For a fulfilling life, a dog must have a yard, green grass, and room to roam, right? But if that’s the case, why are millions of dogs of all breeds and sizes surviving and thriving in urban areas?
No lawn, sheep, or wilderness trails? No problem. There are plenty of ways to stay fit and have fun amid the concrete canyons of America’s big cities. In fact, apartment dwellers insist that city dogs may even be better off than their suburban and country counterparts.
There may be no backyard for city dogs, but that means no risk of being left outside for hours each day. People and their pets often co-exist happily in small spaces, which can be pure heaven for creatures as social as dogs. Leashed walks means more companionship and exercise, and the array of aromas in the streets make every trip outside a sniffer’s paradise.
City dogs are at a disadvantage, though, in having access to large spaces for activities like agility and herding. However, city dwellers are known for their ability to adapt, and they take pride in having the grit and creativity to make a game of life with city dogs, in even the most urban environments.
Mushing Through Midtown
Most people associate mushing with big fluffy dogs, sleds, and frozen wilds, worlds away from civilization.
Then there’s Mannie Diallo, a bartender from Brooklyn, and founder of the Northern Breed Sport Club. Manhattan’s Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and a dozen other NYC parks make up his urban wilderness. During blizzards, he’s provoked double takes by mushing down city streets with his Siberian Huskies.
Diallo was a child when he fell in love with the look and personality of Huskies, and he eventually grew up and acquired one of his own, named Bam Bam. Siberians are among the most active breeds, and Diallo knew keeping Bam Bam happy would be a challenge in a city. For exercise, he tried dog parks and bike riding with Bam Bam, but none of it was quite right. Then, friends introduced him to the breed’s traditional job—pulling sleds.
“A light bulb went off in my head,” said Diallo. “I should try to get into this sport.”
Diallo saw sledding as a fun, natural way to keep Bam Bam in shape and mentally stimulated, and he wasn’t about to let New York stand in his way. The Northern Breed Sport Club grew out of his desire to bring together New Yorkers and city dogs whose hearts are set on dashing like the legendary Balto.
While the club includes mainly traditional sled dog breeds, all dogs are welcomed. Participants use all kinds of vehicles when there is no snow on the ground, like scooters, skateboards, and bicycles, and Diallo personally uses a collapsible sled that can be stored easily in his apartment.
Urban Obstacle Course: Parkour
What exactly is it? Parkour started as a way to prepare French soldiers for battle. The word is derived from the French parcours du combattant, meaning “obstacle course.” In the 1990s, it morphed into a unique sport for fitness-focused humans. Then, like so much else, it went to the dogs. Think of parkour as a kind of street agility. In dog parkour, instead of equipment on a set course, the obstacles are whatever you find in front of you.
“Dog parkour is fantastic for cities, as they tend to have lots of structures like walls, benches, rocks, and railings,” says Karin Coyne, founder of the International Dog Parkour Association. “It makes walks more interesting and provides the dogs with a physical and mental challenge. And any dog can do it”
Maneuvering in Tight Spots: Rally
“City dogs and owners need to be able to negotiate busy streets and traffic. Teaching rally skills, like turning with you, staying close and backing up, will help negotiate elevators, congested walkways, and high traffic areas with ease,” says Pamela Manaton, the AKC’s director of Obedience, Rally, and Tracking.
In Rally, an AKC sport based on competitive obedience, a dog and handler maneuver through courses by following signs for specific moves, like sit, come to front, and finish. Rally has become popular among the dog sport set, but even if you have no desire to enter competition, there are benefits to practicing the exercises.
“Many dog owners already use some of the maneuvers of rally in daily play and in basic dog training. Rally skills are an excellent, fun way to interact with your dog to teach manners and good behavior,” says Manaton.
Deciphering the signs themselves can be a little daunting for beginners, but perfecting these moves builds a bond between you and your dog and, perhaps, may someday lead you to competition and a blue ribbon or two.
Who Needs Sheep? Try Treibball
It’s been called “urban herding” or “rolling sheep”, but the name literally means “push ball”. Treibball began in Germany as a way to entertain herding dogs with access to livestock, but participants can range from expected breeds like Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs, to even Pugs or Great Danes.
“Treibball is a thinking and problem-solving sport,” says Dianna Stearns, founder and president of the American Treibball Association. “It’s low impact on both people and dogs, and any dog can learn it.”
The object of the game is to “herd” a flock of oversized balls into a soccer net, following verbal directions from the handler. In competitive Treibball, dogs work at a distance, using noses and chests to push the ball.
While Treibball competition requires a big space, learning the basics can easily be accomplished in a hallway, patio, or kitchen. All that’s involved to start is knowing commands to turn left, right, and stop, while targeting is used to teach dogs how to move the ball. Equipment is just a basic fitness ball, which can be bought for around ten bucks, and the balls may also be deflated for easy storage in small apartments, while functioning equally well for human exercises, too.
Giving City Dogs Their Day
Ways to work out your city dogs are limited only by your imagination. AKC programs in Trick Dog and Scent Work, for example, allow you to learn the skills to earn titles, even with limited space to train.
In addition to athletic pursuits, there are lots of opportunities to take your four-footed pal along when you’re on the town. Many cities now welcome dogs in outdoor dining areas, and stage pet fairs, fashion shows, and special days at professional sporting events. There have even been art exhibits curated specifically for the canine aesthete. No matter what your dog might be into, odds are your city has something for them.
This article, which first appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of AKC Family Dog magazine, won the 2018 Dog Writers Association of America award for Best Magazine Feature/Behavior and Training.