DEAR DIDI: Can dogs be adequately exercised in small yards or an apartment? -City Dweller
DEAR CITY DWELLER: They absolutely can! One of the biggest misconceptions I run into with new clients is the pervasive feeling that dogs with behavioral issues need to find new homes with people that have “big backyards”. That comment typically means that the owner thinks it is ok to send their dog outside to play and the dog will somehow exercise himself. More often than not, the dog will definitely be bored to tears and find all kinds of activities to amuse himself but most of those chosen activities are not what the human wants the dog doing. Your dog may find it fun to run the fence line barking, dig holes, chew up the sprinkler system, or even escape the yard to go explore the neighborhood. America’s dogs are suffering from the same issue that many of America’s kids are suffering from. A complete lack of attention from their parents.
Let’s draw some comparisons. My 4 year old is being fussy and I don’t want to hear it so I hand her my cellphone with a video game. She quieted down instantly. My dog has too much energy and is getting on my nerves so I gave him a bone to chew on. I instantly get some peace and quiet for an hour. It has been proven that most dogs have the problem solving skills of a 3-5 year old human child. The key is to challenge their minds. Oh!, but this takes effort on the human’s part! Dogs are not meant to be merely part of the household décor. They are highly intelligent animals that need and crave your attention. Some will get it from you any way they can. If that means grabbing your shoe makes you mad and suddenly notice them … the shoe quickly becomes a means to an end.
This concept goes way beyond Sit, Come and Stay. Those are just verbal cues that help your dog understand an action you desire in a single moment of time. Raising an engaged, friendly and attentive dog requires a more sophisticated level of “training” and your time. No need for tons of space, big yards or even a physically fit owner. Engage your dog in focus work, trick training, good manners, and even household chores. Yes! Your dog can learn to pull the laundry out of the dryer into the laundry basket and follow you to the bedroom. She can learn to lay quietly while you fold the clothes and put them away. Don’t just hand your dog bones and treats to chew on and expect them to occupy themselves! Treat dispensing toy puzzles sound great but are not truly enrichment if you aren’t involved with them. Enlist the help of a behaviorist to show you hundreds of ways you can enrich your pooch’s mind and turn him into a dog that is engaged, focused, calmer and anxiety free!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. Like Didi’s Facebook page: California Canine. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. E-mail your questions to Didi@californiacanine.dog.