New test measures dogs’ street savvy
They're skills any city dweller needs. Taking strangers and noisy streets in stride. Riding calmly in elevators. Hopping a cab or subway. And ignoring tempting food all around you.
Magneto is a 170-pound Leonberger dog. He was out to show he could do all that. He walked along a crowded Manhattan street this past week. He waited patiently with owner Morgan Avila for a light to change, climbed in and out of a curbside car and proved unfazed by a fallen McDonald's bag and a hug from a passer-by.
Soon, Magneto was officially declared an "urban canine good citizen." That is the American Kennel Club's new title recognizing proper city-dog behavior.
"This ultimately will help the cause of dogs everywhere," AKC training director Mary Burch says.
The test is being introduced at a time when Americans are showing increasing interest in bringing dogs along in public settings. States including California, Florida and Maryland have started allowing dogs on restaurant patios in the last decade. Similar laws are waiting to be sent to New York's governor.
Many dogs readily go with the flow of city life. But even dog fans agree there's room for some improvement.
"It's more that the owners could step up their game," Barbara Jaffe said. She owns a shih Tzu, Daisy and lives in Manhattan. The dog unexpectedly revealed pet manners, lying down calmly while awaiting a train at Penn Station.
The AKC has offered a basic "canine good citizen" test for 25 years. More than 700,000 dogs have passed. And the AKC has added a more advanced "community canine" title last year. Those tests can be done at a dog show or training center. But the new urban exam unfolds in "a more practical real-world setting," Burch said.
Open to both purebred and mixed-breed dogs, it's no simple sit-and-stay challenge. The animals need to lie down. For example, they must stay put for at least three minutes while their owner browses in a dog-friendly business or snacks at an outdoor eatery.
About 500 of the estimated 70 million or more dogs nationwide have passed the test since its April launch.
Trainers estimate preparing takes at least a few months. But "it's fun. You're no longer just practicing 'sit' in the backyard," says trainer and examiner Marti Hohmann of Wellington, Florida.
Sophie, a dachshund, competes in obedience. The urban canine test posed other challenges. They included dealing with lots of people seeking to pet her, said owner Catherine Anne Cassidy. She lives in Tequesta, Florida.
"Dogs have to know you and trust you really well" to pass, Cassidy said. Her dog Sophie did pass. But "it will make everything, walking around the city with your dog, so much easier."
It also may be beneficial at home. Some homeowners' insurers have been more open to covering certain breeds with the basic canine good citizen title, Burch said. New York real estate agent and dog rescuer Barbara Fox says the city-canine title could help get a pet accepted at co-ops and condos. Burch added that buildings shouldn't demand that animals pass tests.
Magneto and two of Avila's other Leonbergers, Hollywood and Mr. America, sailed through. They're show and theater dogs with plenty of training. Enthusiasts say any dog can and should try for the urban canine title.
"Your dog will be better. You'll be better. And you'll be able to spend quality time with your dog doing things," Avila said.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why must city dogs have street savvy?
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