Posts Tagged ‘digging’

Not exactly, but a backyard can indeed be a hindrance rather than a blessing.

Numerous shelters, rescues and breeders prefer you have one, some even won’t adopt to you if you don’t have a yard and you often hear the proud statement from your friends and neighbors:  “I have a huge yard for my dog.” The idea is that dogs should be happy running and romping and playing all day in the yard. But do they? And is this enough?

The answer to both of those questions is no. If you leave your dog outside in the yard for hours at end, what is he usually doing? Probably running around a bit, smelling things here and there, peeing on a few things, occasionally alerting to a sound or sight. But what is he doing the majority of time? Most likely just laying down looking around, or even sleeping. While looking around is in fact stimulating to dogs, imagine sitting on your deck for hours on end, day after day for years looking at more or less the same scene. Yes, you will enjoy the sunrise or sunset or people watching, but what are you most likely doing after a while? Daydreaming, picking up a good book or maybe thinking about what to have for dinner. And chances are this is all within the first hour, never mind after a year or two!

The biggest concern with yards is that people often assume that their dogs get all the exercise they need when they have a yard. One of the things that makes me cringe is when I ask how often and how long people walk their dogs and they answer “we don’t have to walk, we have a huge yard for her to play in.” If you ‘re reading this and thinking “this is nonsense, of course my dog is active and happy in the yard,” I invite you to conduct your own behavior study: Simply let your dog outside as you normally do for a period of time and during that time, record what he’s doing and for how long. You’re establishing is known as a time budget for your dog in the backyard. You’ll be able to see just how much time your dog actually spends playing and exercising in your yard. I’m willing to be it’s not at all as much time as you thought. I’m willing to be bet it’s quite a bit less than 50% of his time in the yard! As I mentioned above, what you’re likely to discover is that your dog is mostly just sitting or lying around!

Also as I mentioned above, while it can absolutely be stimulating to sit about and take in the sights, sounds and, of course, the smells in a setting, NOVEL settings are actually the most potent for this. Sitting down at a park bench you only visit once in a while can wear your dog out more than a walk in some instances! This type of sensory and mental stimulation is in fact crucial to a dog’s health. However, in fact if left alone for long periods of time, day after day in the yard, dogs can become reactive in this area. They can start guarding the yard from other dogs and even people. Usually these are the dogs you see barking at any movement along the perimeter of their yards.

So what should you do to avoid your backyard becoming a crutch?

1)      WALK your dog! No matter how great your yard might be, it’s important to get your dog out for walks along varied paths. Not only will this really get her moving, but it will give her a chance to take in novel sensory stimulation, which is fabulous enrichment.

2)      Don’t leave your dog unattended in the yard. For one thing, unfortunately in this day and age you have to worry about things such as your dog getting into something poisonous, sometimes this might even be something someone maliciously threw over your fence. It’s also not uncommon for dogs to be taken right out of backyards. You never know when your dog might dig a hole or find a gap in your fence. If you’re not there to see, you’re not there to call your dog to come back…

3)      Make your backyard a fabulous playground that both you and your dog can enjoy together! Simply by having time in your backyard become slightly rarer, its value will increase. As much as I love chocolate ice cream, if I had it every day, I would eventually not be quite as eager to eat it each time! Remember the economics principle: scarcity creates demand.  When you do go out together, play games together. You can play tug. You can practice some training cues. You could play find it by hiding toys or treats all over your yard. You can hide things in your dog’s digging pit and have her dig them up. You can teach her a an outdoor trick like how to point at squirrels, circle a tree, weave between trees, carry empty trash bags for you so you can collect leaves, or my personal favorite, if you have a dog who marks you can put kicking on cue and call it “wipe your paws.”

The possibilities are endless, as are the rewards for both you and your dog!


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