Create a Dog-friendly Backyard

The weather is warm, and the backyard beckons. Your dog is probably just as eager as you are to enjoy time outside.

But although your pal may be ready for a romp through the yard and a roll in the grass, it’s up to you to make sure your yard is just as ready. It’s time to think like the parent of a very active toddler and create a dog-friendly backyard.

A Backyard Safety Checklist
Before you let your dog loose in your fenced-in yard, it’s important to consider any potential hazards. Check for these common threats:

  • Fences Most of us rely on some type of metal or wooden wall to keep our dogs from roaming, but make sure the material you’ve chosen to construct your fence includes no sharp edges or splinters. Also, put your dog in a breakaway collar so that, if she gets tangled up, she can free herself with a tug or two. This is also extra insurance for those of you with jumpers who aim to hurdle over fences. (Some agile dogs can leap to the top, but are unable to clear the tall posts when their collars get stuck.) You’ll finally want to survey the fence for loose boards and other types of damage that might have occurred during the winter months.
  • Chemicals Many commercial fertilizers and weed killers are now safe for animals, provided the manufacturer’s instructions are followed -- but others can cause illness. Beware of rodent and insect repellants. Read the label on each package before using a chemical product in your yard, and consider organic methods when possible. Keep your veterinarian’s number readily available in case of poisoning or call the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.

  • Plants Some of gardeners’ most beloved flowers and bushes, including tulip and daffodil bulbs, are harmful when ingested by dogs. Research before planting.
  • Pools/hot tubs Dogs love to take a plunge, but sometimes the high walls of these swimming holes are too high for them to climb out safely. Always make sure to cover or fence in your water spots.
  • Lack of shade Your dog will need plenty of shade and water to keep from overheating on warm days.
  • People food and beverages Take time to think about your dog when you host backyard cookouts and parties. It can be more difficult to police drinks and food when guests leave cups and plates underneath lawn chairs and the like. Make sure your dog doesn’t have access to alcoholic beverages and harmful foods such as chocolate, raisins and grapes, advises the ASPCA.

Consider These Alternatives
If you are concerned about your dog spending unsupervised time in your yard, consider using a dog run where he can safely romp. A toddler’s plastic play area might work for smaller dogs and has the advantage of portability.

If you feel that your dog is safe in your yard and you are worried about your flowers, consider chicken wire. Fencing your flowers with chicken wire offers a nearly invisible force field that will deter the most determined doe or Dachshund.

Ticked off the checklist? Then it’s time to relax and enjoy some yard time with your best friend.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/jeffdalt

Exercise and the small dog

Just like you, your small dog needs exercise to stay healthy and happy. Small dogs are defined as those that weigh less than 22 pounds and who are shorter than 16 inches. “Exercise helps to keep your pet physically fit, mentally secure, socially engaged and emotionally happy,” says Lori Morton-Feazell, Director of Animal Care and Education for Petco. “It also reduces stress and deters negative behaviors such as chewing, digging and barking.”

If you are considering an exercise plan because you believe your pooch is overweight, your veterinarian can examine your dog and let you know if he needs to lose a few pounds. If your dog has difficulty walking or playing, he could be overweight, and it will be important to start any exercise regime slowly to build up endurance and lung capacity. 

Even if your small dog is the proper weight and is healthy, it is still important to check with your veterinarian to learn about any specific precautions you may need to be aware about for your dog’s breed, like breathing problems. Additionally, if it has been a while since your dog has exercised, start slow with short walks and play sessions. Always take your dog’s age, breed and health into account when starting any exercise routine.  “Begin with a 15-minute walk each day, and after the first week increase it by 5 minutes,” Morton-Feazell recommends. “Watch your dog for signs of [exhaustion] like heavy panting or their tongue hanging out, and remember if it is a long walk, take water to give to your dog. If your dog is used to exercise, a 30-60 minute walk daily is enough to keep him physically fit and emotionally happy.”

Keep in mind that the amount of exercise your dog needs is not equivalent to his size, but rather to his breed. For example, a small Jack Russell Terrier requires more exercise than the much larger Great Dane. Oppositely, a Labrador Retriever is a very active dog and would need more exercise than a tea cup Poodle. Ask your vet about how much exercise your particular breed of dog should be getting.

Of course going on walks isn’t the only way to exercise your pup. Other options for include obedience training and agility training.  “Try teaching him a new trick,” says Morton-Feazell. “Some simple ideas are give paw, high five, sit and stay.  This can help keep your dog emotionally happy and social.”

As far as agility training goes, many small breeds are very agile, and doing agility training through simple obstacles is a great way to experience the human/animal bond with your dog, in addition to providing exercise.

The key to getting the most out of an exercise program is getting your dog’s heart rate up, which will cause her to have a good pant. “Be careful not to over-exercise your dog and cause heavy panting or heavy breathing,” explains Morton-Feazell. “Give your dog breaks to catch his or her breath and get a drink of water.”

