Tuesday, July 22, 2014

City Dog: On Why Our Pooches Don't Need Backyards

Living in the city, it can be a rare thing to have a backyard. Most of us lack even a small patch of grass and spend our time taking our pups on several daily walks.
Of course we all gather together to lament and collectively dream of the time where we might have that elusive backyard where we can just open the door and our pups will frolic away into the grass, all without us even having to put on shoes (or a bathrobe!).

After spending 8+ years with the daily walk routine, we finally got lucky and since we bought our new home we earned our very mini-city yard.
While we have more deck space than proper yard, we do have a "grazing" area of grass in the back, two long gangways along the side of our house for the pups to run, and a larger grass yard is in our gated front area.
We were excited to get the pups out in their new yard to watch them frolic. Only to realize, there is no frolicking and they just do a lot of this:
Perplexed by the yard, Mr. B decides to just sit in it.
While we've been dreaming of this day ever since we've had the pups, even though we have the yard we've continued to take them on the daily walks. And after trying a little experiment of mainly staying in the yard, and now seeing it both ways, this is why we've realized pups don't really need backyards:

Walks as a Way to Maintain Training:
Even though we've had Miss M for 8 years, and Mr. B for 5 years, we've realized how important it is to be consistent with their training. We have lapsed a bit in the chaos of selling our home and moving, and especially as we we've been testing out our new yard. We've realized without our structure and routine the pups are beginning to push the limits and they aren't listening as much. We've now gone back to our daily walks as a set time where we can practice our training and maintain the consistency.

Increasing Exposure and Decreasing Boredom:
Our daily walk routine has been good for exposing the pups to all types of situations. Even if we do walk a similar route, each walk is different with sights and smells and people. We know many of you have seen the videos like this one and while all dogs are different, I think it has helped our pups succeed at these types of crowded events because they are consistently going on walks and being exposed to new things.
In the short time when we were relying mainly on time in the yard, when we finally did take the pups on a walk they were amped up, lunging across both sides of the sidewalk to smell new things, and meeting people with unexplained over-enthusiasm. We've realized how important it is to keep our walking routine to keep our pups mentally stimulated.

Improving Health:
People are usually surprised to hear that Miss M is 10 and Mr. B is 11 years old. I think one of the reasons they seem so youthful is that we are always out walking. The walks give them the mental stimulation to keep their minds alert, while it's also a good low-impact exercise to keep them in shape without a lot of strain on their joints.
Our walks also help us keep an eye on the pups to notice any conditions as they might come up. This time set-aside daily lets us immediately recognize if there are any changes in their health or anything concerning from their dog poo.
In a strange turn of events, we found that Miss M is literally grazing on our lawn and has gone beyond eating grass to eating clods of dirt (?) which will eventually get vomited up. Our walks help us keep an eye on her and keep her moving so she doesn't have time to eat the greenery.

We know all dogs and situations are different, and this is what we found works best of us.
What does everyone else think, to what degree do dogs need yard space?

What we all think about but don't talk about.
What really happens on a daily walk

Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog


KS said...

This was pretty much exactly our experience when moving further out in the 'burbs to a house with a yard (rather than a townhouse without one) - Vinnie required quite a bit of coaxing to do more than just stand in the yard and stare at us ("Outdoors with no leash?! What is this, a test?!"). On one hand, having private and safe space for zoomies, fetch, and playdates is awesome - but on the other hand, as you pointed out, walks are still crucial to reduce boredom and reinforce training & good manners - and as a bonus, they keep our pups' nails filed down!

Two French Bulldogs said...

Your pups get more exercise than most pups
Lily & Edward

Unknown said...

We have a yard, but we still walk ours daily. As they've gotten older they're not really interested in playing with us in the yard, but are still always up for the walk.

domesticgoddesse said...

We are about to put a fence in our city backyard because we're three months away from our first baby - we're figuring that it will help us out for our first winter. But as much as our dog loves zoomies in the yard, we fully intend to keep up daily walks for all the reasons you mention.

Hannah@Eriesistibull said...

While we love our yard (and not always having to leash up the pooches), sometimes I secretly wish we didn't have a yard so that we would have to walk the pooches. With younger pooches (Edi's just over 3!), having a space where they can burn off some energy has been a lifesaver, but I definitely agree with all your pro-walk comments!

Maggie said...

I am convinced that walking as much as we did gave my GS mix, Maggie, a long and happy life of 15 years.

That said, I would have loved to have had a backyard as a supplement to walking, particularly in the last part of Maggie's life when the the stairs in my apartment building became challenging.

(I also had lots of probs with off-leash dogs in my neighborhood, so I think a yard, might have been a nice break for me, from always being on high alert like that).

Two Pitties, I am curious to hear your thoughts on having a ground level option for the pooches, especially now that they are seniors, albeit "youthful" seniors, and if that influenced your move.

Victorpitbull said...

