First, not to bury the lead–the book Considerations for the City Dog is a great book. I’ll explain more about that later in this post, but let me start by describing how I learned about the book:
In October 2015 my office got a call from the local post office. “You have to get down here right away. There is a package for you that is NOT media mail, although that is how it was sent. $2.61 is due before you can take possession of this package.” These words were said, through pursed lips by the postmistress in the Black Earth Post Office. They were followed by a lecture about the definition of media mail, that only books can be sent as media mail (which is less expensive than regular mail), and that we were to cease and desist engaging in such processes.
Except, uh, we didn’t send the package; it was addressed to us. Nor did we know what to do with the contents, which contained nothing but rusty dental tools. The package, badly damaged in transit, contained five or six large, metal dental picks, the kind that the hygienist uses when she cleans your teeth. And they were covered in a sandstone-colored film of rust. I am happy to say that, when I checked, the local dental office assured me that they did not order them. This is good, because that’s where I get my teeth cleaned.
The package showed a return address for M. McCue-McGrath in Massachusetts. Not someone I know. Curious, never having received rusty dental tools before, I wrote a snail mail letter asking if perhaps s/he had noticed at a speech I’d given that there was a problem with my dental hygiene? Or had a book or manuscript been sent which some how fell out? Sure enough, Ms. Melissa McCue-McGrath wrote back and explained she had gathered the courage together to send me a copy of her new book, Considerations for the City Dog. She sent if off media mail, being assured by the post office that it fit the criteria.
While all of us in my office were scratching our heads, Ms. McCue McGrath received a certified letter from the Black Earth Post Office that pretty much stopped her heart from beating, threatening her as it did with doom if she ever tried to use media mail again. She called the post office and finally the mystery was solved. Somehow, somewhere, the book must have fallen out in close proximity to another package containing rusty dental tools. The contents were switched, and somebody in an unknown city is wondering where the hell their rusty dental tools are. (And why would anyone ever want rusty dental tools? I am relieved to report–all other explanations being downright creepy–that artists and house painters use them to dig paint out of tiny cracks. Whew.)
Fast forward a few weeks later—I got the book, and loved it. She had me at the first chapter’s subtitle: “Bigger isn’t always better, and smaller isn’t always city-friendly.” Ah, music to my ears. How many times have I seen clients who lived in an urban area and got the wrong dog for their lifestyle? As Melissa reminds us, carrying a two-hundred pound mastiff up and down the stairs after surgery and the elevator goes out is not a prescription for fun. American Eskimo’s are small, adorable, and can be carried up the stairs in a crisis, and were bred to be watchdogs who bark when a butterfly emerges from its cocoon in China. Apartment dwellers, take note.
There’s lots to love in this book, from a realistic discussion about on versus off-leash considerations, dogs who don’t want to go on a walk in the city, why some city dogs really do need coats, and critically, the warning that hot concrete can burn your dogs paws. (The effect of substrate and temperature on a dog’s paws is often overlooked by even the most loving of dog owners.)
The fact is, all animals are strongly affected by their environment, and the life of a city versus a suburban versus a country dog is profoundly different. We are all wise to remember that.
Full disclosure: I ran into Melissa when on book tour outside of Boston when speaking for the New England Dog Training Club, and found her delightful. Bonded by our adventure with rusty dental tools, and fueled by a glass of wine, I asked her to come visit the farm sometime. She accepted, and was here the weekend before last. I was hoarse after she left, because the two of us couldn’t stop talking. And laughing. And more laughing. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt–think Pilates via the Comedy Channel. And then, of course, there was food involved. Did I mention gin? Her description of her visit is on her own blog, MuttStuff, and it is well worth a visit. So, does my friendship with her influence my recommendation of her book? Probably, so noted. But even if she’d arrived grim and grumpy, I’d still like the book. I just wouldn’t be so happy to have made such a new, good friend.
