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Karen B. London
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Meeting the Neighbors
Thank you canine family members!

When we moved to our first house in Wisconsin after years of being students and renting, we were very excited about our new life as homeowners. We couldn’t help feeling that life would be just a little easier, and just a little sweeter in this new place—820 square feet of “Well, at least we own it!” And it was true—life was good there. Of course, the reason wasn’t so much that we owned the place as that we met the most wonderful neighbors and the sense of community was so strong from our very first day in the house.

 
And how did we get to know people so quickly that it made our lives better? Because we walked our dog a couple of times a day, and so did most of the people living near us. In my experience, there has never been a better way to meet your neighbors than walking your dog. As soon as we pulled up and before we unloaded the truck, we took Bugsy out for a walk, and immediately ran into a couple and their dog who I had met as my clients. Half a block later, we met another woman walking her two dogs—both black mutts like ours, and we walked together for a bit until we got to her house, all the while discussing the possible breeds that our dogs might have in them. Forty-five minutes later, we had met half a dozen more of our neighbors and their dogs, and felt incredibly welcome.
 
By the end of the week, we had met a dozen more families that included dogs, and many of them had stopped by with wine, cookies, flowers, and from one kind neighbor who was clearly no stranger to moving, giant trash bags, some picture hangers and a magnet listing important local emergency numbers. That guy also brought over some dog treats—can you ever say you’ve met a more thoughtful person?
 
Of course, many nice people who welcomed us into the neighborhood did not have dogs, but I’m convinced that having a dog was a key reason we met people quickly and that they were so good to us. I realize that dogs can often be a source of great tension between neighbors, such as when barking is an issue or dogs destroy a neighbor’s garden, or other property, or worst of all, if a dog is frightening another neighbor (especially children). But I still think more good than bad neighborhood relations result from having dogs. Has anyone else found that their dogs were excellent social facilitators when they moved to a new house?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Pamela | September 19 2010 |

Dogs, like children, provide a non-threatening (hopefully) excuse to talk to people. My puppy Honey even has a fan club. As we walk by my neighbor's home, she coaches the children in her day care to greet us by name. It's kinda fun!

Submitted by Kaelin | September 20 2010 |

What about bringing a new dog into an old neighborhood?

I'd been living in an urban San Diego home in an older neighborhood for about a year and a half when I adopted four-year-old Tess from Basset Hound Rescue. On our very first walk she ambled up the steps and settled onto the porch of a men's drug and alcohol recovery home on my block, a property I had painstakingly avoided previously. I certainly couldn't avoid it now! And so we made the acquaintance of men who needed friends and acceptance, and in return were very good neighbors. The same went for the women's recovery home around the corner.

And then there were the non-recovery homes in our neighborhood, the ones that friendly people came out of just to meet us as we walked by. "Did you just move in?" they would ask. "No, I've lived here a while, I just recently adopted Tess." We also met a lot of dogs and their owners. It turned out I lived in a very dog-centric neighborhood.

We were a particular favorite with the neighborhood kids. Tess could be so calm and still with them while they pet her, and I think they appreciated my patience with their many questions and stories. My house became a gathering place for the kids. They'd come over to hang out with us or help me do yard work. They even came once to walk Tess for me when I was really sick.

Tess was a slow walker. She was out to socialize, not exercise. She was happy to keep walking as long as we were headed away from our home, but the minute we turned a corner that pointed us back Tess would simply sit down. I would just laugh and pick her up and carry her home, all 50 pounds of her. Once I actually got her to walk all the way home and as we arrived at our front door a woman I'd never seen before walked by and exclaimed, "Gee, you didn't have to carry your dog home today!" We were famous!

Tess anchored me to that neighborhood. I loved every minute I lived there with her, and every friend we made there.

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