The best way to encourage your small dog to exercise is by incorporating toys into the workout.  Puppies, particularly, love to chase toys and put them in their mouths. Some options for older small dogs are balls, frisbees, Kongs or other toys that can be thrown for your dog to retrieve.  Morton-Feazell advises that you pick the right size toy for your dog. Don’t give your small dog a large toy as they may not want to play with it. You also want to make sure that the toy is large enough to not get stuck in the dog’s throat and cause an injury.

Keep in mind that all small dogs are different and will receive the most benefit from different types of exercises. There are no exercises that are off limits for your small dog, although some modifications can be made to accommodate their size. While playing, walking or training your dog, notice if he is tired, panting excessively or thirsty. These are signs that you may be pushing him too hard and that he needs a break and/or water.

Bark Management 101

Dogs bark. That’s how they communicate. But what if your dog barks incessantly? What if your dog is waking the baby up all the time or driving the neighbors crazy? Don’t call the doggie psychologist quite yet. Sometimes, you simply need to correctly diagnose the problem, and then teach your dog to stop the behavior. Here are some strategies:

Figure out What Your Dog Needs
Your dog barks because it wants your attention. Instead of ignoring the barks or hushing your dog, step back and try to figure out what your pal is trying to tell you. Ask yourself: Is your dog bored? Sad? Anxious? Afraid? Lonely? Most of these conditions can be fixed by spending more productive time together. Here’s what you can do to help:

Engage your dog. Instead of sitting on your patio and reading a book with your dog nearby, play a game of fetch or teach a new command         

Burn energy. Your dog might need more stimulation in the way of longer walks or jogs to feel part of the greater world. Moreover, exercise will zap excess energy that your dog will otherwise burn by barking.

Hire help. If you find you’re short on time, hire a dog walker or neighborhood kid who can entertain your pooch.

Be good company. Keep your dog inside with you, if possible, so that your best friend can at least feel your presence.

Behavior Modification
If you know your dog is perfectly self-actualized, perhaps you’ve unknowingly taught your dog to bark. For example, the owner who opens the door when the dog “speaks” reinforces the dog’s notion that you will respond to vocal commands. If this is the case, you’ll have to try behavior modification.

Teach your dog the command “Be quiet”: First, ask your dog to bark. Then, hold a treat in front of your dog’s nose. Your dog will immediately stop barking to sniff, at which point you say, “Be quiet.” When your dog complies, reward it with verbal encouragement and strokes. After three seconds of quiet, give your dog a treat. If your dog makes a mistake (and your pal will), clap your hands to provide a distraction and repeat the exercise.

Dogs With Barking in the DNA
Several breeds are known for barking, and unless you aim to purchase a watchdog, you may want to take this into consideration when you select a dog. These breeds include:

  • Chihuahua
  • Cairn Terrier
  • German Shepherd
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Rottweiler
  • West Highland White Terrier
  • Yorkshire Terrier

Dogs that bark too much can be completely irritating. Make sure your pet minds its manners and barks only when necessary -- such as when your football team scores a touchdown.


Photo: @iStockphoto.com/WilleeCole

What to do with a dog that won’t stop barking

It’s hard to believe that your little Sparky, who’s always such an angel when you’re home, could be making so much noise when you’re away. But if your neighbors are at their wits end with your dog’s barking it’s important to get to the bottom of why he’s doing it, and then figure out how to stop it. We enlisted the help of Victoria Wells, senior manager of behavior and training at the ASPCA’s Adoption Center, to answer a few questions on barking—and to help us determine when we might need to worry.

How do you decipher between normal barking and excessive barking?

Dogs communicate with other dogs and with humans through barking, so it’s unrealistic to expect a dog not to bark at all. But what constitutes as ‘excessive barking’ is really up to the owner and their particular situation. Many owners only discover that their dogs are barking when they’re not home because they get noise complaints from their neighbors.

Is there cause for concern if your dog didn’t bark much before, but has begun to recently?

Some dogs don’t begin using their voice until they have reached a certain age. If they transitioned from puppyhood into adolescence, they may have just found their voice and this is normal. If an adult dog who has been typically quiet for most of their lives begins to bark this may be a signal that something is troubling them in their environment, health wise, or behaviorally.

What’s the best way to curb excessive barking?

Barking is motivated by different emotional states, and there are different causes for it. So, the first step is to identify why a dog is barking. To do that, you need to find out whether the dog is barking intermittently or consistently throughout the day. To figure this out, try recording the dog when you’re away. Or, the next best thing would be to ask a neighbor for their observations on your dog’s barking patterns.

What does it tell you if the barking is intermittent versus consistent?

If the barking is intermittent, the dog is likely ‘alarm barking’, or alerting to noises it hears outside. But if the barking persists throughout the day while the owner is absent, it could be because of something like separation anxiety.

How do you deal with alarm barking?

If the dog is alerting to noises in the hallway of an apartment building, or even outside, the first thing you want to do is provide them with entertainment and stimulation while the owner is absent. We recommend some sort of enrichment toy filled with food to keep their mouths busy and their minds stimulated. Then, you want to block the outside noises. So we suggest providing some sort of consistent white noise like from a white noise machine, classical music [which studies have found calms anxious pups], or even a simple, inexpensive box fan placed near your entrances or windows.