I have always had a yard, but as you have noticed, it is no substitute for daily walking (and for all of the reasons you stated). I use the yard as a great place for early morning or late-night pottying, and an easy way for a sitter to allow my pets to relieve themselves (if I am going to be late coming home from work or if I am away). But daily walking has always been the norm for us, no matter what. They need the training & the interactions & the stimulation & the exercise (as do the humans that walk with them, LOL! However, having said that, I will nod to one difference with yard romping: younger dogs REALLY do take advantage of the yard for that purpose! ;) Most of my dogs are all older, but because I foster dogs of all ages & sizes & breeds, I have noticed that the young'uns do tend to love the yard romps (in addition to their walks). It really helps burn off their excess energy, especially if I play a game of fetch or flirt-pole with them. Another plus to the yard is having doggy playdates (if you know your dogs enjoy that sort of interacting). Having a doggy friend over to romp in the yard gets even the old geezers into the games, LOL. :)

Wandering_Weaver said...

I am so so glad to see everyone feeling similarly about walks and yards. I got my first city pup a few months ago and have been feeling really guilty about not having a yard to have her run around in. Thankfully we have found a dog park and great doggie daycare facilities to ease my guilt! But I do love our walks and would probably be super lazy about them if I had a yard :-/

Ashley June said...

That makes sense. I'm sure dogs adapt to the environment they are raised in. My lab was raised with an amazingly green and lush lawn, but we've moved and now she has acres and acres of running space, but it's all dirt. She loves to run around, but all she really wants is grass to lay in and roll around in. I know that it's a comfort for her to have grass since that's where we spent our time when she was growing up. So of course, we've leased a tractor and are constructing a completely unfeasible lawn, just for her. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree that even though I have a fenced in back yard (small), my dog gets so much more out of a walk. There's something about the hunt, the smells, and the accomplishment of getting the doggy daily news. Even in hot humid weather, I take my 11 yr old American Bulldog mix (who doesn't do well in the heat) out for a slow stroll down the block, letting him sniff and do his thing. Luckily he can't tell time or distance. He's just glad to get out and about for awhile. When it's more tolerable out, we go longer and farther, and he's much more zen afterward. There truly isn't a substitute for the walk, that's for sure.

Rachel @ My Two Pitties said...

It really is lame when people think time spent in the backyard is a good replacement for walks. That being said, our favorite things about having a yard are...
Potty breaks - we typically go on a 1 to 2 hour hike daily but I really don't feel like having to worry about morning and night time potty breaks.
Sunbathing - they love it!
Playing - they are not allowed to play in the house so the yard is the perfect place to play chase and wrestle:)

Anonymous said...

I had always wanted a fenced in yard but am with you that walks are so important and meaningful to us. what i like about the back yard is that they boys can roam around while humans hang out on the patio. It's also nice now that Jake can't walk well, his yard time is a lot of the best walking he does! A little trick, if the dogs pee out back, squirt the spot with the hose for a few seconds and it won't turn brown. It's only an issue if they pee during the day, pee+sunshine=brown.

Annie & Pauls Mom said...

Annie and Paul often eat grass while standing in the yard during bathroom breaks. The best thing about a yard is the fact that you can stand in the yard in your PJ's at 2 am with a sick pup w/o having to fish for a leash. Beyond that, I love to still walk Annie and Paul. Like you said, they need the walk for mental and physical exercise.

OG said...

I've never had a yard. Although Petey and I used to stay frequently with someone who did. It was good for a quick pee or for throwing toys around but definitely not a substitute for walks. It's not good for people not to get out and get visual and mental stimulation via sights and smells and other people. And it's just as good (who knows, even better?) for dogs

A Wonderful Dogs Life said...

We love to run and play and lazy around in the yard.

Have you tried any nose work games in the yard yet?

Maybe one of those chase it kind of toys on a stick would get them frolicking in the yard.

Unknown said...

I moved from the city to the suburbs about a year ago and it always amazes me that me and my boy Boomer are usually the only ones out on the street walking. All the other dogs stare (or bark) at us from their invisible fences as we walk by. One neighbor said to me once - "you must walk 10 miles a day!" No, just three or four 20 min walks a day haha. He was amazed that we do it in the rain. Hey... dogs gotta go still! And Boomer doesnt like to go in his own yard. Walking is also an incredible bonding time - healthy for both people and dogs.

t said...

Yes, same story and my little guy refuses to do his business in the back yard! I guess they get to sun themselves while I do chores, but they did that in my sunny apartment anyway :(

Walks are what separate dogs from cats, so I guess we keep walking!

kathrynannew said...

We have a fenced in yard and our girl loves it-- it's perfect for chasing squirrels, zoomies, fetch, sunbathing, play dates, and late night/early morning potty breaks. It's also been handy for off-leash training. That said, she still gets 2 walks day. We are currently staying in an apartment while we are having work done on our house, and even though she's still getting plenty of walks, she misses her "free" outdoor time.

Lola in the city said...

Living on 30 acres on a ranch had a lot of room to roam... No leash most of the time. Just in the last year I moved in the city, Lola was having a difficult time with all the distractions, cars buses and seeking other dogs on leash.
I have no yard per say that closed in, took about 6 months to her her relaxed, she does just great indoors, she walks early morning for 1hr or more then evening we are out for 2hrs, late evening I just walk around
the block. She has done very well being alone in the house while I'm at work, but then she was crate trained, I beloved this hoes her to be calm, now she just goes in when she wants. Dogs just need there walks and play time.

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