Jim convinced us to stop at the Pope Farm Conservancy for Sunflower Days on our way home from getting the worst manicure we’ve ever had (Melissa and I, Jim passed on the opportunity.) Trisha: “Please can you make him stop brutalizing my feet while ‘massaging’ them?” No, you don’t speak any English either?” The sunflower foolishness and the vision and generosity of the Pope family made it all worthwhile.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: What a perfect example of city versus country dog. A friend Sarah brought her dog Jobin to have a chance to stretch his legs in the country, and let him play with a dog outside of his usual pack. Maggie needed exactly the same thing (she meets tons of dogs off the farm, but not many on it), and it was pure delight to watch them play together. Jobin started off trying to leap on top of Maggie, which she discouraged with some impressive tooth displays. (Too bad I got no photos of that, we were busy walking up the steep hill.) I didn’t say a word, because I thought her behavior was appropriate. And so was Jobin’s. “Oh, don’t play like that? Okay. Maybe we could play race horse then?”
And so they ran and ran and ran. . . and ran and ran and ran up in the big pasture. After their tongues were lolling they began playing a bit more up close and personal, completely appropriately. Lucky dogs. And lucky us for getting to watch them play. There’s not much that makes me happier than that.
I can’t explain why I love this next photograph so much, given that Jobin is half out of the picture, but maybe it’s because it gives a sense of the speed and power of these two dogs. They are both amazingly athletic. No fooling.
Maggie still felt a need to tell Jobin to mind his manners. He did. He just couldn’t resist trying every once in a while. Such a guy.
I hope your weekend included moments of joy too.
Alice R. says
Boy, do I wish I had access to a Maggie! I have a 2 year poodle mix with an inappropriate play style (think lots of hugs and getting on shoulders). He did not have playmates as a puppy except for the rare dog that visited, and I was unable to find well socialized playmates. He loves dogs, but is a bit nervous around them. Dog parks are out of the question for obvious and not so obvious reasons. I have just now found a playmate…another poodle mix (9 mos) with some inappropriate play habits as well, but they seem to get on so I’m hoping it’s the lesser of two evils. I can find no learning playgroups for pups over 5 months.
I’ll look for the book; it will be a useful resource. We live in the suburbs, but I think the environment has more in common with the city than the country. Thank you for recommending it.
Minnesota Mary says
Being an active rescue foster home, I’ve had nearly 50 dogs in the city of Minneapolis. Fortunately, there are sidewalks everywhere and all are 80-90% covered by a canopy of trees so the sidewalk temperature doesn’t get bad at all. I worry more about the lawn chemical pellets spread over the sidewalk by my weed-despising neighbors or the thick layer of salt I sometimes find in the winter. Personally I would plant creeping charlie all over the place to keep the mud out of my house rather than having a thick, chemically laden dark green lawn. But I digress.
City dogs adjust to the traffic and the noise and the other dogs on leash. I take an active leadership role at all times during our twice-daily walks, especially when a loose dog approaches. My foster dogs have sometimes been fearful, which takes time to rehabilitate. But I’ve never had a failure with those! In fact, the city contributes to my success for all dogs. They are constantly exposed to new things, constantly socialized with little kids, other dogs, loose cats, rabbits, raccoons, etc. They learn to accept new experiences quickly. If they are hesitant to do this initially, we tailor the experience for them by having our walks super early in the morning before many people are out.
The dogs I own and foster are mostly huskies. Not a small breed, but not giant either. I’d be hard pressed to haul one in my arms over any distance, but I have a ton of neighbors who are close friends who would love a chance to help.
Part of the appeal of the huskies is their complete lack of territorial instinct. (The other side of the coin being that when they get loose, they tend to run long distances and need intervention to get home). When someone knocks at my door, they want to see if the visitor brought them any treats. I swear, a burglar would be greeted with kisses and shown where the good stuff (treats) is kept. Plus the huskies don’t tend to bark much – rather they ululate, or talk. Or howl when a firetruck goes by with the siren on.
Cities are great places for dogs, especially ones like Minneapolis with lots of park space.
Thank you for providing me with my evening’s entertainment through one of the most entertaining and joyous blog posts I have ever read! It may be just me and this evening, but your mix of silly and suspense hit the spot. And now I have a new book on order. Did you know Melissa has had 33 reviews on Amazon averaging five stars? .https://www.amazon.com/Considerations-City-Dog-Melissa-McCue-McGrath/dp/0996275509
I don’t tend to agree with all reviewers or even any, but a five star dog book is something I have to read! And no, I don’t live in the city. And no I don’t know Melissa.
lee williams says
What a great way to start the day–laughing at the rusty dental tools story and picture of Jim!
