New Test Gauges Dogs' City Savvy, From Streets to Elevators

They're skills any city dweller needs: Taking strangers and noisy streets in stride. Riding calmly in elevators. Hopping a cab or subway. And ignoring tempting food all around you.

Magneto, a 170-pound Leonberger dog, was out to show he could do all that as he sauntered along a crowded Manhattan street this past week. He waited patiently with owner Morgan Avila for a light to change, clambered in and out of a curbside car, and proved unfazed by a fallen McDonald's bag and a hug from a passer-by.

Soon, Magneto was officially declared an "urban canine good citizen," the American Kennel Club's new title recognizing proper city-dog deportment.

"This ultimately will help the cause of dogs everywhere," AKC training director Mary Burch says.

The test is debuting at a time when Americans are showing increasing interest in bringing dogs along in public settings. States including California, Florida and Maryland have in the last decade started allowing dogs on restaurant patios, and similar legislation is waiting to be sent to New York's governor.

Many dogs readily go with the flow of city life. But even dog fans agree there's room for some improvement.

"It's more that the owners could step up their game," Manhattanite Barbara Jaffe said as her shih tzu, Daisy, spontaneously demonstrated pet etiquette, lying down calmly while awaiting a train at Penn Station.

The AKC has offered a basic "canine good citizen" test for a quarter-century — more than 700,000 dogs have passed — and added a more advanced "community canine" title last year. Those tests can be done at a dog show or training center, but the new urban exam unfolds in "a more practical real-world setting," Burch said.

Open to both purebred and mixed-breed dogs, it's no simple sit-and-stay challenge. The animals need to lie down and stay put for at least three minutes while their owner browses in a dog-friendly business or snacks at an outdoor eatery, for instance.

About 500 of the estimated 70 million or more dogs nationwide have passed the test since its April launch.

Trainers estimate preparing takes at least a few months. But "it's fun. ... You're no longer just practicing 'sit' in the backyard," says trainer and examiner Marti Hohmann of Wellington, Florida.

Sophie, a dachshund, competes in obedience. But the urban canine test posed other challenges, such as dealing with lots of people seeking to pet her, said owner Catherine Anne Cassidy of Tequesta, Florida.

"Dogs have to know you and trust you really well" to pass, as Sophie did, Cassidy said. But "it will make everything, walking around the city with your dog, so much easier."

It also may pay dividends at home. Some homeowners' insurers have been more open to covering certain breeds with the basic canine good citizen title, Burch said. New York real estate agent and dog rescuer Barbara Fox says the city-canine title could help get a pet accepted at co-ops and condominiums, adding that buildings shouldn't demand that animals pass tests.

Magneto and two of Avila's other Leonbergers, Hollywood and Mr. America, sailed through. They're show and theater dogs with plenty of training, but enthusiasts say any dog can and should try for the urban canine title.

"Your dog will be better, you'll be better and you'll be able to spend quality time with your dog doing things," Avila said. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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