Jan 292013

Sometimes our pooches think “What Happens in Obedience Class Stays in Obedience Class”.
But really, we work to reinforce the skills in our every day lives so the pooches can understand there is a relevance beyond the classroom.
Since we’ve been doing this, we’ve noticed how something as simple as “sit” has so many practical applications in everyday life:

Looking Both Ways Before Crossing the Street

We trained our pooches to automatically stop at curbs (they taught themselves to look both ways!).
There are just way too many cars that run stop signs so we always practice stopping, just in case. I’ve also heard if your dog ever gets loose, if they are accustomed to stopping at curbs, they won’t go running into the street. Has anyone experienced this?

Buying Food at Farmer’s Markets 

Farmer’s Markets can be insanely crazy with so many people, kids and other dogs. I was once walking through a market where a girl was holding a large dog and picking out flowers. The dog decided to bark and lunge at us, and the unsuspecting girl was pulled forward. She fell and rolled (twice!) just like a cartoon. Especially seeing that, I always put the pooches in a sit-stay when I’m at the market so I can concentrate on choosing tomatoes and paying with farmers without being worried about being pulled and flying forward. Like a cartoon.

“Sit” While I Clean up Your Dog Poo

We always put both of the dogs in sit stays when we’re picking up their poo. Sometimes the clean-up requires a lot of concentration, and a turned back, giving a pup at the end of the leash a chance to eat something without me noticing or even try to jump after a feral cat, squirrel, or jogger. We even have other people try to approach us with their dogs when I’m picking up poo. So to avoid the dogs suddenly jerking me while I’m holding poo in a bag (I think that would be a bad cartoon!) we taught them to stay in sit-stays where they are not allowed to move.

Modeling For Photo Opps

Ok, maybe it’s not necessary but we see so many amazing things in the city that we just have to pose our dogs in front of. We have done this so much, people who are watching ask us how we taught our pups to ‘model on command’.

A Seat at the Street Fest

We love hanging out on the curbs at street fests. Mr. B took ‘sitting’ to a new level and he taught himself to sit on the curb just like a human.

So what did we leave out? What are some other ways you reinforce “sit” and “sit-stays” in your everyday lives?

Using ‘parlor tricks’ on the streets
Getting ready for Spring Training!
Preparing for Farmer’s Markets

Oct 092012

I’m always surprised how many people think they can’t own bigger dogs because they live in a smaller space. One of the reasons we do write this blog is to show how people can live with big dogs in the city, even with a smaller space and no backyard.

We’ve realized that having this smaller space really has created a better connection with our pooches. When I was growing up we had a whole house, and I remember days where I would never interact with–let alone be able to locate–some of my pets. Living in a 2-bedroom condo with our 2 pups allows us to have a greater connection. Our lack of a backyard forces us to go on daily walks where they are exposed to all types of people, other dogs, and loud noises. Our time outside allows them to broaden their world where they can become more confident, and we can work on extra training where they become more well-mannered. I know this extra time together, socialization, and stimulation is more important than our physical space. Plus, I think our pooches do enjoy being in tight quarters:

We’ve realized it isn’t about the physical space the pooches use, but more about storing their stuff in the home. We have learned how to save space by blending our pooches’ beds into our decor,  though it has
been a bit cumbersome having more than 1 large crate in our home when we have our fosters.

What does everyone else think: how much space do dog truly need?

How our friends at Yellow Brick Home live fashionably in under 700 square feet with a large dog and 2 cats

When The City is your backyard.

Sep 252012

We know that too often people are quick to judge pit bull-type dogs, and some people will even judge the entire breed based on their experience with one single dog. Since I used to fall into that category too, we work extra hard to get our pooches out there and allow people to have positive interactions with the pups (sometimes it’s even the first time they’ve met a pit bull in real life!).
I learned one way to really get people to interact with the pooches is to take the ‘circus dog tricks’ we learned out of the classroom and into our everyday lives. Doing these tricks on our daily walks has increased the pooches’ focus and communication with us, plus we love when people come up to compliment us on how well behaved our pooches are. Here are some of our favorite tricks to draw an ‘audience’:


We use the ‘watch me’ command so the pooches are always checking in with us and paying attention. This helps with many of the distractions we find on our daily walks, not to mention the recent adoring comments from onlookers at an outdoor cafe seeing how two smaller breed dogs with ‘good reputations’ completely lunged and snapped at our pooches who were able to walk by without a reaction. We’ve also gotten a lot of people stopping us to say it looks like we are having a real conversation with our dogs.

Sit and Look Both Ways:

We have trained our pooches to stop and sit any time we stop walking and to automatically sit at corners. We have also taught Miss M a ‘look’ command where it looks like she is actually looking for traffic before crossing. This is another trick we love using at busy corners where there is outdoor seating (and we get great comments!).


