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FINDING YOUR METRODOG
Go to any major city and you will find every imaginable breed living there with apparent ease. Some choices are generally easier than others, and our job is to help you make a decision based on more than looks alone. Whole books have been written on the subject of selection (we've done a couple), but the information here can get you started. For more about this important process, please see our resources section.
Let's start by considering some of the most common questions:
Is it cruel to have a dog in the city?
Not at all. In fact, a well-loved Metrodog can have the best of all canine lives. Surrounded by people, other dogs, and interesting smells...it sure beats being in a small backyard by yourself.
When adults, some giant breeds can work well as Metrodogs- if you can accommodate their needs.
Are small dogs the only choice?
No. While small dogs have some obvious advantages, what size is appropriate for you depends on your location and your lifestyle. If you're not too active, do not live near any parks/dog runs, and think a nice walk around a couple of blocks in the afternoon is plenty of exercise, then a small dog may be the best choice. If you're a jogger who has easy access to a dog run and the time to spend an hour or more a day there, then a larger, more active breed may suit you perfectly. Even the giant breeds have their place, with people who have the space to handle them. Surprisingly, their exercise needs (in adulthood) are less strenuous than those of the smaller sporting breeds, so don't rule out the big dogs.
My apartment is small; what are my options?
Many. As above, if you're near a dog run, you can consider a more active breed. If not, then a smaller dog may be a better choice. Giant-breed adults would fit in energy-wise but perhaps not be the easiest choice size-wise.
I'm gone from eight A.M. until past six P.M.; is that too long?
Yes, this is a long day, but being a city dweller, you probably have some excellent options. Hire a dog walker to take your dog out for a long stroll midday. Consider leaving her in doggie day care. Could you trade off dog care with another owner who works different hours? There are ways to make sure your Metrodog's needs are met. If none of this is an option, please consider some of the other wonderful companion animals, such as a pair of cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, or smaller birds, all of whom can be loving, affectionate, stay-at-home companions.
LONG EARS,WET BEARDS,AND FUZZY FEET
A Metrodog is exposed to all manner of dirt on his daily walks. Metrodogs with long ears and/or beards that drag on the sidewalk when they sniff or fuzzy feet that can track in the dirt when they come home require more maintenance to keep clean and tidy. Fastidious housekeepers may never be happy. Other people don't give it a second thought. You just have to know your personal tolerance for that sort of thing.
Everyone has a personal preference on breed or mixes. Most of those preferences are based on looks, and looks (beyond the amount of grooming necessary) are not what make a dog easy or not easy to live with. Delve deeper than that. Following are a few things to consider when thinking about which breed to get:
Beagles, Basset Hounds, Bloodhounds, etc. tend to be gregarious animals, with low territorial and dog-to-dog aggression. That is good in the city. On the downside, they can be eager garbage eaters and may never come reliably when called. Howling (baying) is a trait that was carefully selected for in these breeds, so don't be surprised by it.
Dogs like Greyhounds, Whippets, and Afghans are elegant animals who also have low territorial aggression and, despite being built for speed, can thrive on one good daily run in a fenced area. Usually this is a quiet group, not known for nuisance barking or being especially good watchdogs. However, few come immediately when called, and all can be a long way away, heading for danger, in seconds.
The active retrievers are always a popular choice, though not always an easy one because of their high exercise needs as young dogs.
Labrador and Golden Retrievers are the most common family dogs. Well bred and raised, they should love all other beings-two or four legged. They appeal to many people who don't take into account the big exercise requirements these dogs have in the first three or more years of life. They also tend to be oral, making chewing and eating garbage common problems.
The American Cocker Spaniel has taken the spotlight for decades, but the English Cocker, Springers (English and Welsh), etc. are equally charming dogs. Good ones are universally friendly beings; poorly bred ones are not. Their long coat (especially the American Cocker's) requires regular professional grooming.
Pointers and Setters
German Shorthaired and Wirehaired Pointers as well as Vizsla and Weimaraners seem the most popular pointers for the city. All three setters (English, Irish, and Gordon) also make their appearance. The issue for these dogs is exercise. Unless you have access to a large fenced area at least twice a day, energy-related behaviors such as barking, chewing, pulling, and jumping can be a problem.
Jack Russell, West Highland White, Cairn, and Soft-Coated Wheatens are just a few of the popular terriers. Small in size, large in heart, these dogs fit well into many apartments. A correct harsh coat of many terriers sheds dirt surprisingly well, though the Wirehaired Terriers will require professional grooming to stay neat and tidy. Terriers can be feisty, barking a great deal, picking fights with other dogs, and generally being a bit rowdy. Terrier people find this part of their charm.
