Your dog barks non-stop. Your dog digs, ruining your yard. Your dog chews anything he can get his teeth on.
What's missing from this picture? Chances are, it's exercise.
It's not news that we humans don't get enough exercise, so it's no surprise that our dogs aren't moving much, either. While most pet lovers recognize that exercise is good for their dogs, few seem to make the connection between a lack of exercise and behavioral problems that have excess energy and boredom as components.
While environmental management (such as removing barking triggers or giving a dog something acceptable to chew) and training your dog are important, these strategies are only part of the solution. Dogs aren't getting the exercise they need, and it's causing problems.
Look at the big, active dogs we adore, such as the Labrador, golden retriever and German shepherd. These breeds make up three of the American Kennel Club's top five most popular. You don't have to go far down the popularity list to find other active breeds as well. Factor in the countless retriever and shepherd mixes, and you have a lot of dogs whose genetics have prepared them to work nonstop, but are spending their lives in small, boring back yards.
And what are they doing to burn all that natural energy? You guessed it: barking, digging, chewing.
If you're thinking of getting a dog, think very seriously about what breed you want, and whether you can provide an active dog with the exercise it needs. If you can't honestly say that your dog will get 30 minutes of heart-thumping aerobic exercise at least three to four days a week -- daily is better -- then you really ought to reconsider gettting an active large breed.
Instead, consider the alternatives. For large breeds, look at the sight hounds, such as the greyhound, saluki or even the massive Irish wolfhound. These breeds were not developed to work all day like the retriever, husky and sheepdog, but rather to go all-out for a short period of time and then chill out. They're big, but they're couch potatoes by choice. Many guarding breeds, such as rottweilers, boxers and Akitas, also have relatively minimal exercise requirements. All dogs love and need their exercise, but not all dogs will go crazy if they don't get a ton of it.
Most small breeds are easy in the exercise department, too, not because they don't need a lot of exercise, but rather because it's not as difficult to exercise a small dog with short legs. A Yorkie, pug or corgi can get good exercise in a small yard or on a brisk walk.
If you must bring a large, active breed or mix into your home, then you also must meet your dog's needs when it comes to exercise.
Your efforts will pay off for you as well your dog. Experts agree: A dog that gets plenty of exercise is less likely to develop behavior problems and more likely to be able to overcome them if they're established. Plus, an active dog will be less likely to suffer from life-shortening obesity.
So get that leash. Find that ball. And make some time to get your dog out and running. Exercising your dog -- especially if you're a walker or runner -- is great for your own physical and mental health as well.
PETS ON THE WEB
Are you ever embarrassed to admit how much you love your cats? Would you be chagrined to know that others consider you the "crazy cat lady" of your office? If so, you'll enjoy the Web site of the Crazy Cat Ladies Society & Gentlemen's Auxiliary (www.crazycatladies.org). This charming site uses humor to counter the stereotypes of cat lovers. Along the way, the society also raises money for some worthy causes -- cat-related, of course. There's also a forum area to schmooze with like-minded cat lovers. Crazy cat ladies (and gentlemen) of the world unite!
As the weather heats up, it's essential that all pets have a constant source of fresh water that's protected from the heat of the sun. I remember almost renting a house that came equipped with one of those nifty dispensers that attach to an outdoor faucet and provide water when the dog licks the end (sort of like the set-ups used for rabbits and other small animals). Problem was, the faucet was in the sun, which meant the metal would be blistering hot on a day when a pet needed water most. I didn't take the place -- the street had too much traffic -- but I did unscrew the watering device and hand it to the rental agent with an explanation before I left.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I'm thinking of adopting a small poodle from animal rescue. I work full-time, and my back yard is just cement and a pool. I am wondering the best way to deal with poodle poop. (I'm hoping the poodle will already be house-trained.)
Since I don't really have anywhere in the back yard for the poodle to relieve herself ... well, what do I do? Can I litterbox-train her? Could I put some kind of adult diaper on the floor? -- K.H., via e-mail
A: Your dog doesn't need grass in the yard to use it. Think of all the dogs who live in Manhattan and how little grass they have to use. It's just a matter of acclimating the dog, with training and lots of praise, to use what's available.
I'm getting the sense, however, that you would find poodle poops by the pool to be a problem, and if that's the case, then yes, there are other options. You could walk the dog, being very sure to pick up those messes with a baggie. Or you could use a litterbox.
People with small dogs have used feline litterboxes for years, as well as newspapers spread on the floor. Neither solution was ideal, but in the last couple of years the litterbox option became much more viable when a major dog-food manufacturer threw its support into developing a box designed for dogs.
Purina's Secondnature system comes with a box and litter, along with a training brochure to help convert dogs to the indoor-only potty stop. You can find out more about the product on the Web site, Doglitter.com, or by calling (800) 7PURINA (778-7462).
Q: Thought I'd pass along a possible solution to the problem of stray cats messing on lawns. A friend suggested this solution, and it seems to be working so far.
I realized the cat was coming over my fence, so I laid chicken wire on the 2-by-4 runners along the fence. I stapled the chicken wire at a 45-degree angle on the fence and the 2-by-4s, thus leaving a space between the chicken wire and the 2-by-4.
The idea is that the cat won't walk on the chicken wire because its feet will get tangled up in it. It can also work if you leave chicken wire around the perimeter of the lawn because cats won't walk on it to get to the lawn; they just go to the neighbor's! -- J.D., via e-mail
A: I always know the weather is finally nice enough for gardening when people start writing me to complain about cat mess in their yards.
Your solution to keeping cats out of your yard is similar to ones I wish people would use to keep their cats in their own yards, where the animals would be so much safer. I like to recommend that cats be kept completely inside the house, but I know it's difficult to convert a cat who's used to going out. Many people just can't cope with all the feline complaining and open the door just to get a break from the demanding yowls.
Cat fencing is a good compromise, one that allows the cat to go outside but doesn't expose him to the dangers beyond his own back yard. The fencing also keeps the cat from messing in the neighbors' yards.
You can get do-it-yourself directions on the Web at www.feralcat.com/fence.html. You can also buy ready-made kits from Cat Fence-In (www.catfencein.com; (888) 738-9099) or Affordable Cat Fence (www.catfence.com; (888) 840-2287). Pictures of one do-it-yourself cat-fence installation are at www.lisaviolet.com/cathouse/backyard.html.
I wish more people would consider such fencing! The benefits are many to cats and neighbors alike.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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