This is one of our favorite Circus Dog Tricks that I never realized would have a realistic application. We like to use this one if kids or strollers pass by ‘looking at the doggies’. They are always amazed when the ‘doggy’ waves back at them. It’s also good to use when we’re stopped at a curb with people walking towards us, or we’re near a bus stop.
If people do seem edgy with the dogs, or over-react when they see us coming, I typically have Miss M over-act my completing a finish command–walking around me in a circle–and waving.

What other tricks or commands do you use to promote your pup?

Plus, the training command that changed our lives and Miss M’s most notable trick yet (that also helps with the chores!)

Sep 182012
I used to have a completely different perception of city dogs before I adopting my own. I thought every dog could frolic comfortably at the dog park.  That if you took your dogs out for a walk, they would just walk. And that your pooch would be perfectly fine if you tethered them while you ran errands.
Posing for a photo, the pooches don’t realize they’re not being held by a real human 
A lot of the stores here even promote ‘dog parking’ where they provide a tether and a bowl of water, and it does seem like a great way to couple a dog walk with errands.
When I became a dogowner in the city, I became more aware of reasons where I realized this wasn’t a good choice for us: 
Discomfort and Inability to Control Meetings:
Even the most well-behaved pooch can become uncomfortable, and even territorial, when left unattended. Even if you just step inside and you’re watching from the window, it is also difficult to control how passing people, children, and other dogs will interact with your dog when left unattended. A child could sneak up on your pooch, or an unfriendly dog could approach, and the unfortunate outcome would be your responsibility since they were left unattended.

Dog Thefts/ Escape:
There is actually a big problem in the city with dog thefts. People take unattended dogs from backyards, and it’s even easier to take them when left unattended on the sidewalk. With all the people who tell us we have beautiful dogs, and in the next breath ask us to breed our dogs, we never take the chance leaving our pooches unattended. 

Courtesy to Others:
We do realize a lot of people who are afraid, or just don’t like dogs; we think it’s only fair to respect everyone’s space. We’ve had several encounters where dogs had free-reign of the whole sidewalk making it difficult for us to pass. Even more frustrating is encountering dogs who are frustrated or territorial of their space, and trying to walk by with our own dogs (especially when dodging into a busy city street isn’t an option!).
At the same time, we have figured out a couple of ways where we can still combine errands and dog walks:
Call Ahead
When I call for carry out, I also mention I’ll be walking my dog and ask if I can call when I arrive and they can bring the order outside so I don’t need to leave my dog unattended. I’ve found people are always helpful and accommodating. I also make sure to give a bit of an extra tip.
Look for Accommodations
Most stores that don’t serve open food will allow well-behaved pooches. Our dogs have been invited into both Noble Grape and Lush wine stores. Mr. B frequently shops at Home Depot. We have also seen many walk-up windows, food carts and food trucks making it easy to grab a bite when with your pup.
Make it a Family Tradition
We found ‘family walks’ a good way to spend quality time together. Mr. B brings his backpack and one of us will always wait with the pooches while the other goes inside. It makes running basic errands that much more fun. 
If it does come to a point where none of these ideas is an option, we do make sure to leave the pups at home, or delay our errands until another time when we don’t have our dogs.
What are some other ways you incorporate running errands and walking your pooch?
Aug 152012

Have I ever mentioned how much we love living in the city? Between the community parties, pop-up carnivals, and weekly street fests it’s fun to always have things going on and be surrounded by people.
But sometimes…not. Sometimes the hordes of people can be a bit much and I wish that we did have a bit more green space. Or just space.
I guess they were also feeling this way ‘back in the day’ when they created Chicago’s Boulevard system and huge urban parks. It was the idea of creating a ‘city in a garden’ and creating surrounding greenery beyond the dusty, dirt roads.

We’ve recently had the chance to explore these gems which give us a break from city life. With plenty of green space, lagoons, weeping willows, formal flower gardens and amazing historical architecture we can find that bit of space which makes us all the more ready to return back to everyday city life.

Is this the type of break you other city dwellers take too? And if you live in a less populated area, do you feel the need for a ‘city visit’ every so often?

Jun 122012

The other week we wrote about renting apartments with bigger and pitbull-type dogs,and I think the second part of this is making sure that those of us that do have larger and pitbull-type dogs in shared-wall buildings make it a positive experience for everyone to encourage landlords and condo associations to allow bigger dogs in the building. Though we’re not perfect ourselves, here are some things we’ve noticed and are working on to make living with dogs a positive experience for everyone in the building.

