Lately, I’ve been reminiscing more often about my time in Vienna… that is, Sammy’s beginnings with me. We lived in a suburban district. There is a lot of green everywhere, you are quickly on field and meadow paths and there are not as many cars. The air is cleaner and you feel a bit freer than in the city center.
That sounds super nice, doesn’t it?
That is probably the reason for the enormous population of dogs in these districts or even the communities near the city.
So when you go for a walk here, the probability is almost 100% to meet another dog.
For “normal” dogs (i.e. those that get along well with conspecifics and don’t find it super exciting either) this is not a problem, in fact, sometimes it’s a welcome change during a walk. You might even get to talk to other dog owners, join up for walks and enjoy the beautiful trails together.
That’s what I had in mind when I had the idea of adopting a dog. I was really looking forward to it.
Then Sammy came.
After a few stupid experiences in the first 2 weeks, he was fed up with other dogs. He was not even hurt (for which I am very grateful) but the unleashed dogs harassed him, chased him, cornered him. It was just too much for a sensitive dog like him.
The “friendly” dogs (that’s what people yelled at me) panicked him.
So within a very short time, Sammy learned to convince other dogs early and loudly that he was super dangerous and they should just stay away.
So in addition to fear, we had some serious leash reactivity.
For a first-time dog owner, that’s super serious. Desperation and helplessness make walks unbearable and without help, I don’t know how we would have continued with it.
What didn’t occur to me in my romantic imagination was that not all people are considerate to each other or abide by rules or even laws.
In this city, there is a leash or muzzle requirement (we want to ignore the pointlessness of a muzzle only for a dog that throws other dogs on the ground or chases them). About 10% of the people we met followed this rule. And with about half of the dogs it was justifiable (they didn’t bother anybody, had a good recall, and were friendly), the rest were bullies.
And it got even worse.
The very people whose dogs had harmed Sammy in some way called me names, laughed at me, even ambushed me to get close enough for the insults.
My dog was uncontrolled.
I am an animal abuser because he is not allowed to go to other dogs (yelled at me over my screaming dog) and has a 10m long line on his harness (coming from a woman whose dog was jerked around on a choke chain).
In short, I didn’t want to go for a walk anymore.
Necessity makes inventive.
We could not spontaneously emigrate to a deserted island.
So we not only practiced diligently with our trainer but also thought about how we could live in peace and enjoy walks together again.
For Sammy, it was important to have the choice if a walk is ok or not. Some days he just couldn’t handle all the stimulation of the city and wanted to go back home after doing his business. He was allowed to do that.
We also drastically reduced the length of our walks, which is something I would advise anyone with a newly adopted dog to do today. Processing the new impressions is usually enough of a workout anyway, and if you’re worried that’s not enough, you can add in search games.
We integrated these into each of our walks as well, helping Sammy to gain more confidence.
It was also important not to constantly practice his leash aggression (i.e. not to constantly put him in situations where he barks, growls, and lunges).
So we chose routes and times when we hardly encountered dogs. Nevertheless, we met dogs, but they were always the same and therefore predictable.
And to just get a break from all the challenges (good or bad), we drove to a really quiet environment and went for decompression walks there to just enjoy nature together and breathe.
The advantage to urban environments is that you have so many objects to break the staring visual contact with (cars for example).
Even with his fear and lack of confidence, we have found advantages. For example, we encountered a life-size plastic cow on our new walking path. She stood there dutifully, all day in front of her restaurant and didn’t move.
So Sammy could walk up to this cow at his own pace and examine it.
So it may well be more challenging to live in the city or suburbs with a problem dog, but it also offers opportunities.
Sure, I would always advise against placing a fearful dog in the city.
But for everyone else, there are not only difficulties but also a lot of opportunities. Which we see, we and our mindset decide.
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