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Dogs in the Country

Dogs in the Country

by Pat Renshaw (originally published in DOGS USA 2003)

Youve decided to sell your city property and move to the country. Or, you’ve decided that apartment living and all the conveniences that supposedly affords is too restricting. So, like Walt Wingfield you start to search out country properties; something with a few acres, maybe a small barn to house a horse or two. Perhaps a small chicken coop is in order as your see fresh omelettes dancing across your senses. Rick and Shari Lloyd of Orillia tell me that their impetus for looking for country property was horse ownership. Bob and Cheryl Long of Omemee wanted to find a small town to raise their three boys away from the influence of the big city. Dave and Gayle Butler of St. Jacobs just wanted a home with acreage and privacy and small town friendliness. And, a dog; definitely a dog. Maybe two dogs!

Life for dogs in a country or rural setting is considered idyllic. Wide open spaces, clean fresh air, woods and forests, streams and ponds, deer nibbling on tender tree shoots or strolling through the open fields that abut your property. Then there are the birds that visit your feeders and the migratory birds that fly overhead constantly going from field to field, pond to pond. The small wildlife (raccoons, skunks, gophers, coyotes, fox, wolf) using your meadow as a route from one field to the next as they search out prey. Horses, cows, sheep and goats quietly grazing in the pastures. You, strolling through quiet meadows with your dog bounding by your side. This does paint an idyllic picture. However, there are many more hazards to country living for our canine companions that urban canines do not face. Country dog owners must be prepared to meet those challenges to safeguard their canine companion.

Starting at the beginning, what breeds are best suited to country living? I believe that’s a matter of personal opinion. Dogs with heightened prey drive, such as dogs in the Terrier group (Airedale, Jack Russell, Fox terrier) or in the Hound group (Afghan, Deerhound, Fox hound, Greyhound, Norwegian Elkhound), are going to present their own set of challenges for a country dog owner. Depending where your country property is located, chasing wild game such as deer, moose, bear, etc can, obviously, have dire consequences. Chasing domestic farm animals can result in fractured skulls and extremities from kicking horses and cows. The breeds in the scent hound group, (such as Beagles, Basset Hounds, Coonhounds) may provide the country dog owner with more adventure than you bargained for. Dogs who, by their very nature, drop their noses and follow a scent that is too delicious to ignore often wander far from home and responsible supervision. The heavy coated breeds (Collies, Malamutes, Old English Sheepdogs, Shetland Sheepdogs) romping through golden fields of burdocks and hitch-hikers will certainly give the country dog owner lots of quality bonding time during dematting sessions. So, what breed is best suited to country living? The dog that suits country living and your life-style is the dog - not a particular breed of dog - that you are committed to.

That said, most country homeowners tend toward the larger breeds (German Shepherd Dogs, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Collies, Bouviers). This is probably due to the illusion of much more space than in a city dwelling and property. And, even though we want the serenity of country living, we want the illusion of protection that a larger dog affords.

Let’s discuss some of the considerations where the picture of country living and dog ownership collide.


Time Constraints

When we move to our country estate, most likely, we retain our city job. This is understandable as most small towns do not offer a large industrial base or work opportunity. And, as exciting as it is to rise at dawn in order to make the trek to our work-a-day world and return in the early evening, time becomes a precious commodity. We’ve given up our postage-stamp sized lawn for acres of greenery. It needs your attention... or the neighbours will talk. The tiny city garden that you had at the old place, has blossomed to a space that has become a rival for any botanical garden. It needs your attention. While you were away in the city for your workday, Mother Nature has dumped 3 feet of snow on your driveway and walkways. Its been blowing about all day and, it needs your attention. You’ve collected the children from day care and they need dinner, help with homework and baths before bedtime. They need your attention. After dinner, there are lunches to prepare for the next day and the kitchen to tidy up. Oh, the dog. I almost forgot about the dog. Just put him out in the yard. He’s fine.

Country living will eat into at least 3 more hours of your day. You can comfortably add two hours of commuting and one hour of property maintenance to your day. If the family is campaigning to allow a dog to enter your lives, do you have time? The children will not take responsibility for a new canine addition (even though they insist that they will); that responsibility will be yours.


