Dogs in the city: stories of navigating the metropolis with a four-legged friend

Dogs in the city: stories of navigating the metropolis with a four-legged friend

Dog ownership in many cities has evolved in recent years – so how do urban environments need to change if they’re to become more dog friendly? We asked fur families from around the globe to give us a dog’s-eye-view of life in their city.

Published Mar-06-2024

Doggy tapas and office days in Madrid

Woman walking her dog on sidewalk next to shop window with her two children.
Louise Feaheny’s dog Mango loves exploring the city of Madrid.

Spain-based dog trainer Louise Feaheny is dog mama to the chilled and cosmopolitan Mango and the highly-strung Cailín. Her two canine companions have different needs in busy urban environments. In recent years, their home city of Madrid has become increasingly welcoming to dogs and has earned recognition as one of the top ten most dog-friendly cities worldwide.

“I have two dogs and they couldn’t be more polar opposite. Nine-year-old Mango is a complete flirt. She’s a ball of fluff – a rescue dog, maybe a yorkie cross schnauzer. She grew up smack bang in the city centre and absolutely loves it.

When I got her I was working in an office in Madrid and she came on the metro with me every day. At that time dogs weren’t allowed so I had to hide her in my handbag. One woman used to look out for me in the mornings and tell me off. Now dogs are allowed with a muzzle, which is fantastic – get a basket one that allows the dog to pant and teach your dog to be comfortable with it.

Recently the laws changed in Spain and more bars, shops and restaurants allow dogs.

I absolutely love going on new adventures with Mango. She just trots around exploring everything – smells, sights, noises – we never take the same route twice. Recently the laws changed in Spain and more bars, shops and restaurants allow dogs. For her the short lead means: “Yay! We’re going to a cafe and I can sit and people-watch!”.

Not a lot of dogs are happy doing that because the city never switches off. It’s a stressful environment, especially for a rescue dog. Even in apartments, with thin walls there’s the noises of the people moving in the building, cars outside, other dogs barking – their senses never rest.

Spanish Water Dog walking on brick fence with parked cars in the background.
The Spanish Water Dog Cailín has learnt to tolerate the busy city environment when she has something interesting to do.

“Anything that moved sent her into a blind panic”

Then there’s Cailín, a Spanish Water Dog. She came to us as a foster when she was five or six weeks old. From the beginning she was so afraid of everything – people, other dogs, bicycles, cars. Anything that moved sent her into a blind panic. She also suffered from separation anxiety.

She once broke a pane of glass in the kitchen door to get to me. She ate half the sofa and three coffee tables. Dealing with her behaviour was a nightmare, and I didn’t know what to do. I had to research how to cope, and my studies led me to working with rescues and clients, and that’s how I became a dog trainer.

I teach all my clients to be careful around elevators. It can be a tricky experience for a dog. It’s like you go into a cupboard, close the door, then it opens and you’re somewhere else! When I say “middle!” Cailín goes between my legs and Mango scoots behind or sits at my side to allow space for people and make the transit easier.

Dog-friendly people flow

Green spaces are important for dogs in cities. Outside one flat we had the tiniest terrace with a patch of grass the size of a single bed – even that was a lifesaver. Toilet training Cailín was a big challenge as we were at that time on the fourth floor with no lift.

In my fantasy world, there would be more one-way systems in cities for pedestrians. Like on the Madrid metro everyone tends to walk on the right hand side and you can pass on the left if you’re in a hurry. It’s a less intimidating way to get around. If you’re all walking in the same direction, it’s not as confronting for a dog, as people aren’t coming at you head on or risking stepping on you. It’s so much easier to just flow like that with a dog.”

Big dog, big city: Living in Manila's urban jungle with a golden retriever

Golden Retriever standing next to stairs in a lobby.
Isla has grown up in the heart of the metropolitan Manila.

Wendell Paredes works in HR in the busy capital of the Philippines, Manila. His four-year-old Golden Retriever, Isla, lives with him and three other people in his inner-city condo. In the Philippines, dogs are traditionally seen as guard dogs, but he sees positive signs that attitudes are softening.

“Isla grew up through the pandemic in our 60 square meter, two-bedroom condominium in southern metropolitan Manila. She doesn't come to work with me – she has to stay home because the public transportation here is not well established at all. The options are very complicated and most of them are not pet-friendly.

The common form of bus is what’s called a jeepney, run by private operators. There’s no regular route. There’s no system. No timetable. There is no sense of personal space. If you had a golden retriever with you riding on that jeepney people would be terrified. Basically, if you have to move around with your dog and you don’t have a car, your option is to use a ride hailing app.

