to find out in advance where the designated dog parks are, to allow your dog to play and to expend some energy to release the tension caused by all of these new experiences.
To avoid any conflict before you enter the dog park, ask permission from those inside first in case some of the dogs already there do not get along well with other dogs. Don’t let your pet get close to other dogs without asking first, even if the strange dog is on a leash because you can’t tell if they are distressed, sick or perhaps aggressive. For example, if you meet them on a narrow pavement, either step aside or get your dog to sit until the other animal goes past, or pass each other in a way that keeps both dogs on the opposite side of the path. In other words, if your dog walks beside your left leg, keep to the left of the pavement and let the others come towards you on the right.
The best solution is to get your dog accustomed to urban stimuli at a young age. As puppies, they meet these challenges much more easily and if the busy urban environment is associated with some positive experience in their mind, you are likely to have a much easier job later on. So when the visit to the doctor’s is over, you should put some time aside for these activities, especially if you live in a non-urban environment. The truth is that you can never predict when life may put you in a situation where you can benefit from your dog’s public transportation skills or appreciate that they don’t panic when they have to go through an automatic door.