Possibly the most numerous of all Metrodogs, the toys (Yorkshire Terrier, Maltese, Shih Tzu, Pug, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, etc.) are popular urban companions. A walk around a couple of blocks is enough for most of these dogs, who can get plenty of exercise even in a small apartment. Some require regular grooming. Some are barkers, others more quiet. Do your research; there are terrific companion dogs in the group.
For various reasons, some of the dogs in this group are hard to own in the city. The sled dogs (Siberian Husky, Malamute, Samoyed, etc.) crave vigorous daily exercise and can be soulful howlers as well as monumental chewers if bored/underexercised/undertrained. The guard dogs (Doberman, Rottweilers, Great Danes) need strong, consistent leadership to be the best they can be. If they are left undertrained and underexercised, aggression of various kinds can be a problem. The rescue/draft dogs (Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards, etc.) can actually work surprisingly well as Metrodogs if you have room for them in your home. They are something like a walking couch that sheds, drools, and needs long daily walks.
A catch-all group of dogs. Generalities aren't useful; research the history of each breed, and talk to breeders and rescue people to find out if the breed (or mix) you are considering would be a good choice.
Ranging from the low-to-the-ground Corgis to the ever-popular German Shepherd Dog, this group comprises people-focused, highly trainable dogs. They require vigorous daily exercise, consistent training, and thoughtful management or some can become problem dogs. More than a few herding breeds are sound sensitive, which makes life in the city a poor choice. All types of aggression are com-monly present in many of the breeds. For detailed information on the pros and cons of some of the most common breeds, please see our 1999 book, Paws to Consider.
Once you've chosen a few breeds or mixes to consider, what about the other details? Age? Gender? Watch-dog or guard dog?
Adult or Puppy?
Pups are charming and demanding. Are you ready for constant surveillance and round-the-clock teaching for the next few months? Adult dogs bond to you as well as pups (sometimes even better) and are through the more demanding developmental stages. Rescues may have behavioral problems that need resolving. Whichever you choose, choose carefully. Avoid impulsive choices. Consider hiring a trainer to help you select your dog. Get your dog (pup or adult) from rescues, shelters, or breeders that use formal temperament testing, have policies about not adopting out aggressive dogs, and will take back the animal that doesn't work out.
Male or Female?
Your choice. Both are equally wonderful. And since you will be neutering your companion regardless of gender (right?), it makes little difference. If this is your second dog, consider gender more carefully (see following); otherwise, select the dog whose temperament best suits your needs and don't worry about his or her plumbing.
Is This Your Second Dog?
If you are adding another dog to your family, consider the following:
ï Opposite sex. The chances of having a perfect match are better if your new dog is the opposite sex of your current companion. Yes, plenty of same-sex pairings get along like bread and butter, but if you do not have a strong preference, select the opposite.
ï Different age. The further apart dogs are in age, the less likely they are to clash. So adding a younger animal to the mix is your best bet, as that dog will probably fall in line behind your current dog.
ï Defers to first dog. Your second dog should defer to your first, meaning if your first gets between you and the new pup and lifts a lip, the new dog demurs with head low and eyes averted. A new addition who behaves in this way will not be likely to challenge the first dog.
ï Well-matched temperament. Being well matched does not mean being the same. A bold pup may be a perfect companion for a less confident older dog. The reverse is also true. Two of the same can be trouble, with two bold dogs getting into more trouble, two reactive dogs reacting off each other, and two shy dogs both scrambling to dive under the bed.
Watchdog or Guard Dog?
For many urban dwellers, fear is the norm. And a good answer to that fear can appear to be a dog trained to attack. What better protection can you have than a best friend ready 24/7 to protect?
Actually owning such an animal is more complicated (and dangerous) than it can appear. First of all, once a dog knows how to fight (and has been taught to enjoy fighting) with a human, she is no longer simply a "pet." Having a dog trained to the high level required for this work demands your time and energy as well-daily. You can't relax about maintaining training. Your insurance company will probably not cover a trained guard dog, so check that..A better plan is to have a well-trained responsive dog, a dog who is with you at the door, alert but under control. This can be quite intimidating, as people don't know how extensively your dog is trained. A dog who barks at strange sounds or activity, but is not trained to battle it out, is a watchdog, and that is the kind of companion most of us need. Let's face it, we're all much more likely to hear something go bump in the night than to actually have an intruder in our home. The thing most criminals want more than anything is to go unnoticed, and a barking dog foils that plan. But that bark does not need to be backed up with a bite.
Making a Rural Dog into a Metrodog
This is a huge shift for any dog and can be stressful for some, but it is usually doable. Expect some weeks of adjustment issues before your companion adapts fully to her new, unasked-for lifestyle change. Things you can do to make the adjustment easier include the following:
ï Walk her on lead before the move. Walk her on lead in the country so she gets used to urinating and defecating close to you. Many rural dogs find that aspect of urban life difficult at first. If your dog likes her privacy, putting her on a retractable leash can give her the distance she needs while still getting her used to being "on lead."