What if your dog is doing a lot of barking outside?

Again, it depends what the trigger is for the behavior. Many times barking is socially facilitated, which means they’re communicating with another dog. Sometimes that’s just how they say hello, and you’ve got to expect that once in awhile. If it becomes problematic, or if they’re incessantly barking, you’d want to distract them from other dogs by giving them treats while other dogs pass.

If the barking is towards people, then you probably have a greater issue and you might want to seek help from a professional dog trainer or behaviorist.

What role does exercise play in a dog’s barking?

For every form of barking, exercise is a great antidote. If the barking is attention-seeking, if it’s out of boredom, or even if it’s anxiety based, aerobic activity is going to decrease that behavior.

If the barking is attention-seeking, the last thing you should do is give the dog attention, because then you’ve essentially reinforced that they will receive attention when they bark. I know it’s hard, but you should ignore them when they’re barking and then pay attention to them when they’re quiet.

How do you determine if a dog’s barking is because of anxiety?

That’s where something like a recorder comes in. If you determine that the barking lasts almost the entire time you’re gone, it’s more likely to be because of anxiety than an outside noise. There are other symptoms that would accompany the barking as well, like excessive panting or housetraining accidents.

What should you do if you determine the barking is a symptom of separation anxiety?

First, exercise is very important. Then, since separation anxiety stems from a very strong bond that the dog has created with their person, it’s important to teach the dog that the world won’t end if its owner isn’t right next to them.

We suggest placing the dog in an area of confinement, like behind a baby gate or in a dog crate for just 10 to 15 minutes every couple of hours. Give the dog something to chew on, like an interactive dog toy with food in it, leave the room and then return when the dog is not stressed out and is not barking. When you enter and exit the room, don’t make a big fuss, just walk right past them. Once your dog calms down, then interact with them.

Could a dog’s bark indicate duress?

Yes, a bark can indicate that a dog is injured or ill. Most people know what their dog’s typical bark sounds like. If it deviates from something the owner is used to, to something that sounds like the dog is in distress, then you should you take your dog to the veterinarian.

Remember: Certain breeds also tend to be more vocal than others, like Beagles or Yorkshire Terriers. So, if you are sensitive to barking—or you live in a building or neighborhood where a barking dog wouldn’t be welcome—it’s important to do your homework when picking out your new furry friend. Also keep in mind your city or county rules on noise violations. If you’ve got a particularly antsy neighbor who complains all the time about your vocal pup, he could be within his rights to involve the authorities. If that’s the case, you’ll want to try out some of the above tactics to curb your dog’s barking sooner rather than later.

4 Tips to Keep Your Dog’s Coat Healthy

Anyone with a furry friend can tell you that keeping up with a dog’s shedding is a full-time job. And some dogs can grow 100 feet of fur per day -- that’s adding up all the new strands covering the entire animal end-to-end, including the fluff between your dog’s toes -- so it’s easy to see why taking care of your dog’s coat can sometimes seem overwhelming. But all that fluff’s got real substance! You may not know it, but your dog’s fur:

  • Is eight times warmer than wool
  • Is fire-resistant
  • Wards off dirt
  • Repels static
  • Protects from parasites

So how do you keep your dog’s coat healthy and handsome? Use these tips and tricks from the experts to keep Fido’s coat glowing -- and growing.

A Healthy Diet
Like humans, dogs are only as healthy as what they eat, says Michael Weiss, a veterinarian at All Creatures Veterinary Care Center in Sewell, N.J. Two things to look for in your dog’s food:

  • Protein. If your dog lacks this vital nutrient, its body will dedicate protein to muscle first, leaving its fur and skin dry and dull. Make sure your dog’s food is rich in protein.
  • Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. These essential building blocks keep your dog’s coat healthy, thick and lustrous. They may also help reduce itching, dandruff and allergy-related skin problems. On the ingredients panel, look for fish oil, fish meal or flax, all excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Exercise
Exercise not only keeps your dog slim, it may also help keep her fur in top condition. Weiss says regular exercise benefits your dog’s overall health -- and a healthy dog is more likely to have a healthy, shiny coat.

Grooming
The fact is you can’t keep your dog from shedding. But with a few key products and techniques, you can easily take great care of your dog’s coat at home to keep it looking its best:

  • Brush at least once a week. In order to keep your dog’s mane manageable, give the fur one good brush each week with a de-shedding brush to get out the undercoat, says New York City-based groomer Lisa Caputo from the dog service company Biscuits and Bath. Part the hair and brush from the skin out to avoid matting, moisture and heat build-up, which can cause yeast and bacteria. For an even slicker look, give your dog a quick brush every day.
  • Bathe with gentle shampoos and conditioners. If your dog has sensitive skin, try a hypoallergenic or oatmeal shampoo. Caputo recommends washing your pooch every four weeks.

Medical Checkups
If you notice your dog has consistently itchy, uncomfortable skin or is shedding more than usual, your best bet is to take him to a veterinarian. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and each dog is different,” says Weiss. “It could be something as small as a food allergy to a more serious problem, like ringworm.”