Monday, January 25, 2010

Training your bigger-than-lap-size-dog to go on the Subway

Boston is the only city I know of that allows well behaved dogs, of any size, to go on the train or subway; called the "T". In my limited experience, I have yet to see anything about training a dog to take the train. The train or T is loud, crowded, smells, moves, and is otherwise understandably scary for our four legged friends; meaning it probably requires some training.

Not only did I take Beckett on the train, it is his preferred way of travel, even now he would rather get on the subway then get into a car. Although this wasn't always the case.

Remember I'm not a dog trainer, I'm just a girl getting by with a dog, so that there might be a better way, but here is how I did it.

I think there are two big aspects to consider about the T, one the T itself, smelly, busy, noisy, and moving. The second is the people who can also be smelly, noisy, pushy, might want to pet your dog, might be afraid of your dog, or might even suggest putting your dog down.

Before you even get on the Train or T - remember in Boston dogs are only allowed on the T during off peak hours, which is probably best for you and the dog, peak hours means tightly packed highly irritable people.

The first few times you won't want to actually ride the T if you can help it, riding the train may be something you have to build up to. Once your dog is comfortable with public transit, be sure to schedule enough time so that you can allow at least one train go by, in case its packed shoulder to shoulder with people.

To start: No breakfast, if its in the morning, or no dinner if your traveling at night. I know it sounds cruel, but have no worries he or she will be eating soon and you want him to be very hungry. Instead put his or her meal into a ziplock bag to bring with you (maybe even a little extra), then fill up a second zip lock bag full of a mix of his or her absolute favorite treats, since these are inevitably the most expensive ones (because my luck is like that) and you'll be give them out hand over fist, I'd cut them up into small pieces.

Take a long walk before reaching the T station, because the T is pretty stressful and the only thing worse then a stressful dog is a stressful dog that has to go potty. Once you get close to the T station start consistently feeding the kibble one piece at a time until the platform, assuming the dog isn't stressing out, in which case turn back and take the process slower and starting from further away.

Anytime your dog looks stressed, won't take treats, or can't stay by your side give up taking the T on this day. It is a process and next time you can go further and the time after that further until your both riding in relative comfort.

Taking the treats is the easiest way to keep your dog attached to your hip, and the subway is a place you really have to keep your dog close. Have patience and think of all the new travel options (in Boston) you'll have.

So either one month later or maybe a day or two later (depending on your dog), you've made it on the platform. Now your like a kibble dispenser (which is why no breakfast). If your pup starts to get scared and won't take the kibble move back and try again. Anytime ANYTHING happens; the T announcement comes on, someone walks by, you hear a rat, pull out the treat bag and feed a treat then return to the kibble.

The first time, I'd suggest keeping people at bay, let them know its your dogs first time and he is nervous if they ask to pet him. (Watch out for people who don't ask before petting and a crazy smelly woman who wants to set your dog free). It would be best to secure his leash tightly around your arm, in case your dog bolts when he hears the train, which he will hear well before you or if he smells the crazy woman(true story).

Before the train approaches, have your dog stand close to the wall, with you standing between your dog and the train.

As soon as your hear the train commence the treat craziness, pull out all the stops, nothing but the best for your pooch while the train approaches - feed him or her like there is no tomorrow. Let the first train go by, see how your pup does, if he starts to show signs of being really stressed out, then be patient, you and your pooch have already come really far. There is another day and another time. If the pup seems okay, let a few more trains go by, with each train that comes so does the the treat extravaganza, when the train leaves so does the treats, return to the kibble. After a few trains, your dog will pickup that the train means treat all you can eat buffet, then head home.

If your pup is so busy taking treats that he only gave the train a quick notice - you may be ready to board. As the train approaches check which segments are the least full - head to these. Once onboard the train stand between your dog and the general populace. The general populace, can offer loving attention or they may, bump, push, shove, and step on your pooch. Protect your dog, so he or she doesn't have to protect themselves. Try to have your dog stand close to the wall while you stand between the pooch and the people.

While boarding the train, your still giving out pieces of kibble one kibble at a time. Keep this up for the rest of the trip, giving treats whenever the train shakes or someone touches him/her, the doors open, again anything at all means treat. If you can go with a friend, or group of friends your dog is familiar with this will be even better, that way you can be on either side of your pooch keeping everyone else away, your dog can learn to deal with the people on the train after he/she gets used to the train itself.

I've seen a lot of people encouraging their dog to lie down (non greyhounds, I've never seen another greyhound on the train), I think this could work, but Beckett doesn't curl up into a ball he sprawls, making a great target to be stepped on, so I encourage him to stand or sit, especially while people are moving on and off the train.

Depending on your pooch it may take a day, or a week, or longer, but Beckett loves
the T now, he is always tries to herd me to the T station during our walks, since you might not be aware, but T is FULL of treats, petting, and food.

P.S. I was so busy giving out dog treats, I never got around to taking a picture when I lived in Boston...


  1. Neat! I like the way you alternate between kibble and yummy treats- I don't know if I would have thought of that.

    Boston seems like a cool city. Do you miss it?

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I've never thought about dogs actually being allowed on the Subway, so this is intriguing. I doubt Buzz would care at all about public transportation, but Bailey would definitely need all the support and positive experiences and positive feedback she could get.

    I guess I'll hope we don't move anywhere she'd need to ride the subway. I rode the public transportation in NYC and boy was that noisy, and smelly, and scary!

  3. yes... it's your fault my human made me ride the T :P.