Pets: The Dos and Don’ts of Owning a Dog in Philly

Because no one wants to be that dog owner

A dog walker at Mario Lanza Park | Photography by Christopher Leaman

A dog walker at Mario Lanza Park | Photography by Christopher Leaman

Q: My dog’s a yapper. What should I do so my neighbors won’t hate me?
Most people say Philadelphians are (surprisingly) polite about yippy neighbors. Still, tension can arise, especially when no one’s warned. Matt Schimsky, head trainer at Tuff Pup Training, suggests that new dog owners leave notes on doors saying they understand there’s a barking problem and they’re working on it. Wouldn’t hurt to attach that note to a bottle of whiskey.

Q: How should I navigate my dog through the congested sidewalks of Center City?
If your pooch is well behaved and securely leashed (four to six feet is the length Andrea Fenner, owner of dog-walking company Walkies, suggests), taking strolls down busy blocks is manageable. Fenner recommends standing three feet from any curb and never crossing during a yellow light. (Don’t test Philly drivers.) Keep your dog close, and act as a buffer between her and other people. Even if your dog is friendly, she can’t tell you if she’s having an off day or if that other pooch gave her the side-eye. “We don’t know everything going on in their brains,” Fenner says, so preventing them from interacting with others, especially in crowds, is a good rule to follow.

Q: What are the unwritten rules of behavior at dog parks?
Whether your dog park is a members-only private enclave like Orianna Hill or an anarchic free-for-all, decorum is an absolute must. First rule: no young kids. Cecilia Razak, founder of the dog-walking company Spotwalk, says toddlers can get really worked up around dogs, which agitates the animals. She also recommends keeping your toys to yourself; strewing them about causes unnecessary aggression and protectiveness from dogs you don’t know. Adina Silberstein, owner of pet-sitting company Queenie’s Pets, says problems develop when owners are too engrossed in their lattes and not paying attention to their dogs’ body language. “When you’ve got a body-slamming boxer and a herding border collie in the same space, that can be a clash,” she says. Also, always ask an owner before handing out treats willy-nilly, says Silberstein: “A dog can’t say, ‘Oh, wait, I’m allergic to soy.’”

Q: Do I really have to pick up my dog’s poop every time?
Short answer? Yes. Long answer? Hell yes. Picking up poop is a minor inconvenience in exchange for a pooch’s unconditional love, and also a sign you’re not a sociopath. Candice Archibald, a professional dog walker, says Philadelphians tend to go half-ass, especially in Queen Village and Northern Liberties; they bag it but don’t toss it, leaving piles of plastic-wrapped feces in their wake. Archibald thinks a lack of city trash cans in those areas is to blame: “I spend my day carrying poop around, just looking for somewhere to throw it away.”

Q: Is walking my dog off-leash ever okay?
Opinions are mixed, but most experts suggest your dog remain on its leash the majority of the time. (Philly does have a leash law on the books.) Just because your hound is friendly doesn’t mean everyone wants to make his acquaintance.

Q: How should I introduce my dog to a new dog?
First rule of order: Always ask the other owner. Archibald notes that if dogs meet face-to-face for the first time, the result can be unnecessary aggression. The gross butt-smelling thing they do? That’s considered courteous if you have four legs and a tail. So when introducing your pup to another, lead her around to the back end and let the two of them sniff it out for themselves.

Q: I want my dog to come with me to public places. Where should I start?
You weren’t born knowing how to sit still or not chew everything in sight, so don’t expect dogs to behave in situations they’ve never trained for. Schimsky recommends starting with low stakes — take your dog to your vet’s office for 10 minutes, just to get him used to being around other people and animals. Repeat until he’s comfortable. Then move on to dog runs, parks, and, eventually, pet-friendly restaurants — but only after he’s proven he can handle it.

Published as “This Town Has Gone to the Dogs” in the July issue of Philadelphia magazine.