And, of course, the pictures/descriptions of play/manner checking—these would make be great twitter posts, or maybe you could give the pups a twitter feed of their own!
I live in a “integrated” area. We have lots of farmland with cities nearby so lots of parks, too. I rarely go without returning upset by something I’ve witnessed (how a dog has been treated). Yesterday I watched a dog desperately trying to tell her human she’d had enough walking (I also think she was thirsty), and the handler constantly saying, “leave it!” to her as she pulled to go toward the parking lot.
Friday, I watched a Boston Terrier mix being reprimanded by his human because he was responding to a large Collie walking toward him; the human attached to the large Collie didn’t bother to put the Collie on the outside of the sidewalk to give the little guy some space.
I’m irritated by people walking their dogs on hot pavement, while the humans are wearing protective covering on their feet (shoes). I’m distressed at people who run with their dogs in the middle of the warm, sunny day, even though it feels cool to the human not wearing a fur coat. I’m annoyed by people who give their dogs two feet of a six foot lead and by those who refuse to let their dogs read pee-mail.
I hope the book helps some dogs to have happier lives.
Question: should Jobin’s front clip harness be removed while playing?
Thanks for another great blog post!
To Minn Mary: Congratulations on your success with Huskies in the City. Good work. I should add however, that not all dogs can adapt to city life. I’ve seen some dogs get worse, not better because they were sensitized over time rather than desensitized.
To lee: Eeeps, you are absolutely right that we should have taken Jobin’s harness off before play. Thanks for the reminder.
You just raised a good point regarding appropriate and inappropriate play style and good and poor dog communication. I’ve been watching and learning as my 11.5 yr old teaches and corrects the manners of my 16 mo old and 8 mo old dogs. It’s truly amazing to see just how clearly he communicates and they listen and learn (granted the adolescent pushes the boundries much more than the 8 mo old does).
What is concerning me is the play between the 16 mo old and the 8 mo old dogs. For the most part, they do really well as both have very good temperaments. But the 16 mo old has played what seems to me to be way too rough for the puppy. He has from the day he came home at 9 weeks. I supervise their play intensely as I do not want the size disparity to accidentally cause injury to the puppy.
Fortunately, the puppy is smart and learned early on to either run under a chair, or against a wall when the adolescent got the ‘zoomies’ to avoid being run over. Then he learned that during rough play, if he proactively ran and threw himself to the ground before getting ‘tackled’, he avoided the more rough play and didn’t get hurt. They love to play and stalk each other.
I still get concerned about when to intervene (for safety) and when to let them work it out. . . . . . especially when those adolescent hormones start kicking in
When I decided to get my first purebred dog, I was living in NYC. I chose the flat coat. The breeder told me she would never let a dog of hers live in the city, so I told her that was good because I happened to be moving to the suburbs in a few months (white-lie alert). So she let me have the dog. I took great delight in sending her pictures of my happy, wonderful dog swimming in the fountains and lakes in Central Park and playing and walking with other dogs in the park during off-leash hours. Once she saw how happy the dog was she forgave me for “misleading” her and I think I changed her mind about how terrible life is for dogs in the city.
The thing is that if you live in the city, in an apartment, with no backyard, you can’t leave your dog out in the yard all day like so many of my neighbors in the suburbs do. I tell everyone who is thinking of getting a dog in the city that a dog can have a wonderful life in the city, but you pretty much have to give up most of your social life. You can’t go out for a drink or dinner after work. You have to get home right away and walk your dog. That’s why I always advise younger people not to get a dog in the city. The best part about being a young adult in the city is the social life. Before I got a dog I rarely went home directly from work. I also worked long hours while crawling my way up the corporate ladder. Two things not conducive to a healthy dog-owning experience.
But once I grew out of the “party” period and just wanted to meander through Central Park with a furry pal, I got myself my first dog as an adult. It was fantastic. Even tho I don’t live in the city anymore, I still miss the tight dog community that exists in a city that is mostly short on nature. True, some dogs’ temperaments are not cut out for city life, but it was rare that I met a dog in the city who was fearful of cars or people. Most of them were raised in the city, so they were used to bicycles and skateboards whizzing by. I used to have to keep my dog from running up to every homeless person on the street since she thought they were all on the sidewalk to talk to her (and some of them were).
