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A dog trainer shares top tips for getting a pooch past the co-op board interview

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Updated October 7, 2015 from a story first posted on July 6, 2010

We hate to break it to you, but just because a co-op says it's "dog friendly" doesn't necessarily mean it will welcome yours. Many buildings have weight restrictions (25 pounds is common) and some approve dogs on a case by case basis, which may include an interview.

More co-op boards—and not just the ones on Fifth Avenue and Central Park West, either—are requiring dog interviews, says Manhattan certified dog trainer Elena Gretch. "They want to interact with the dog to gauge temperament and see if he or she would make a good neighbor," says Gretch. Usually the interview is held alongside the co-op board interview.

Gretch, who owns the upmarket urban pet-services purveyor It’s a Dog’s Life, has been prepping dogs for their co-op board interviews for about seven years. When taking on a new client, she first taps into her real estate broker network to divine the pet peeves of the target building. Then she spends six sessions (billing at $275/hour) or so administering an individualized canine cram course on co-op etiquette. “Most boards want to know if the dog is friendly. Can they pet it and hold it?  Does it bark? Does it like people, children and other dogs?” she explains.

Want to know how to get your pooch board-approved? Here are the basics:

1.  Avoid the interview altogether  

Gretch encourages clients to get their dogs certified with the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Program, and present evidence to the co-op board early in the board approval process—hopefully avoiding  the need for a meet-and-greet.

“It shows that dogs have passed their basic good manners test, and that they’re a canine good citizen that will be an asset to the building,” she explains.  “The dogs know how to sit, greet people, stay, come and how to be gently approached and handled.”

Gretch says it takes her about eight weeks and $2,000 worth of private lessons to certify a typical six-month-old puppy—costly, yes, but quite possibly worth it if you're keen on getting into the co-op of your dreams. (For a complete list of AKC trainers, click here.)  Dogs can also prep for the test in group classes like those offered by Andrea Arden  ($300 for five sessions).

Real estate broker Gordon Roberts suggests preparing a mini-board package for your dog included as a back section to your purchase application. (Yes, we're serious.) It sounds a lot like a nursery school application which, we agree, sounds like a mythical NYC measure that those not living here may scoff at, but does happen and, yes, can be helpful nonetheless.

“Shareholders usually want to be assured that your dog is well-behaved, relatively unobtrusive, and won’t urinate in the elevator,” says Roberts. “They also want to know you’re a responsible, caring owner. Items to include: a description of the breed; an “about me” page with your dog’s photo, personality, measurements and pedigree; a description of your dog’s daily routine; and letters of recommendation from the dog walker, groomer and a current neighbor. 

And what should said letter of recommendations say? “They should talk about how well-behaved the dog is—things like ‘great in the elevator with children and other dogs’ and ‘never hear the dog’ if it’s a direct neighbor,” says real estate broker Deanna Kory.

2.  The doorbell test

“The biggest concerns about dogs in buildings are the nuisance factors. Does the dog bark? Will it eliminate inappropriately? Is it well maintained and clean? But barking is always at the top of the list,” says Gretch.

During an interview, to test a dog’s propensity to vocalize, boards often have someone ring the doorbell or knock on the door. “Truthfully, this behavior takes the most time to overcome,” says Gretch.  “Often, we will teach the dog to go immediately to its bed or a little piece of blanket that owners bring along to the interview.”

3.  Secret weapon: Interview zen

Gretch says her secret weapon is teaching dogs to sit or lie down on a small, familiar piece of blanket for the entire duration of the board interview. “The fact that the dog can sit quietly through an interview is a testament that the dog is not going to be a burden to the community,” says Gretch, who espouses training over tranquilizers. “Even if the dog barks a little during the doorbell test, this will matter more.”

4.  Bias against big dogs

In picky buildings, dogs over 25 pounds tend to be the biggest targets of 'dogscrimination,' says Gretch. Those are also often the dogs that board members insist be interviewed. “The boards that don’t want dogs at all discriminate against the largest dogs,” she says. "They judge them more harshly."

With large dogs, “we go above and beyond with people skills,” says Gretch. “We want them to be polite, friendly, and calm.  No pawing, jumping, or unsolicited rubbing. Additionally,  we teach the interviewees all kinds of fun tricks like ‘Say hi, Skip,’ and he’ll wave his paws.”

Grooming also becomes more important for big dogs. “It’s not so much about being fluffed for a showing as looking well kept and clean—and not smelling like a dog, which is especially an issue with larger dogs,” she says.

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