City training your country dog

NOT ALL DOGS SPEND A LOT OF TIME IN THE CITY. If you have a service dog in training and live in a rural area or small town, your dog may well respond unpredictably the first time s/he experiences the sounds, smells, and sites of the city.

Early one beautiful spring morning my dog, Fig, and I went walking in downtown Richmond. There’s an area near the river that offers all kinds of training opportunities. We started by walking beneath a train trestle, a freight train rattling along directly overhead. Mind you, I’ve been taking Fig to this area for over a year, so she’s familiar with the distractions. Here she demonstrates the response you want when a super loud noise happens: nothing at all. Sniffing the ground was way more interesting to her. 🙂


Next we have grates. Between the odd footing, the smells that come from below, and in this case the sound of rushing water – I’ve seen many a dog balk at the sight of a grate, refusing to pass over it. Not a huge deal, right? Not unless you’re on a narrow sidewalk in a city that’s dog friendly and has a grate or two on every block and they’re the width of the sidewalk. Think about that. If your dog freaks out there’s nowhere to go but back where you came from, straight ahead or into a busy city street.


Continuing on, we made our way down the canal walk. City sounds, river sounds, birds tweeting, joggers and bicyclists everywhere. And people walking their dogs. Well, sometimes walking. Other times being walked/dragged. Fig was growled at and barked at by two different dogs. These were great opportunities to help Fig maintain her good doggy behavior since people and dogs are her kryptonite. This part of training for a gregarious dog takes a lot of time. Fig is two years old and we still work a lot on “calm” – since her default behavior is to wag her entire body whilst bouncing around the people and dogs she encounters. Although adorable ❤️ it’s not always appropriate. What helps her be calm more than anything else? I have her sit and I straddle her, my legs snug against her sides. I swear, it’s like I’m a human Thundershirt. Whatever works, right?!


Another thing I love about this walk are the stairs. There are all kinds. Why does that matter? Because I want my girl to walk politely (usually at heel) going up and coming down all kinds of stairs. And dogs don’t react to all stairs the same way. You may have carpeted stairs at home and wooden stairs on your deck – and your dog is fine with those. But there are huge variables in other stairs: material (concrete, wood, metal, marble, etc.); width, height, and steepness; and differences in appearance. For example, to your dog, open stairs are way different from closed stairs. Get our there and have some fun teaching your dog how to navigate stairs of all kinds. 🐾


This next big noise we encountered was heavy earth-moving equipment being used to dredge the canal. Just like the train, Fig was far more interested in smells than sounds. And then came the pedestrian bridge over the James River. Those rapids are loud and the wooden part of the bridge quickly changes to metal – much like a really long grate. Then there’s the wind, bicyclists, people and their dogs, and little kids running amok. All of this is a great test of a dog’s ability to remain calm and focused in an extremely distracting environment.


There are, of course, many other distractions in the city. Sounds like trash and delivery trucks and busses with the potential of blaring horns and screeching brakes from all three. There are crowded sidewalks where a person’s attention will be on the cell phone in his or her hand not on you and your dog (a recipe for your dog to at the very least get bumped into and potentially stepped on), and lots of gross stuff on the sidewalks that you don’t want your dog ingesting. Then there are wailing sirens – sometimes right next to you as an emergency vehicle makes it through traffic.

If you live in a small town or rural area, plan a few training trips to places with ever-increasing levels of dog distractions. Those trips will prepare you and your dog for your first “real” city experience.

That’s it for now. Be sure to sign up for email notifications when a new post is published. Woofs ‘n wags and happy trails from me and Fig!

Questions? Visit me at or email me at


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