I do agree size has nothing to do with whether a dog is fit for city life. One dog that is great for the city is a greyhound. They need to be on leash all the time anyway and they love sofas. In my opinion, owning a dog in the city has less to do with the dog and more to do with timing.
One thing that I didn’t think of was how I would lose touch with my dog’s bowel health once I moved out of the city. City dog owners can talk endlessly about the condition of their dog’s poop since we are forced to monitor it up close and personal. And it’s absolutely necessary to keep our dog’s digestive system running smoothly otherwise we will be dragging our sorry selves out on the street at 4 in the morning or cleaning up a mess when we wake up. Now I usually don’t know how my dog is “doing” until I clean up the yard on the weekend and since I have 2 dogs, I don’t always know who did what.
Those play photos are wonderful! My litmus test for how much a person loves dogs is how happy they get when watching dogs play. True dog lovers get that dopey smile on their face and have been known to laugh out loud while never getting bored of the show.
Thank you for the laughs & info about Melissa’s book! The city dog vs. country dog story reminds me of our first Lab. Murphy was a suburban, sometimes country, dog. She walked on leash along our street, but otherwise spent her life off-leash running through the Wisconsin grass, woods, and corn fields. My husband & I were attending a wedding in downtown Chicago. Friends who lived there said they would love to take care of Murphy for the weekend so we dropped Murphy off on Friday evening & picked her back up Sunday morning. Turns out that Murphy didn’t realize that she could pee on concrete! They walked her long distances each day to find solitary patches of grass for her to squat upon. 😉
My face muscles hurt from grinning…
Thanks for this line, “bred to be watchdogs who bark when a butterfly emerges from its cocoon in China,” and a happy start to my day. Oh, and of course, for the book recommendation!
I laughed so hard at the dental implements fiasco! What a bizarre thing to happen, and what a tailor-made method to zoom straight past the nervous-to-meet-an-admired figure stage and into the camaraderie of sharing an unexpected moment in a ever-surprising world.
When we first adopted Otis the Great Dane, we lived in an apartment in the city (admittedly a large first floor flat with a little patch of backyard in a small and neighborly city) and it was fantastic. City life does present a few extra challenges- the need to walk the dog multiple times per day, and to find ways to cope with pavement (hot, icy, and Otis’ personal nemesis–salted), but there are compensations, too. Social, confident Otis did terrifically well in the city and we met many dogs living lives that would be the envy of most of their suburban cousins- walked five times a day! brought along every time the humans walk to the shop/post office/ to pick up takeout! Dozens of new people to see! Miles of scent-filled sidewalks! playing with dog friends in the park every day!For dogs who are suited to a higher stimulation environment, city life can be wonderful.
I have to put a plug in for the giants as well- obviously a giant dog takes up a certain amount of space, and wherever you live, if you share your life with a big animal, you must take physical logistics into account, but honestly, size matters less than one might think. Otis- confident, outgoing, quiet, and lazy (even in his wild youth, Otis spent upwards of 14-16 hours per day asleep by his own preference) was a perfect apartment dog (or would have been, if not for his gi problems for the first six months).
Our upstairs neighbor, who kept different hours than we did, got the shock of her life late one night when she returned home with a few friends after a very rare late night out. Instead of smoothly unlocking the outer door and walking up the stairs to her apartment as usual, she rattled the knob as she fumbled for her keys. Otis, woken from sleep, exploded into a torrent of deep, growly, LOUD barking from our front porch facing windows that nearly scared the pants off them. We ran into her the next day and as we mutually apologized for the ruckus, she said, “I had no idea you had a dog.” Otis had been living with us for nearly eight months at that point.
Now this is not to say that all giant dogs would make good city dwellers- Otis’ quiet, calm disposition was key to his happiness and success, and the fact that we were on the first floor (only a couple of front steps to negotiate but more importantly, no thunderous dog feet disturbing downstairs neighbors and most importantly, quick access to the outdoors) was an important part as well. But in our case, size and suitability had almost no bearing on one another.
And, BTW, that is one bizarre story about the dental tools. I think I would have freaked out and thought someone was sending me some threatening message that had something to do with The Marathon Man. “Is eeet safe?” 🙂