Can a dog live just as happily in the city as it can in the country? Have a read to find out…really enjoyed writing this for Edition Dog magazine.
There haven’t been many moments when I regretted moving from London to the countryside. There were the initial teething issues, the broken boiler, the ‘you’re from London looks,’ and the time a stray chicken made itself at home on our sofa, but for the most part, I felt like we were doing the right thing.
As born and bred country bumpkins with a young family, it was inevitable that my husband and I would eventually leave the big smoke and head out to pastures new. It wouldn’t be so much a move, rather more of a return. For our six year old Jack Russell however, it would be nothing less than life changing.
‘She’s going to love it,’ everyone said. ‘All that space, all those fields…’
They were right, of course. It took her a while to settle in, but once she found her confidence and realised that the move was permanent, she embraced it wholeheartedly. Show a terrier an open field and she will explore every inch of it, devouring the sights, the sounds and the multitude of delicious smells. For a dog whose walks had mostly been confined to the perimeters of various London parks, it was at times utterly overwhelming.
We are extremely lucky to be surrounded by an abundance of beautiful walks, by woodland and meadows, lakes and streams, not to mention the rabbits, deer, foxes and badgers who offer up plenty of opportunities for a healthy, if futile chase. It would be safe to say that Mabel, now eleven, and her younger brother – three year old miniature dachshund, Henry – have a very good life.
But what if you don’t live in the countryside? Or don’t want to? It’s certainly not for everyone. Can a dog living in an urban environment have an equally happy and fulfilled life? For the (need latest figure on dog ownership) living in London, and all the dogs who live in other large cities across the country, the answer has to be yes. While your surroundings are clearly important, they needn’t define the quality of your life. A responsible, caring dog owner can offer a great life to a dog regardless of where they live.
Having run a dog walking company in London for many years, I have had the privilege to know lots of dogs who call the city their home. Without sounding too facetious, the one thing they all have in common with their rural canine counterparts, is that they are all dogs. If we get down to the nitty gritty on what a dog’s essential needs are, they can surely be fulfilled just as easily in an urban environment as in a remote one. Dogs don’t need much, but what they do need is as vital as air we all breathe: exercise and company. Whether you live at the top of a high rise or the top of a hill, if you cannot ensure your dog has these two things, and plenty of cuddles of course, then you simply shouldn’t have a dog.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, who primarily rehome their dogs into the city and surrounding suburban areas, are reassuringly strict on their adoption criteria, but do also take each case on its own merit. Living in a compact, urban environment does not have to be a barrier to a successful rehoming and a contented dog.
Rebecca MacIver, Rehoming and Welfare Manager, said:
‘At Battersea, we treat all of our customers and dogs as individuals and understand that everyone’s circumstances are different. While some dogs may require a home with a garden, many dogs don’t need this as long as they have regular walks – in fact, many of our past residents have gone on to live happy new lives with owners in flats.’
Mabel spent her formative years in London and most of those were in a flat. While it would have been nice to have a garden door for her to wander in and out of, particularly on busy work days, there were plenty of advantages to compact metropolitan living, especially when it comes down to the finer points of domestication. We cracked the house training very quickly as we were forced to head out to the park every couple of hours on a strict schedule, a routine that seemed to suit Mabel and her bladder remarkably well. This in turn cracked the socialisation as she happily interacted with a variety of dogs right from the outset, not to mention the acclimatisation to the cacophony of urban sounds, some of them loud and alarming, as busy city life unfolds all around you. Urban dogs are, in my opinion, so well adjusted because they experience so much.
Henry, our dachshund, is a different story. He was brought up in the countryside and was therefore not exposed to the same variety of stimulus. He is, I’m embarrassed to say, not always great around other dogs.
Penaran Higgs, behaviourist and trainer with Puppy School, agrees with this hypothesis.
‘In my experience, urban living can actually be an advantage when dogs are allowed to meet and have carefully managed exposure to more people, more dogs and more varied environments during those crucial early weeks of puppyhood. This means that as they age, they can cope with a greater variety of situations.’
Some breeds are of course better suited to country living, particularly working dogs. I will never forget the Welsh collie we walked after his move from the Brecon Beacons to Clapham North. Without a gaggle of sheep to keep in line he resorted to herding commuters. Regardless of where you live, it is always sensible to do breed research before committing to a dog. There are plenty of misconceptions out there, particularly when it comes to the size to exercise ratio. Greyhounds for example need very little in the way of strenuous activity, while the miniature dachshund can happily manage a couple of hours of lively romping, and will, like many smaller breeds, become destructive if not given enough mental and physical stimulation.
And there really is no excuse not to get out and about in London – not just because of the wide availability of dog walking services – but also due to the fantastic choice of parks. Dog owners not only have the beautiful, more formal spaces like Hyde and Regent’s Park, but the wilder, more rugged spaces like Hampstead Heath and Wimbledon Common.
Mabel was a regular visitor to Wimbledon and we would often get happily lost in the dense woods and the heather and gorse laden heathland, thoughts of our busy city lives quite easily forgotten.
If you want a taste of the countryside without leaving Zone 3, then there are certainly plenty of options.
London is so blessed with green spaces that clients moving here from other countries, particularly the US, feel spoilt for choice on where to take their dogs. Dog owner Angel Storey moved to London from New York City with her dogs Chibi and Yuki and she loves that fact that the city is punctuated with so many lovely parks.
‘We are so lucky here in London because there seem to be more green spaces than any other city in the world. You are never far from a green space which means that you can always find new places to explore and play.’
Whichever city you are in, the one thing that urban dogs and their owners have to their huge advantage is the immediate access to a community of like minded people. It is unusual to go for a walk with your dog in a city and not have at least one chat with a fellow dog lover. Dogs draw people together, they help build solidarity and goodwill, creating friendships that might not otherwise be there, particularly when large cities can feel lonely and overwhelming at times.
Dog owner Claire Grinton appreciates that one of the best things about living in a large urban area with a dog is the people that you meet.
‘Our pets often open up a conversation in a city where organic connections can be few and far between. The interactions that I’ve had on account of my dog has made London feel so much more like home.’
From walking buddies in your local park to large breed meet ups, there is so much on offer for dogs and their owners in an urban environment. Restaurants, hotels, pubs and shops are all becoming more and more dog friendly as society comes to fully understand how important our pets are to us, and how beneficial. London Dog Week founder Aneka Johnson realised that connecting dogs and their owners with fellow canine enthusiasts would not only help to enforce the sense of community that dogs create, but would also help to promote health and happiness.
‘Dogs help to support our physical and emotional wellbeing. They are natural people magnets and by creating the platform of London Dog Week, we further connected people through dogs and connected dogs through their people. That’s what living in a city is all about.’
While living in the countryside is right for our family, I can also clearly see the benefits that urban living can produce. Funnily enough, it is only now that I am out of the city that I can see how wonderful an experience it was. From the friends you make, the pubs and restaurants you can try to the ever expanding range of dog events, city living with a dog is certainly not an inferior option. What it comes down to, as always, is the owner and their willingness to give their dog the life they deserve – and that really can happen anywhere.