What is a City Walks Class?
Tammy Rosen, CPDT-KSA

We tend to focus most of our training at home with not enough practice outdoors on our walks, or in new places like at a pet store, while dining at an outdoor café, or while walking through a crowd.  Some dogs can easily get overwhelmed when taken to new places.  Each new environment presents a challenge for the dog.

To better understand why, let’s think about the home environment.  Unless you have guests over daily, this setting is fairly predictable and offers little distraction to your dog.  This is why it is the perfect setting to begin your training.  In this setting, dogs are also more interested in what we are doing and may follow us around the house.  They seek out our attention because we offer them stimulation and rewards by providing affection, food, treats, praise, toys, play, etc.  We are what makes the home environment lively and exciting.

Step outside and that all changes.  Now the dog has the opportunity to sniff new things, meet new people or other dogs, chase squirrels, run, etc.  The great outdoors offers so many other rewards that the challenge for us is to incorporate those rewards into our every day training.  The first step towards reliability outside the home is proofing behaviors.

We thought about these challenges and we developed our City Walks class to help you and your dog gain confidence to meet any obstacle the outdoors may present.  The class builds on the basic training tools you’ve learned in our Levels Program or any other basic obedience class.  It is also a good option for you to combine with Level 4 classes to work towards the Canine Good Citizen or preparing your dog for therapy work.

What can I do to improve my dog’s reliability when outdoors?
Whether you’ve attended an obedience class, hired a private trainer, or read a book and trained your dog on your own, you know that dogs need practice before their behaviors become reliable. We can measure a dog’s reliability by asking these questions:

  • Does the dog perform the behavior the first time you ask?
  • Does the dog perform the behavior within 5 seconds of being asked?
  • Does the dog perform the behavior with accuracy?
  • Does the dog perform the behavior and hold it for a count of 10 or until you release?
  • Does the dog perform the behavior 5 out of 5 times?

Through repetition and consistency, we can build solid behaviors that have reliable execution.  For example, if we ask our dogs to sit and wait before they eat out of their dinner bowl, and we do this every day, over time we can establish a high degree of reliability where the dog will sit and wait to be released to eat his dinner.  Once the dog performs reliably in this setting, we can introduce more distractions, new environments, and practice in different contexts.  But not all at once!

Take this very example where the dog sits and waits to eat his dinner.  If your dog does this reliably in the kitchen, moving the food bowl to a new room in your house may yield different results.  What happens if you move the food bowl exercise to your front porch?  What if instead of asking the dog to sit and wait, you ask for a down and wait?  What if another dog is present?  What if another person is present?  What if you are sitting on the floor?  What if you leave the room?  Working on these scenarios will help you proof the behavior for added reliability. 

But how does a sit and wait to eat behavior strengthen my dog’s reliability while out for a walk?  In this example the dog is practicing impulse control and taking direction from you.  This behavior is easily transferrable to other situations like sit and wait to greet an approaching person or dog.  You can require the dog to first look to you for permission and then reward by giving your dog the opportunity to greet.  You would use distance as the context to proof this behavior by asking your dog to sit at a great distance away from the other dog until you could gradually get close enough to the other dog that your dog will still sit and ask for permission to greet.  The key to reliability outside the home is to practice as often and be as consistent as you would inside the home.  These are the skills you will learn in our City Walks class.

Is my dog suitable for a City Walks class?
The City Walks class is suitable for dogs that have attended a basic obedience class or had private obedience training. We assume the dogs have some general obedience background and can perform basic cues like providing attention, sit, down, leave it, stay, and polite leash manners in a low distraction environment such as your home or out for a walk when no other distractions are present.  The class is designed to provide real life distractions to proof behaviors so that you can obtain better reliability with these cues in an outdoor setting or any novel setting.

Assuming your dog is sociable and enjoys meeting new people, other dogs, and going places with you, then this is the right class for you.  If you have a dog that is overly reactive to dogs, this class is not suitable and you may want to look into our Reactive Dog class.  If your dog is fearful of new things, people, dogs, environments, noises, and generally lacks self-confidence in novel situations, this class is not suitable and you may want to look into our Confidence Building class.

How does a City Walks class work?
Our class is designed to take the concepts we learn in the classroom and apply them to the outdoors in a real world setting.  We meet at a local shopping center, a setting that provides city-life distractions such as encountering strangers, children, dogs, bicyclists, joggers, and traffic that surrounds us.  We will work through scenarios on how to keep our dogs calm and focused on us in this type of setting. 

These are just a few of the things we will work on during class:

  • We will incorporate the use of real-life rewards when our treat bag and clicker are not accessible and what that would look like while out for a walk in the park. 
  • We will focus on improving our leash manners and how to get our dogs to settle so we can enjoy a coffee, hold a conversation with someone, or enjoy dining at an outdoor café setting. 
  • We will teach our dogs impulse control and focused attention while shopping in a local pet store. 
  • We will teach our dogs appropriate greeting behavior for dogs and people.
  • We will improve our leash manners so the dog chooses to walk with us rather than pulling ahead.

How much will the City Walks class help?
It is important to expose your dog to novel settings often, so that you can practice and make improvements in your training.  This class will provide you with the techniques you can apply to any new place you take your dog.

The following is a testimonial from Sarah Jernigan who enrolled her dog Toby in our City Walks class.

City walks was a great class for our dog Toby.  Toby is a little nervous around new situations so we wanted to take his training out of the classroom and into the real world.  City Walks was the perfect opportunity!  It gave us the chance to see a variety of real life settings and create solutions on how to deal with them.  This took our "target" and "watch me" training out of the classroom and into everyday settings.  Toby now joins us when we are going out for an evening, and he has become very confident in walking though large crowds or when a sudden noise or movement startles him.  Mostly because we now have the right tools to help him be successful!  City Walks is the best class to take your basic obedience to real life situations!

Sarah and her husband adopted Toby from Lucky Dog Animal Rescue and within a month of adopting him, enrolled him in our Levels classes.  At that time, Toby had some separation anxiety, resource guarding issues, problems with vet visits, getting his attention while around distractions, and some sensitivity to dogs in close proximity.  Toby spent 4 months in our Levels classes, took our City Walks class, and has recently become a Canine Good Citizen.  They are continuing to further their training and enhance the bond they have built with Toby and have enrolled in our Fun Tricks class.

If you are have questions about our City Walks class and want to be sure this is the right class for you, email Trainer@furgetmenot.com.