Fencing

Secure fencing is a must - not a luxury. Country dogs are often let out in the yard for outdoor time; often without supervision. This is when high, secure fencing is a must. The last thing we envisioned for our country property was chain-link fencing. However, a large area fenced off the back of the house is not as much of an eyesore as you may think. Shrubbery and vines is a beautiful thing! Invisible fencing is becoming a more and more popular alternative to visible fencing. The dog wears a collar that acts as a receiver for a mild electrical charge as he approaches too near the perimeter. Because the dog sees approaching the perimeter as aversive, very little training is required for him to get the idea. The drawback to invisible fencing is that although it may keep your dog confined, it will allow any and all manner of animals to enter. As they leave, the temptation for your dog to stay may be too much for him to bear and the mild jolt that he receives crossing the fencing won’t be enough to deter him. Traditional farm fencing is meant to keep large farm animals contained and is not a deterrent to domestic animals. Boundary training, showing the dog where the perimeters of the property are and training him that he is not to cross them (without the luxury of invisible fencing), in my opinion, is not an option. There are too many temptations for your dog. And, although you may think he doesn’t leave your property, you are not absolutely sure of that. And the consequences (hit by a car, being shot by a farmer, caught in a trap, injuries sustained in an encounter with an other animal) are too unbearable to entertain.

Keep in mind that country living has an abundance of wild life as well as domestic farm animals. In many municipalities of rural Canada, safeguarding of farm animals is paramount. Farm operator/owners are well within their rights to shoot marauding dogs. If a dog is endangering their livestock by running them or attacking them, make no mistake, they will deal with the problem.

If you’ve left an urban setting and you’ve brought your city dog with you, you must introduce him to rural livestock. You know what a horse and cow look like. If your dog has never seen one, he does not and depending on your dog, his reaction to this creature may be one of fear, curiosity or chase aggression. All of these are dangerous to the safety of your dog. If his reaction is indifference, this is a good thing. To introduce your city dog to farm animals, get permission of the farm owner.

With confidence, and with your dog on lead, approach the field housing the livestock. If at any time your dog balks, stop and be nonchalant. Do NOT force the dog to approach. Once the dog sees that you are unconcerned he will likely move forward with you once again. Walk along the fence line and at all times, be calm and cool. If your dogs reaction is one of aggressive barking, stop and command your dog to sit. Move back from the spot you are at and approach again. If the dog starts barking again, repeat the sit and then move away again. Repeat this until the dog settles and you can get closer and closer without a reaction from the dog. In some cases, you may find that you need the counsel of a dog trainer to show you how to effectively accomplish this.

There is no sure-fire option to secure fencing. Fencing keeps the country dog on his own property and this safeguards everyone.


Socializing

Simply due to their environ, country dogs are relatively isolated. They don’t see lines of cars or trucks on busy streets. Unlike their city cousins, they are not walked along busy sidewalks encountering any number of people and children and other dogs. Our country dogs don’t go to dog parks and interact with their pals there. Therefore, early socialization is critical to the mental health of country dog. This takes commitment on our part even though there are time constraints to consider.

When we, as country dwellers, decide to bring a puppy into our lives, that puppy has been with his breeder and littermates for approximately 8 weeks or so. Hes been interacting with his family but has been isolated to that family group. When he comes to you and your family, he adjusts fairly well as the excitement of his addition has a lot of positive reinforcements for him. Therefore, he sees this upheaval is a good thing. However, if yours is the only family group that he interacts with, he will quickly begin to see strangers as invaders. This is not a good thing.

Socializing the new puppy is not as daunting a task as it may seem. It is as simple as putting the puppy in the car, driving to town and walking him along the sidewalk of the main street. If he balks at what he sees, encouragement to move along and to take it all in stride is usually all that is required. As he encounters people (and what person doesn’t want to stop and pat a puppy and chat a minute?), have treats in your pocket and ask the folks to help you out by cooing to the puppy and offer treats. Likewise with children and teens that you meet. In small towns, the local community centre or fairgrounds is where its at for kids activities. Go there with the puppy and just hang out. He soon sees his adventure in town as an exciting time.

