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Dog on the lakefront in Chicago, Illinois

5 care tips for city dogs in Chicago

Living in the city comes with its challenges--but it can be especially hard if you’re a dog. Narrow sidewalks, sparse green space, and traffic can be trying. Here are some tips to ensure you and your dog are happy campers in the big city by the lake.

1. Choose a dog breed that fits your life style and space. 

If you find yourself cramped in a one-bedroom apartment, imagine how a St. Bernard must feel! Many newcomers to the city have questions about what size dog breed is appropriate for their home. The truth is that it really depends on your lifestyle and level of activity.

  • Small Dogs — Small dogs and toy breeds are some of the most popular urban dogs.  These breeds have some obvious advantages—size, exercise needs, cost—especially if you have a super small place, which is quite common in Chicago.
  • Active Dogs — If you live near a park and exercise regularly, consider a more active breed. If you have a busy work schedule and typically only have time for a walk around the block in the afternoon, then a smaller dog may be the best choice. It may make sense  to invest in a Chicago dog walker or sitter when you know work will keep you late. Kansas State veterinarian, Dr. Susan Nelson, said "there are physical and mental health advantages for the dog owner and the dog when they exercise together."
  • Big Dogs – Even Great Danes can be happy and healthy living in the city, they just need people with the space and the schedules to handle them. It may surprise you to learn that the exercise needs of some larger-sized adult dogs are actually less strenuous than some smaller breeds, so don’t rule out those big dogs!  

2. Practice good dog grooming and hygiene.

If you spend a lot of time outside, it is going to be hard to keep your little companion clean. Dogs with long ears, beards that drag on the sidewalk when they sniff, or furry feet that track dirt in the home will require a bit more maintenance than others. It is up to you to determine if you have the right apartment and lifestyle for dealing with a messier dog.

  • Generally speaking, it is a good idea to be diligent about your dog’s grooming regardless of your whereabouts, but in the city this is especially important:
  • Be sure that you give your dog regular baths
  • Brush them frequently--every couple of days--to help remove dirt and spread their natural oils across their skin
  • Pay close attention to the appearance of their ears, teeth, nails, and feet. Keeping your dog’s feet trimmed is particularly important when living in the city because it will help reduce the amount of rocks, glass, salt, etc. that will get caught in your dog’s feet. 

3. Find open spaces to stretch out and play.

Chicago is a very pet-friendly place! It offers dog friendly hotels, restaurants, and parks. Dogs need regular exercise. With obesity-related illnesses on the rise in dogs, finding places to walk, run, and play is essential. 

The Chicago Park District lists dog friendly parks on their website, and they can be accessed on the go also via the My Chi Parks app. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the park rules, especially regarding off-leash guidelines, vaccination records and liability. 

On your way to the park, remember to keep an eye on what your dog is sniffing on sidewalks and streets. Garbage, discarded food, chicken bones, or even rat poison could be found on city streets. 

4. Not all dogs are comfortable being approached.

All pet owners—not just city-dwellers—need to recognize that not every dog they meet is going to be friendly. Other dogs may not be properly trained, or just don’t know how to play nice. 

The other benefit of controlling your dog’s excitement when meeting new friends is that you’ll be able to keep them calm even when unforeseen events occur. So if you are standing next to a busy street and your neighbor with a toy poodle comes around, you will have confidence that your pet will react to the situation well.

Even though it may be adorable, it is important to train your dog not to bum-rush another dog immediately upon encountering them. Or at the very least, ask the owner of an unfamiliar dog before you let your own little pet say hello. 

Tip: Please read more about The Yellow Dog Project—a global movement for parents of dogs that need space. Owners who follow this movement may use a yellow leash or tie a yellow ribbon around the dog’s collar, and this signals to other dog walkers and nearby pedestrians that the dog isn’t comfortable with being approached or petted by strangers.  

5. Finally, always bring a plastic bag.

The headline is just a polite way of saying, “always scoop the poop.” Kind of a no-brainer, but still very important to mention! A big part of living in the city harmoniously is treating your neighbors with respect. Leaving dog waste behind attracts rats and is generally a disrespectful thing to do. In Chicago, you risk up to a $500 fine for not cleaning up after your pet. So be sure to bring those plastic bags with you when you walk your dog!

Got any big-city pet tips that we may have missed? Let us know in the comments.

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