How you can tell when your country dog has become...a city dog

 
Turning Point Jazz Club Piermont, NY

Turning Point Jazz Club Piermont, NY

8-wk. old Moki in the country

8-wk. old Moki in the country

Moki was born in the "deep country." His first home was in northern Connecticut, a couple of miles away from the UCONN campus, where his breeder lived on many acres of land and there was hardly any traffic on the quiet streets. He came home with me to Piermont, New York, which is not really rural (from the end of the Piermont pier that juts out onto the Hudson, you can see part of the NYC skyline), but a sleepy little village in the lower Hudson Valley, particularly in the nine non-summer months when tourists don't crowd onto its quaint streets and swarm all over the art galleries and The Turning Point, a little jazz venue in the town center.

By the time Moki was about three, he'd developed a fiercely protective stance where I was concerned. He would lunge and bark at anyone who walked toward us with a dog on a leash, and his wolf-like look and loud bark was scary, especially to young kids. So, because my house had a fully fenced-in backyard for him, I tended not to take him on walks through the leafy walking paths that had been created out of a former railroad line. 

Moki the Fierce enjoying the back yard at my Piermont house

Moki the Fierce enjoying the back yard at my Piermont house

Sisters-Mercy Community Westchester, NY

Sisters-Mercy Community Westchester, NY

I spent mucho, mucho dinero on classes called "Grumpy Growler" and "Feisty Fido" with wonderful trainers like Sabine Hellge, who were fierce proponents of operant training methods. Every summer Sabine held classes outdoors in Westchester at a beautiful, grassy convent where six or seven of us with these "grumpy growlers" tried to instill in our dogs the fact that you can't really be a member of polite society if you lunge at humans and four-legged creatures on a regular basis. Nothing seemed to stick, so Moki was relegated to my backyard, where he enjoyed playing ball and running around but mostly by himself (unless the occasional skunk or hedgehog ambled into our yard under the fence). I developed such anxiety about his "antisocial" behavior, that I started to lose hope he could change.

City.jpg

Then, in July, the country dog moved to the city (and Moki came too!). Suddenly we were in Manhattan, in an apartment, with sirens and car horns and bicycles and all kinds of noise we didn't hear much in Piermont. Moki was seven, so he'd lived for a long time in the 'burbs. In the city, people come in all different colors, speaking many different languages. And in the city, one doesn't have much choice--if you walk your dog, which you need to do from time to time, you encounter cars, dogs, people, baby carriages; and you listen to chatter and the noise trucks make when they back up and random screams and kids yelling--you know what I mean. I was loving it, but Moki was having a new experience that stressed him out.

 

I've written about my wonderful dog walkers before--Paulo Rocha and Andrés Fonseca. Paulo's great contribution was that he told me what I'd surmised: Moki was a different dog when I wasn't at the other end of the leash. After that, Andrés did most of the "heavy lifting." He read a bunch of dog training literature (way over and above what he signed up for), and soon he reported back that Moki really did great out there on the "mean" streets of the city--didn't react, didn't lunge, actually socialized with other dogs.

Moki and Andrés chillin' in Central Park  

Moki and Andrés chillin' in Central Park

 

So when Andrés went off for a few months to pursue his dreams, studying native music in his native Colombia, I got brave. I bit the bullet and took Moki out for a walk--not too long, just around the corner from my apartment and back. And to my amazement, Moki did great. He did his usual sniffing (of everything), but people of all sizes, ages, shapes, and colors passed by us, and he didn't even look up. And baby carriages approached from behind, and he was completely phlegmatic and let them go by without incident. And when he "did his business," he sat calmly as I bent over and picked it up, ignoring the passing dogs.

After that first walk, my anxiety lessened. The walks got longer. Moki was really excited whenever I put on his harness and attached the leash. And he was happy to explore all the city places I wanted to explore. I found the Lycée Francais around the corner, John Jay Park a couple of blocks down from that, and a walking bridge that took us over the very noisy FDR Drive and onto a path along the East River, where boats and barges passed us in the water and many runners and bikers and dogs shared the path with us. Today, because he's been having some health issues, I walked Moki to the Animal Medical Center, which is about fourteen city blocks away. The AMC is to the animal world what Mass. General or NY Presbyterian Hospitals are to the human world--a huge teaching hospital with a waiting room that is teeming with animal patients, their humans, and doctors, nurses, vet techs, and every manner of employee you can imagine. I admit my anxiety crept back--my dog wasn't feeling well, and he was about to face bunches of other animals in the same boat.

PBGV on E. 72nd

PBGV on E. 72nd

Because Moki's not a "normal" dog for the city (most of the dogs here are much much smaller than he) and is an unusual breed (Belgian Tervuren) that you don't see around much anywhere, people sometimes stop and want to pet him and tell me how beautiful he is. At the corner of 72nd and York, after my dog had pooped in the street and I was trying to pick it up without being run over, a nice looking guy approached us with a dog on a leash and said, "Is that a Belgian Shepherd"? I was quite surprised, because the vast majority of people have no idea what a Belgian Shepherd is. "Yes," I said. "Is that a PBGV?" (another breed that isn't very common). Now I had him, and he did a double take. "Yes!" he said, "Where do you live?" I pointed up the street. "I live down here," he said. "We need to get together!" In the meantime, my Belgian Tervuren and his PBGV (which stands for Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen) were playing (even though a PBGV is about half the size of a Terv) happily with no nasty noises at all.

So the other cool thing about this great city is that people actually stop and talk to you, and your dog can even get you fixed up! LOL! In the 'burbs, although you might think it would be the opposite, people are often in their cars, looking grouchy and stressed out, and no one smiles, let alone talks to each other. So now, Moki and I both like the city much better.

When I picked Moki up at the AMC at 5:00, after he'd been through a day of grueling medical tests, he came out with the vet tech and continued to be an angel. I walked him home in the dark, receiving a couple of comments from passers-by about how beautiful he is, and all was well. And at the end of that walk home, I decided that Moki could officially claim the title of "city dog." I mostly credit Andrés with this transformation (that's why they pay him the "big bucks," and if you believe that, I have a bridge I want to sell you in Brooklyn LOL). Moki still considers himself my great lord-and-protector, but now he is able to navigate the city streets with confidence and aplomb (and so am I).

FOR SALE: Small bridge in Brooklyn

FOR SALE: Small bridge in Brooklyn

So, in our case, that's how you tell when your country dog has become a city dog. And at the age of 7-1/2, Moki has officially made that transformation.