Having an Awareness & Soundproofing:

We try to have an overall awareness of noises that could be loud for our neighbors. Miss M and I used to live in an apartment underneath a Cocker Spaniel, and I couldn’t understand why they were always hammering things. Then I realized, it was just the little Cocker Spaniel wagging his tail. If that little tail could make that much noise, I can only imagine how loud our dogs are. We try to keep our dogs from racing down the hall, and we know there are certain toys are too loud; chewing on a huge nylabone could sound like an avalanche. We do have alot of dog-friendly rugs to help muffle the sound which we wrote about here.

Inside Barking:

When Mr. B first came to live with us, he had a bit of isolation distress. For the first few days we were afraid to leave our home, and when we had to leave we could hear him barking down the block. We know this can be very difficult, and take long term training, but we found some things that worked specifically for Mr. B. We worked with our trainer who helped us figure out some techniques. We would confuse Mr. B so he would never realize when we were leaving. We tried not to let him know our routine (putting on shoes, getting car keys) and we’d even be out of sight and open and shut the door a couple of times so he never knew if we were home or gone. If we started barking, we would say “quiet”…for some reason it worked. We also started distracting our dogs with kongs, so they’d be so busy eating the kongs they wouldn’t realize we were gone. When we came home, we wouldn’t greet them immediately and we’d wait 10 minutes before acknowledging him; even then we wouldn’t be exciting so he wouldn’t think it was a big deal.

Being Likable:

 We know that not everyone likes dogs, so we try to make sure to respect people’s space. We make sure to move them to the side at doorways and on the sidewalk so people don’t have to step around them. We also know it’s important to be friendly and likable; people will be more forgiving. And we try to do some extra things around the building, like shoveling snow and killing weeds, to make up for instances when our pooches are a bit loud.

We are still struggling with our pooches being a bit over-excited in the morning for breakfast (remember this video?) and hoping they’re not too noisy downstairs.

We are always curious about other people’s experiences: what are some tips you’ve learned for living peacefully with your neighbors and promoting positive ideas of bigger dogs in buildings and condos?

PS. Read here for renting with pitbull-type dogs.

Jun 052012

In Chicago, we know how awful the winter can be, so we all make every effort to be outside.Our city is known for the many street festivals held every weekend. They are usually the same: closing down a major street and paying $5 to hang out, hear live music and grab a beer and an ‘elephant ear’ or two. Though we also find this to be something our whole dog and human family can do together. The pooches love the chance to meet people and be petted, we like letting people meet our pitbull-type dogs. It’s also the perfect place to expose our adoptable foster dog to a lot of people.

Last weekend we went to our first festival of the season (with a few dog friends). We realized the winter has made us a bit rusty, though here are some things we have learned over our years of festival-going:

Knowing Dog Triggers:

It actually took me awhile to take Miss M to her first festival because festivals have so many of her excitable triggers. She is always searching for discarded food scraps, and the mere smell of beer causes her eyes to grow large (I think her original owner used to drink with her!). We had to work on ‘leave it’ and focusing on me alot before I could even bring her to a festival. Though she still uses the opportunity to lunge after every loose french fry, I now know to anticipate it before she does.

The festivals also have a lot of drunk people grabbing at the dogs, loud bass, and other noises. Back in the day Miss M and I used to practice by sitting outside the parameter for awhile, so she could get accustomed to the bustle without it surrounding her.

Awareness of Space and Crowds:

The festivals can get really busy, so we’re always mindful of the crowds. We usually go in the early afternoon because later in the afternoon, and definitely in the evening, it becomes too crowded for us to walk.

We also notice a lot of other people who bring their dogs will just let their dog come right up to our dogs, many sneaking up from behind, and even with retractables which can end up getting tangled. Miss M, usually isn’t even aware of other dogs, but she didn’t like all the dogs who kept getting in her face. It has been easiest for us to just find a place on the curb to sit with our pooches so we have more awareness of who is approaching. Plus the pooches like watching the parade of people.

Planning Ahead

Just like people, pooches can get hot and sunburned. We make sure to plan ahead with one of our pre-packed ‘City Dog Essentials’ bags so we have water and a bowl, sunscreen for the pooches white areas, and a sarong to throw over the curb so they don’t have to sit on the hot pavement (though we do try to find the shady spots).

How does everyone else prepare their pooches for crowds in the summer?

PS. Flashback to this same festival last year where we brought our sweet new foster.

May 302012

Lately we’ve been getting a lot of questions from people wanting to move into the city. They are curious about the availability of rentals for large dogs, and pitbull-type dogs, and if there seem to be any issues transitioning a dog into a ‘city lifestyle’. These are just some experiences we’ve had, but we would love to hear everyone else’s thoughts and experiences.

