Traveling in an Urban Environment

Published in: Update - Issue 3 - 2017 »   

In 2013, Leader Dog conducted our first urban travel guide dog class in Chicago. Designed for people who live, work or travel in large city environments, this specially focused training helps clients and their Leader Dogs learn how to safely navigate crowded streets, subways, elevated trains and other elements unique to large cities.

Photo of Catalina smiling and walking toward the camera on a cement walkway underneath a bridge. On her right is a railing and a river. Leader Dog Elroy walking in harness on her left

Catalina Martinez spent over four decades living in Chicago and still visits family in the area. The layout of the city is second nature to her and she seldom gets disoriented. She respects how tricky and dangerous it can be navigating Chicago; this is why she was so pleased to be able to train there with her first Leader Dog, Elroy.

“You get everything in Chicago,” says Catalina, “Droves of people, people on bikes… and the traffic.” But she cites one of the biggest hazards as the constant noise that can be overwhelming and distracting to both her and her guide dog. “Being able to train with Elroy in an environment that is a bit busier than downtown Minneapolis (near where I live now), really helped me learn how to keep him focused on me and working, and not on the surrounding environment when we travel.”

Another element of training in Chicago that proved very useful was learning how to safely navigate street construction. “Minneapolis is just finishing remodeling the downtown for the Super Bowl in February. Elroy’s an expert at moving through the construction—orange cones, broken cement, temporary sidewalks, having to go into the street if the sidewalk is blocked—we experienced all of that in Chicago.” Once, after maneuvering a very complicated construction area like a champ, Catalina felt Elroy stop and look up at her as if saying, “Where’s my praise?” So, Catalina “whooped it up” in front of everyone because she was so proud of him.

Prior to her recent retirement, Catalina worked for the federal government, which required a bus to downtown Minneapolis followed by several blocks of walking to get to her office. “Minneapolis can get pretty cold, like 10 below zero cold. On these days, Elroy and I would take Metro Mobility* to work because I didn’t want him to hurt his paws.”

Living in an urban area can make it difficult to find open spaces that are safe for your dog to play, especially when, like Catalina, you won’t frequent dog parks because you don’t know the health and temperaments of the dogs there. Instead, Catalina sets up “play dates” for Elroy with some of her friends who also have service dogs. They have access to a big backyard where the dogs can run and play. “He’s a hard worker,” says Catalina, “So I believe he deserves a chance to play hard.”

If you or someone you know is interested in finding out more about urban guide dog training, please contact our client services department at 888/777.5332.

* Metro Mobility is a door-to-door transit for people with disabilities.