You love your dog, but do you love his walks?
Before a family brings home a new best friend, there's always a question: Who's going to walk Rover? Dog walking seems okay at first, but dog walkers usually lose patience with the daily walks required for dog training or potty breaks. Sooner or later, that designee is, at least occasionally, looking for a workaround. Dog owners often turn to dog walking services or pet sitting for their furry friend's pet care, but pet sitters can require expensive background checks and ultimately lots of money for peace of mind. If your dog's walk has gone stale, you might be looking to avoid long walks and replace them with the mental stimulation of a dog park. Still, if convenience is your top priority, could playing with your dog in your yard be just as good? Your fur baby can get get the same health benefits whether frolicking in the yard or trotting around the block on a proper walk. We went to two veteran dog trainers and animal lovers to get an understanding of what to weigh when deciding on a day's activities.
Wherever you spend quality time with your pet, remember two things, insists Karen Phillips, a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and Animal Behavior College Certified Dog Trainer at Mutts Understood in Dallas, Texas. First: "Be with your dog. That means putting away your phone." Scrolling through your Facebook feed while walking your dog also distracts you from traffic, bicyclists, and other hazards. Secondly, emphasizes Phillips, "Be aware of your dog's emotional state and try to provide what your dog needs in that moment, as opposed to doing something because you feel you 'should.'"
Here, the pros and cons of each scenario:
"The best thing about your backyard is that your dog gets to run free, while you never have to worry about him getting into trouble with neighbors or animals," says Nora Kogelschatz, Manager of Behavior and Training at Bideawee in New York City. Additionally, adds Phillips, there's more of an opportunity for person-canine bonding.
Kogelschatz and Phillips agree that the main drawback is that the backyard can start to feel same-old. "There is minimal variety in the environment for your dog to explore," says Phillips. "He smells the same smells, sees the same things," adds Kogelschatz. And a dog who gets a little bored with the same territory is a dog who may find that space underneath the gate and wiggle out. Just in case, always make sure your dog is wearing his collar and ID tags. Personalized dog collars, like the GoTags Custom Embroidered Dog Collar, are a stylish and practical option.
Maximize the Fun
"Give your dog different things to do," Kogelschatz suggests. "Set up a sprinkler, or in cooler weather, you can put together some simple agility equipment for your dog to jump over, in and under." An hour in the yard is also an opportunity for a training session, notes Kogelschatz. "Play fetch and teach him to drop it. Run around, but teach him to sit instead of jump when excited." Since virtually all dogs are motivated by food, a bag of training treats, like American Journey Grain-Free Training Bits, can move those "roll over!" or "shake!" lessons along.
Phillips advises varying toys from day to day, so there's a surprise when he goes outside, even though the environment is the same. A game of fetch is a given, so consider picking up the Project Hive Pet Company Fetch Stick. It has an erratic bounce that dogs find irresistible, and it floats! Another great outdoor toy is Outward Hound's Squeaker Balls Set, which has close to 10,000 five-star reviews on Amazon Pets.
"Walking your dog provides a tremendous amount of stimulation," says Kogelschatz. "He gets to use all his senses, from smelling the ground, to hearing birds fly by and seeing cars."
If your dog isn't well socialized, and you live in a busy area where it's rare not to see a few other dogs and their people, "The outing is nothing but frustrating for you and your dog. You do it because you feel you should, not because you want to," says Phillips. Even if your dog lives to swap butt sniffs with his pals, a walk still comes with a few potential risks, such as hot pavement and blacktop in summer and ice-melt chemicals in the winter. Those are easily managed if you protect his paws, though. Kurgo Step-n-Strobe Dog Shoes have light-up soles so your dog is visible at night.
Maximize the Fun
Change the route up now and then. Switching directions works too, reminds Phillips. For example, walk around the block clockwise instead of your usual counterclockwise. Allow your dog time to explore. Sniffing the scents left behind by other dogs may well be a highlight of his day. Don't rush, and "You'll have a happier, more content companion," says Phillips.
The only time you can teach your dog polite walking manners is on a walk. "Stop at each corner, and teach your dog to sit and wait," says Kogelschatz. "If he pulls, teach him how to walk nicely by your side."
Sometimes, poor doggy walking habits can be attributed to uncomfortable or ill fitting dog collars or harnesses. The Kurgo Tru-Fit Smart Dog Harness reduces stress on the trachea and sternum of large-breed dogs. Bonus: it doubles as a car harness. For smaller dogs, Frisco Martingale Dog Collars have a side buckle designed to foil little magicians who escape from collars. You might pair either one with the Frisco Dog Leash. It has the Ultra Weld Seal for extra durability. The Bond & Co. Mahogany Leather Dog Collar is soft and strong, with a sturdy metal D-ring for easy leash attachment.
Both Phillips and Kogelschatz agree that there is a big difference between playing in the yard with your dog and letting him out by himself regularly so that you don't have to walk him. Dog breeds of all kinds love spending time with their pet parents. "Spending time with you is what he enjoys most," notes Phillips. "Make sure he associates the backyard with fun, not isolation." To a dog, being alone in the backyard can be worse than a kennel or day care, where he can play with new friends until his pet owner swings by for pick up.
Of course, if you have the flu or it's 2 a.m., there's nothing wrong with letting him out if you have a fence. If not, the PetSafe Wireless Containment System may solve the problem. If your dog crosses the boundary of your yard, an annoying tone goes off on his special collar, discouraging him from going farther. Ultimately, whether you choose to use a dog walking business or spend your own time playing with Fido, know that the tail wag at the end will all be worth it.
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