Apartment Availability:

 We’ve found ourselves quite lucky that Chicago is a very dog-friendly city, and most of the limitations seem to be size and weight limits rather than breed restrictions. Miss M and I lived in two apartments before moving into our condo with E. Miss M and I lived in a building with 3 Labs, an Akita and a blind Cocker Spaniel. We’ve also found several neighborhoods with a large population of pitbull-types dogs; there seem to be a lot in the Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Wicker Park, West Town areas (Chicago people…what else am I missing?)

Interviewing with a Landlord:

Our first landlord was actually hesitant to allow a pitbull-type dog, so Miss M actually had to ‘interview’. Ok, it was really just showing up and letting the landlord meet her, but since she can be quite charming and persuasive, that was all she needed to move in. We’ve heard about people putting together portfolios with letters of reference, (from foster parents, former landlords, trainers), training certificates and photos for landlords who were hesitant to meet a dog. We also read this really great article from Bad Rap with many forward-thinking ways to work with landlords.

Choosing the Right Type of Rental:

We think the hardest thing about moving into the city, especially if your dog is accustomed to their own backyard, is learning to walk in the city. There are so many other dogs and distractions in the city, that it could be difficult for a dog to adjust if they’re not used to all the bustle. If you have 2-3 dogs, it would be a good idea to look for a rental with a backyard option until you and the dogs can get accustomed to walking at the same time. It took me a really long time to learn to walk 2 dogs at the same time, and I’ve never been able to walk our dogs plus a foster. And going on that many walks can be exhausting.

We would love to hear everyone else’s experiences about renting with dogs or transitioning into the city. Has it seemed to be an issue?

May 162012

One secondary side effect of owning dogs: we’ve become city explorers. Since we don’t have a backyard, and we have to be out there so much, this is the perfect excuse to explore different parts of the city. Did you ever imagine seeing something like this smack dab in the middle of Chicago?

Somehow taking a stroll with our pooches, and finding photo shoot opportunities, is much more interesting than hanging out in one place with a book. Plus we meet more people.

Has anyone else found owning dogs has caused you to become more of a city explorer?

May 152012

Maybe it’s considered a bit of a taboo topic, but it seems most questions people email us ‘offline’ involve the bathroom habits of city dogs. People often wonder, how do we take city dogs for emergency bathroom runs when we don’t have a backyard?  How our dogs know where to go to the bathroom when there aren’t trees or grass?  How do we have bathroom breaks in inclement weather? What is the best way to clean up poo?
These are our experiences in a walk up unit without a backyard, but fellow city dog owners feel free to jump in with your experiences…especially those of you in in high-rise buildings.

Making Bathroom Breaks Routine

A couple of people have asked us what we do when the pooches need to go to the bathroom at odd hours. Actually….we have our pooches on a routine, so I can count the rare number of times they have ever needed to go out in the middle of the night (7!). We have them on a schedule where they have walks after breakfast and dinner and have a bathroom break before bedtime. We don’t leave our water bowl out, but they have plenty of water with their meals and their diet is well-hydrated.
In the rare instances we do have to run outside, I happen to have a pair of slip on shoes waiting at the door at all times, along with a long coat. We even have a neighbor down the street who we often see in her bathrobe.
We also know some people who have pee pads out on their balconies which they used to potty train their dogs or just use when they don’t want to go all the way downstairs.

Learning to Pee on Cement

The lack of grass hasn’t actually been a big issue for our dogs. There are so many dogs that live in the city (we’ve counted 30 on our block alone!) that so many other pooches have peed on everything, our dogs are also just peeing on cement. Through there are plenty of hydrants, poles and sidewalk trees for Mr. B to water. Just check out this view from Mr B’s camera where you can see most of the photos are him scouting out his next place to mark.

Going for Bathroom Breaks in All Weather

 Despite the weather, our dogs still need to go out. And since we don’t have a backyard, we’re right out there with them. Here we wrote about what we do in the rain, and here are tips on keeping dogs warm in coats and with sweaters, snoods, and hoodies.

Picking up Dog Poo

 Fun fact: Did you know dog poo is actually like caviar for rats? So besides being disgusting, when people don’t pick up their dog poo it is actually helping increase the rat population. I will admit when I first adopted Miss M I was very squeamish about picking up the poo and I envisioned getting all kinds of rakes, and scoopers and gloves so I wouldn’t have to feel like I was actually picking up poo. But then, after doing it just a few times, you get used to it. We have a waste bag dispenser attached to our leashes and just buy the rolls of bags (cheaper via ebay!). It would be nice to have a more eco-friendly option, but it just doesn’t seem practical at this time. (Anyone else find one?)

So, how does everyone else manage your dogs’ bathroom habits?