With discomforting frequency, the urban dogs we encounter are decked out in designer dog gear and learning the top-trending cult training methods, but they are not happy, healthy, or well-behaved. They are anxious, hyper, socially awkward, destructive, or all of the above; basic requirements for health and happiness are missing. What has brought us to this point, and what can we do about it?
After years of research, work, and analysis, Ovidiu and I have observed two major shifts that converged to form the root of these problems: most dogs in the United States are now living in an urban habitat; and, parents are more regularly encouraged by “experts” to find solutions for behavior that are external to the parent-dog relationship. Let’s dig into these changes to understand how they are affecting dog wellness.
For the first time in history, the vast majority of dogs in the United States live in the city or suburbs but resources and guides for dog parents have fallen behind. They continue to ignore foundational questions about how to provide exercise, activity, and training for urban pups. These needs can certainly be met, but without access to vast spaces where dogs can explore the natural world off leash, it is a task that requires thought and creativity. On the flip side, the biggest advantage of urban life for dogs is the diverse range of opportunities for socialization – a key part to maintaining balance and good behavior. Unfortunately, many puppies we meet are already developing anxiety because their parents were not given proper guidance on how and when to socialize their dogs in the city.
The problems we see are not due to a lack of care or concern. On the contrary, alongside this increasing population of urban dogs is a generation of parents with the will and economic means to do whatever it takes to make their pups happy, and a booming industry that is capitalizing on this relatively new market. It’s easy to understand why. The pet industry is a $260 billion business, and everyone wants a piece of the pie. But in the deluge of products and advice, dogginess in all its natural glory is left behind.
In our new book, Whole Dog Parenting: Everything You Need to Raise and Train an Urban Pup, we address these problems by offering parents an alternative perspective and an accessible set of tools. Whole Dog Parenting gives readers a candid and evidence-based guide to navigating city life with pups while nurturing their natural needs, but it is more than a book. It is an ethos that captures the relational aspect of raising a dog, and we hope this new way of thinking about the parent-dog relationship gains traction. Parenting (as opposed to owning) is a lifelong role that cannot be outsourced. Parents seek help from experts and send their dogs or kids to school, but they know that they must do the daily homework of building a relationship of trust, establishing boundaries, and communicating clearly. Parenting isn’t just about teaching skills; it is about care, nutrition, fun, adventure, companionship, and love. Only with this holistic package – one that must be built and not bought – can we expect our furry family members to be happy, healthy, and well-behaved. Training becomes fun when the proper foundations have been laid because the hard part is done!
Urban dogs can have it all, and as parents, our lives are enriched by sharing the experiences that our pups need. A walk in the park becomes an off-leash sensory adventure and the dog run becomes a community space to make human and canine friends. By turning the urban environment into a learning opportunity and reorienting parents to the lifestyle required for maintaining good behavior, we hope we can start to turn the tide. We can’t wait for you to join us on this journey!