Man crouching on a street holding two puppies, with his Golden Retriever lying next to him.
Four-year-old Isla recently had a litter. Two of the puppies will stay with Wendell Paredes. “They're gonna live at the provinces where we have a bigger house and an easy access to the beach.”

Pets allowed does not mean pet-friendly

Inside the unit, there’s not a lot of space for Isla, but thankfully there are a lot of walkable places. It’s actually marketed as one of the more pet-friendly in Manila, but they have restrictions on how many dogs you can have and their size. Like, definitely not too big. Not a golden retriever. But we got her anyway.

Every day we have to take her from our unit on the sixth floor down to the ground floor to let her walk around and poop and pee. They’re now telling us that pets aren’t allowed in the elevator because some residents are afraid of dogs, so that’s another problem. I position myself with her in the corner and try to sort of block her head. If people look uncomfortable I’ll just let them go first and wait for the next elevator.

We really need to start showing that dogs are family.

The public perception of dogs here is not good, and a lot of people are scared of dogs. There is a local breed called an aspin – it’s a mixed breed that most Philippine households have and they’re mostly not treated very well. They’re perceived as guardians of the house and they’re tied to the doors or the gates. Their job is to protect the family, but they’re not really part of the family.

Potential to make the city more inclusive

I think that the perception of dogs as guards, and solely that, should change. But it’s difficult to see how this would happen. I think dogs, regardless of the breed, are like humans. They have a unique sense of loyalty and kindness that I hope people would get to see.

When she’s in the car we open the windows and Isla, she loves looking at people, making them smile, making people’s day. Of course, she’s a Golden Retriever – she’s adorable!

I think there is potential to make the city more inclusive, for example by changing the designs of vehicles like buses. With the right resources, it can be done. But I think the biggest and most complicated change has to be cultural. We really need to start showing that dogs are family. Progress is already visible in the rising number of pet daycares and shopping malls that allow dogs. We’re slowly getting there.”

Canine therapy on the London underground

Man kneeling and looking at his German Shepherd wearing an assistance dog vest.
Mitch Gunn took the initiative to train his own dog as an assistance dog to help him cope with his post-traumatic stress disorder.

A former British Army policeman, Mitch Gunn commutes around London teaching IT skills. His German shepherd and trained assistance dog, PJ, is always by his side. For people with assistance dogs, the accessibility of the cities is a lifeline.

“At first PJ was my pet. When I had issues with my post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, I was looking into getting a PTSD assistance dog. In the UK, there's only two charities that do it and they're both for veterans. They went: “You've already got a dog, so we can't give you one – but you can train yours.” So, PJ was training for about a year.

I don’t like being in groups of people, even though I teach groups. I have PJ by my side and that helps give me the confidence to do it. He watches my movements and if he sees me getting stressed he’ll come in and start nudging me. He also helps wake me up at night if I’m having a nightmare.

Man and woman crouching on grass with their German Shepherd next to a red poppy wreath.
PJ also participates in military parade events with Mitch Gunn.

The Dog line

One of the things I hate is when people come up to me and say: “Oh, you're so lucky, you've got your dog with you at work.” That's like going up to someone with no legs and saying you're so lucky, you can get around in a wheelchair.” PJ's a tool. A tool to help me. I just wish people were a bit more educated sometimes.

I go with him on the London Underground. We have to try and avoid certain lines if we can, because the noise of the train going over the tracks is over 100 decibels and he doesn't like it.

Perhaps you’re never going to get lifts into these old stations, but for future planners it’s a must.

Everyone's told when he's wearing his harness and lead he's working. I mean, he's working all the time, but this is when they can't come up and approach him.

We're quite well known on the new Elizabeth Line because it’s air-conditioned and it’s lovely – he loves that one. It goes all the way from east to west London. PJ tends to not like using the older trains because the fans are under the seats and they blow directly onto the dog. A lot of dogs and a lot of dog owners prefer the Elizabeth Line – it’s like the Dog Line, really.

On the London Underground, a lot of the stations don’t have lifts and there aren’t that many with disabled access. You see people with dogs like golden retrievers and they literally have to pick them up and carry them on the escalators.

Perhaps you’re never going to get lifts into these old stations, but for future planners it’s a must. Not just for people with dogs, but prams, luggage, that sort of thing.

Comedy double act

I work with a lot of policemen and there’s a prank we like to do with all the coppers. I’ll send PJ in the room before me saying: “He’s just making it safe, checking for bombs”. I’d make him sit next to one of them because when a sniffer dog sits down, it means he found something. Then I get to say: “Well, well, are you carrying something that you're not supposed to?”

PJ is part of me now. I can’t go anywhere without him. Before I had him I was a lot angrier, a lot more grumpy. The days of laying in bed thinking “I don’t want to go out” are long gone.”