So you’re getting a new dog but haven’t had one since you’ve lived in a big city. First of all, congratulations! Having a dog by your side makes city life so much more fun, and San Francisco is one of the best cities in the US for it! SF is consistently rated one of, if not the most dog-friendly cities in America. That being said, there are certainly some unique challenges that come with walking a dog in the big city, and we’re here to give you some tips to make your first walks fun and safe!
Number one is to always use a lead unless you’re in an off-leash designated area. Cities are full of sudden stimuli, loud noises, and lots of people, not to mention cars. No matter how well trained your dog is, they can absolutely be set off by a combination of bad circumstances, and it’s important to have a quick and immediate way to keep your dog in control. For that matter, don’t use a retractable lead either, they don’t offer nearly enough control and have tons of downsides. They can be a great training device when you’re in a wide-open space with no other dogs or people around, but when navigating city streets they are too risky and even dangerous to be worth the convenience (and don’t encourage fantastic leash manners to boot!).
While we’re at it, your dog should be trained in the four basic commands as soon as you can. Those 4 commands being “sit”, “stay”, “come” and “leave it”. Sitting and waiting at intersections is very important, as it means your dog won’t step out into traffic (as they won’t know what to look out for). Leave it is also very important, as there can be all kinds of things on the ground that are not good for a dog to be nibbling on.
Cities are noisy, and situations can change or develop very quickly. It’s important to teach your dog that common city noises (fire trucks, for example) are not a bad thing via counter-conditioning (“desensitization”) training. Additionally, at blind corners or narrow passages, go in front of your dog so that they aren’t facing to face with a person (who may not love dogs), or, worse, a potentially reactive dog that you couldn’t see. Dognapping is a tragic reality, especially in cities— if you need to run errands with your dog, either bring someone who can wait outside with your dog and keep an eye on them, or only visit pet-friendly businesses. Also: you have no control of your dog while they’re tied up outside, and they could eat something they shouldn’t, get in a fight with another dog (dogs tend to be more reactive while restrained like this), or even escape their collar/harness if something startles them!
As for potty etiquette, always always always pick up after your dog! People leaving dog poop on the sidewalk ruin the reputation of all dog owners, walkers, and lovers in that neighborhood and is generally just a gross mess that other people shouldn’t have to deal with! For that matter, training your dog not to pee on someone’s house or plants. City trees tend to be fair game, as are street lamps and fire hydrants. Generally, train your dog to relieve themselves at the curb (not in the street, mind you but at the curb) or otherwise out of the main footpath.
Finally, pay attention to your surroundings! Try and keep texting or checking your phone to a minimum, and keep your hands relatively free. Having eyes and ears “up” is important for safety, so keep the headphones put away and avoid phone calls— if the call can’t wait, the walk can, and vice versa. Besides, a walk is the best time to spend some quality time with your dog! Unplug, enjoy the outdoors, and be present with your furry friend— dog ownership is all about the relationship between human and animal, and being present to your dog when you go out with them helps a ton with this!
These may all sound rather ominous warnings, and perhaps you think I’m being overcautious, but these are all important to be mindful of. The number one most important thing, at the end of the day, is to enjoy spending time with your dog! Sharing your life with a four-legged companion (or less, in some cases!) is such a treat, and as long as we’re all able to do so safely and responsibly, everyone wins, and living in a city like San Francisco offers such a wealth of experiences for you and your dog to experience, so get out there and enjoy!
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