ï Walk her on pavement. Dogs who like to squat in grass often refuse to do so on concrete. If you can make a habit of walking your dog on your driveway or street for urinating and defecating, then rewarding her for compliance with a romp on the lawn, she should soon get down to business quickly.
ï Start a crating routine. If you plan to leave your dog for several hours in her new urban digs, you should start a crating routine now. Even a dog who is relaxed in a rural home may be restless and overstimulated in the city. A preestablished routine will help make the change in environment easier.
ï Training class. Find a class and go! Most non-Metrodogs see other dogs only occasionally, which can heighten their excitement and/or aggression toward strange dogs. In the city, your dog will face strange dogs daily, and getting her used to that event now will help her be calm later.
ï Discourage barking. Noise can be a major neighbor annoyer, so discourage it as soon as you can. Discouraging entails not rewarding it.
Adopting the Older Dog
Every year millions of people open their homes and their lives to deserving dogs. Anyone who questions a dog's ability to feel and express emotion should see the gratitude in an adopted shelter dog's eyes. Once you're home, there is much you can do to help your new companion adapt.
His new life begins today. Every interaction is teaching him what his new life is like, and if you indulge his every whim, he'll think that doing so is your purpose. Instead, direct him calmly and kindly. Start formally teaching him new things in low-stress, positive ways. This will also do an override on some old habits, creating new positive ways for him to respond to you, other animals, and the world.
Keeping him on leash with you in the apartment will both help bond him to you and prevent any previously learned "bad" behaviors from showing themselves. You'll be right there to praise and reward the right choices as well as calmly prevent or redirect the choices you don't like.
He's been under a great deal of stress, losing his first home, being in a shelter or foster program, and then coming to you. Whether he shows it or not, he needs rest, routine, and rewards.
You'll probably see a lot of anxious activity for the first few days. He may not lie down often or, if he does, may get up frequently. He may stick to you like glue or keep to himself. Both are equally normal.
Sign Up for Classes
After ten days or so, start some training. Either join a class or have a trainer who uses a positive approach come to your home. This will have multiple benefits, including building the bond, replacing some unhappy experiences with pleasurable ones, and getting to know your dog.
No matter where you look for your new companion, there are pros and cons. Following is a quick overview that we hope will inspire you to do some serious research.
Pro. Good breeders raise the pups in their home and handle them daily. Often training has begun, their animals are tested for common health problems, and you get a lifetime of support and advice for free.
Con. Not all breeders are good breeders, and people who aren't won't tell you (or even know) they aren't. Proceed with caution. Good breeders have one or two litters a year, health certifications, written contracts, spay/neuter requirements, and a lifetime return policy-they want their dog back any reason, any time, any age. If this is not what you are hearing, be suspicious. Do your homework, ask for professional referrals, and proceed with caution.
Open Admission Shelters
Pro. Open admission means these facilities take any dog who ends up on their doorstep. With a steady influx of a wide variety of dogs, euthanasia is necessary. So taking a dog from one of these facilities is making room for another dog to be there another day.
Con. Because they have no control over the dogs who come in, temperaments can vary widely. It is hard to have a temperament testing policy with the numbers some of these places handle. Great dogs are in there; just take an experienced dog person with you when you look.
Limited Admission Shelters
Pro. Normally privately funded, these shelters can pick and choose who joins their ranks. Because the numbers are controlled, temperament testing is easier to administer and keep up with. Often these facilities also have strong volunteer groups that do walking and training.
Con. A dog kept for months (sometimes years) in a shelter can go insane. Some shelters do not temperament test their dogs and, because of "no kill" policies, will adopt out dangerous animals-knowingly or unknowingly. Some limited admission shelters refuse to take back any animal you adopt from them that bites because, after all, they are "no kill." That is ridiculous. Any animal any shelter adopts out they should take back. Period.
Pro. Here are devoted people caring for homeless members of this breed. At its best, rescues make room at local shelters for more animals by taking their breed out, they educate potential owners about the breed's needs and tendencies, and they screen animals to make sure they are safe.
Con. At its worst, a rescue can be a group of dog lovers who don't believe any dog can be dangerous. They don't temperament test, and sometimes they adopt out aggressive dogs and then resist taking those dogs back. Such naivetÈ is rare, but always ask for testing and return policies.
Pro. They are convenient and take credit cards.
Con. Not only will you pay more for a poorly bred, stressed, often sick animal than you would at a top breeder, but you will also be supporting the puppy mill industry. Pet stores will all tell you they don't buy from mills. We can promise you one thing: No good breeder would ever sell an animal through a pet store. It would never happen. Good breeders want to know where each of their precious pups ends up and would not sell anonymously to any soul with a credit card. Donot buy anything from a store that sells puppies.
Copyright (c) 2001 by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson