Creating a dog-friendly backyard brings many benefits such as the dog’s safety, prevention of boredom, exercise, and enjoyment of nature. Remember, though, that while letting your dog have a free romp in your yard keeps him exercised, active and happy, the yard should be used only as a temporary retreat. Nothing can replace the time you spend with your furry pal to enhance your relationship and seal your special bond.
Dogs kept in a bland backyard all day are far more likely to misbehave with chewing, digging, excessive barking, pacing along the fence, or fence fighting with other dogs. Adapting your yard to make it more comfortable and appealing to your dog will go a long way toward making for a more contented, relaxed canine companion.
Dogs that are bored or hungry will be tempted to eat anything they find in your yard, including plants or flowers. Dogs can become extremely ill or even die from eating poisonous plants. To help prevent your dog from eating plants, don’t garden with him present—otherwise he may conclude that playing with plants and digging are acceptable activities.
Mulch can also be problematic. Many types of mulch are toxic, especially cocoa bean mulch. Large-size wood mulch can harm your dog if he chews on it, creating wood splinters that could lodge in his mouth or stomach.
Don’t leave out any products meant for outdoor use where your pet can get into them. This includes lawn chemicals like fertilizers and weed killers, antifreeze, pesticides, and outdoor grilling supplies like charcoal and lighter fluid.
There are different things you can try to prevent this behavior, depending on your dog and what he is chewing. The easiest way to stop your dog from chewing is to have the item itself give the correction by applying a foul-tasting product such as Bitter Apple spray, citronella or hot chili sauce to it. However, since dogs’ tastes vary, you’ll need to experiment to see what works best.
Keep your dog entertained by providing high-quality puzzle toys that reward him with treats, such as the GameChanger. Every few days, rotate what toys are available to him, so that he has something new and fun to hold his interest.
Never give your dog old shoes or clothing items to chew, as he may not distinguish between these old items and new ones. Also, be aware that plastic drink bottles may inadvertently teach your dog that plastic is okay to chew, which means plastic planters, hoses and garden furniture become likely targets for his teeth.
Water is always essential to your pooch, so be sure the yard includes a large water bowl filled with fresh water in all seasons. If you choose to incorporate a water feature such as a small pond, be sure to use the kind that circulates water to help avoid mosquitoes. Still-water ponds need chemical additives to kill the larvae that will grow there and is unhealthy for household pets.
If you have a swimming pool, consider constructing a barrier to prevent accidents. Or, teach your dog to swim and show him where to exit the pool.
While being outside can make for a happy dog, being stuck in the blazing sun is unhealthy. Create a cool spot for your pooch by scraping an indented area in a shady place where he can relax in comfort. Without such a place, your dog may create his own spot in an area not of your choosing.
Digging is a normal behavior for dogs. They dig in search of food, to investigate sounds and smells, to improve their shelter, or to escape. Digging can be triggered by boredom, separation anxiety, chasing rodents or bugs, and/or a nutritional deficiency. The reason for the digging must be determined before a possible training solution can be introduced.
Scattering a variety of foods—bits of raw vegetables or your dog kibble, in the yard, appeals to a dog’s natural instinct to forage. Dogs enjoy looking for food on the ground and will literally spend hours doing so. Also, try hiding a few treats so your dog spends extra time looking for them.
Fences and Gates
A fence helps to keep your dog safely on your property and out of harm’s way. If your yard has a traditional fence (chain link or wood), be sure all gates latch correctly each time they are closed. Check the fence for holes or other openings. If there are gaps, place bricks or large stones in front of the holes, otherwise your pet might find a way out of the yard.
Because some homeowner’s associations do not allow traditional fences, a popular alternative is the electronic or “invisible” dog fence. Choosing this type of barrier has many benefits (it keeps the landscape tidy), as well as drawbacks—while the fence may keep your pet in, it doesn’t keep other animals or people out.
Maintaining the Yard
Maintain the yard’s cleanliness by regularly picking up after your dog. Some dogs can be trained to use one area for toileting. While the nitrogen in dog urine can be very hard on lawns, watering the area after the dog has urinated can help to minimize damage.
Keep your dog (and anyone else) off the lawn after any yard treatments—fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides—until the chemicals have dried completely.
Also, be careful of metal lawn edging. Metal edging invites great risk of your dog stepping on it and seriously cutting his paw.
If your dog is kept outside, make sure he has shelter in which to get out of the weather. Dogs are more relaxed when they are covered and in familiar surroundings. Place the dog house next to your family’s house so that your dog feels like it is an extension of the larger “den.” Provide a blanket or other comfy bedding and be sure he has access to fresh water.
Choose a house made of a naturally rot-resistant material such as plastic or red cedar, but do not use pressure-treated wood, which can contain arsenic. Use rust-proof galvanized nails and screws.
The house should be raised from the ground to insulate the dog from moisture and chills and should be large enough for him to comfortably turn around but small enough to retain his body heat. In colder climates, your dog may appreciate a heated dog house, whether created by a dog house heater or a solar panel.
Vicki and Richard Horowitz, of Woodbridge, are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, one of the world’s largest dog training company. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit www.dog-training-new-haven-ct.com.