Walk down any street in any neighborhood and you’ll see them. They’re everywhere, shaggy or sleek, small or formidable, some of the best-dressed dogs in the world are right here. You’ll see them at outdoor cafes and greenmarkets, in nail salons and department stores and bookstores.
Even in places where they’re not technically allowed, they are secreted in dog carriers masquerading as handbags at five-star restaurants and diners, at grocery stores and pizza parlors and bars. Throughout New York City and its suburbs is a Metro area of dedicated dog lovers. It’s one of the best places on the planet to dog-watch.
That’s right, I said dog-watch. It’s a little like people-watching, but you don’t have to worry about how your hair looks. You can do it all year round, in almost any weather. It’s a great activity when you’re happy and when you’re sad. In fact, dog watching is the universal cure for blues.
Dogs live in the moment. That’s how they’ve managed to stay “man’s best friend” for thousands of years. They don’t hold grudges. They live to please. They fit into every facet of our lives, from the guard dog to the exercise buddy to the comforting couch potato. They are a joy to watch: every moment in a dog’s life is new and full of exhilaration.
Having your own dog along as a wingman is, hands-down, the best way in the city to meet people. Dog are magnets, especially the little ones, those weapons-of-mass-cuteness. Strangers will approach you on the street with smiles on their faces, and if you have a real cutie, you’ll meet plenty of puparazzi with their cell phone cameras. Everywhere you go, you’ll find someone to talk to, whether it’s the couple drinking beer by the river, their goofy Shih Tzu at their feet, or the guy on line in the bank with his quarterbacker Pit Bull, or the woman with the fashionable Maltipoo having a pedicure in the salon chair next to yours. You will discover a whole new social circle at doggie playgroups and dog runs and in vet’s offices. You will meet your neighbors. You will discover that New York is much friendlier (and furrier) place than you ever expected.
Dogs are the ultimate ice-breaker. They’re a party in a little furry body. So do some dog-watching and get happy!
Hot Spots for Dog-Watching
Parks. There are hundreds of parks scattered throughout every neighborhood where you can find some of the most democratic dog watching, with designer dogs happily romping on the grass with shelter dogs of dubious ancestry. The larger parks, such as Cranberry Park in Norwalk / Wilton seem to have miles of walking paths. Small parks are perfect for sitting on a bench in the shade or by a fountain and taking in the colorful parade of people and their equally colorful dogs.
Dog Runs. Best for hardcore dog-watchers. Dog parks are an off-leash world where the dogs rule. There are dog parks in every neighborhood, ranging from the hills and boulders to the basic run for smaller dogs at most Fairfield Parks. Some of them come with drama, neighborhood dogs and their people squabbling, romances developing and romances breaking up (which then causes one half of the ex-couple to look for another dog park to go to). Dog parks are places where lasting friendships are made, where dogs have the most fun and get into the most fights. You’ll get the chance to see more pack behavior than in any other venue, and I’m not just talking about the dogs. You’ll also see a great variety of dog breeds playing together in a way that makes “why can’t we just get along?” a reality.
Outdoor Cafes. These are some of the most fun spots for dog watching because you can drink beer while you do it. There’s nothing quite like relaxing on a couch in an outdoor living room, having a margarita or a Chimay with your dog next to you, overlooking a beach or a little lake watching the people stroll by with their pooches. Dogs that are normally funny become truly hilarious. You meet people from all over the world who have left their fur babies back at home and need a quick dog fix and a little chat. You meet people from other neighborhoods and compare local pet boutiques. You discover that real men do own Pomeranians.
Veterinarian Waiting Offices. Not as sad as it sounds. In this environment, since you’re there with your own four-legged buddy, dog-watching is a great way to alleviate stress. It’s where dogs are supposed to be on their best behavior. You’ll see Mastiffs lying down politely next to Chihuahuas, hopefully both of them ignoring the terrified kitties that are all praying for invisibility inside their little carriers.
Doggie Playgroups. Party time! Playgroups and puppy socials are scheduled all over Fairfield. They are the canine version of a school dance, but come with significant less anxiety. While most dogs are in party mode as soon as they hit the dance floor, there might be a few wallflowers along with the popular kids and the bully, but dogs get over themselves much faster than their human counterparts. It a great place to get a concentrated dose of puppy joy, to meet interesting puppy parents, to exchange information and the latest gossip.
To find a puppy social near you, ask someone in your local pet boutique or veterinarian’s office. Some places have them every week, while other groups schedule them less frequently.
Around Town. Taking a stroll with your own pooch on the streets of Fairfield’s Towns and Villages is the best way to observe how much people really do look like their dogs. In my own neighborhood, there’s the red-headed guy from Ireland who’s built like a brick and is always with his orange spotted English Bulldog. There’s the statuesque woman with long, white hair and her two chest-high white Borzois. There’s a jolly Santa lookalike who’s seems a little nasty inside but he has his big, black out-of-control dog who is really a sweetheart.
It’s also a great way to check out the latest dog fashions, so wear comfortable shoes but dress your dog to the nines. You’ll find Burberry plaid wool coats and Louis Vuitton dog carriers in Greenwich and Darien, Christian Audigier t-shirts and Harley-Davidson motorcycle harness vests in Danbury and Stamford. You’ll see models walking freshly coiffed dogs with bows in their hair on the ends of bejeweled leashes stopping to sniff the mutt lying perfectly contented on a sidewalk.
If you’re trying to decide what breed would best suit you, dog-watching on the streets is a terrific way to do research. Before deciding to get a Yorkshire Terrier, I spent a year doing “yorkie alerts,” introducing myself to Yorkies (and their people) where ever they were found. You’ll discover breeds you’ve never encountered, the Komondor, the Coton De Tulear, the Tibetan Mastiff. But don’t forget that there are plenty of pedigree rescue groups if that’s what you’re after. (Think area shelters!)
Dog classes. Most centers have dog training classes that cover basic obedience, which everyone with a dog should take advantage of. If your dog is out-of-control, it will make you feel better to see the dog next to you with even worse manners. (You felt like a failure when your dog chewed up your sneakers until you met the retriever who ripped apart the leather couch.) You’ll meet people as committed as you to raising a well-adjusted canine family.
There are also facilities that have agility classes, like Bandaline, Dog Gone Smart, even Cassio Kennels which are a great outlet for dogs with too much energy. I’m also told these classes are strangely addictive. (Beware if you don’t have enough space in your living room for a practice tunnel and weave poles.) There are facilities with indoor grass parks and outdoor gyms. There’s even doggie yoga.
We can all learn a lot with a little dog-watching. It can be done in any country, in any climate. You don’t have to know the local language because everyone can learn to speak Dog. It’s a great recession activity because it’s mostly free, and it will provide hours of entertainment. So take a walk! There’s a whole world of canine diversity to discover, right outside your front door. Learn to speak Dog. It’s a great recession activity because it’s mostly free, and it will provide hours of entertainment. So take a walk! There’s a whole world of canine diversity to discover, right outside your front door.