The advantages to this exercise is two-fold. First your puppy gets to meet and greet all manner of people, as do you! You get to teach the puppy how to walk on lead (and this probably isn’t going to happen while the puppy is at home on your estate) and what appropriate behaviour is when he meets people in town. This can be done quite successfully with 10 - 15 minute sessions every couple of days for a few weeks.

He doesn’t have to see plumbers, roofers, electricians, meter readers, fuel deliverymen and the like who drive onto your property as his best friend. He cannot see these folks as the enemy either. This early socialization is particularly important - and critical - for the guard breeds (German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Akita, Doberman, Giant Schnauzer) who reside in a country setting.


Obedience Training

Obedience training is as important for the country dog as his city counterpart. If you are your dog are out strolling your acreage you must be able to call him back to you if need be, and he needs to respond immediately. How frightening to be strolling the fields with your dog and have him spot something on the horizon and run off with nary a thought for you. Having him walk at heel when it is appropriate for him to do so is also a safeguard, not a luxury. If your country estate is on or near a busy highway, walking back toward your home with him at heel as you get closer to your back yard only makes for a more pleasant time together. Having him bound ahead toward home so that hes only a speck on the horizon is truly frightening. Assuming that he’ll be waiting for you at the door is downright silly. Having him respond to any and all commands from you is to safeguard him in any manner of situations that require compliance from him.

New puppy? Investigate obedience schools in your area and enrol. A great resource is The Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers. To find an instructor in your area, visit their web site at www.cappdt.ca or contact them at 1-877-SIT-STAY. It will require 8 - 10 weeks of your time for the obedience instructor to give you the basics of how to train your new family member. The other advantage to obedience school is that your puppy will encounter any manner of other dogs and people - perfect adjunct to your socialization regime! He also learns to listen to you and your requests during any manner of distractions.
Crating, Kennelling and Puppy Proofing

Country puppy. City puppy. The challenges of a new puppy are the same. Puppy proofing your country home is just as challenging as puppy proofing your city home. There may be more space in your country home, but the challenges are the same. Crate training for your country puppy is just as important as crate training for your city puppy. The only difference in country living may be that you consider installing an outside kennel run. Remember the time constraints we discussed earlier? Commuting times? The amount of time that your dog may be left to his own devices during the day may be long indeed. The answer may very well be a safe and secure outside area for your dog while you’re away from home.

Kennel runs come in any manner of designs but, usually, they are chain link with side panels and a gate. The panels should be six feet high and a snow gate is a must for country living. (A snow gate is simply a gate that opens approximately two feet above the ground.) If you are going to kennel run your dog and be away from home for 10 hours a day, a top on your kennel run is a must. It is surprising how many dogs learn to climb chain link and a six-foot drop to the ground is not a deterrent! Placing the kennel run in the shady area of your yard, away from prevailing winds (winter days and blowing snow in the country can get really challenging!) is a must. Easy cleaning is precipitated by placing the kennel run on patio stones or on pea gravel. Two considerations. With patio stones, make sure that the patio slabs extend beyond the perimeter of the side panels so that your dog cannot dig his way under. With pea gravel, bury a wooden frame or install concrete curb stones around the outside of the kennel run so that the dog cannot dig out. It also helps to keep the pea gravel inside the kennel run! If your dog is crate trained, kennel training is a snap! The last thing you want is a dog that is in his kennel run barking his head off all day. Even in the country, this can be extremely annoying!!

A cozy doghouse that is raised off the ground and he’s as snug as a bug. Toys to keep him amused during the day, plenty of water and, voila! The advantage? Your dog is not confined to the house all day; he gets plenty of fresh air and lots of visual stimulation. He’ll be happy to see you when you return and you know he’s safe and secure while youre away.

The only other consideration regarding outdoor kennelling is weather. Obviously if the temperatures are extremely hot or extremely cold, outdoor kennelling during those times is dangerous and foolhardy no matter what precautions regarding shade and prevailing winds have been taken. At those times, having your dog indoors while you’re away is the only safe place for him to be. During the summer months, heat prostration can result in death in a very short time. During the winter months, dogs getting frostbite is not unheard of. And, dogs without the advantage of heavy coats, obviously, should be kept indoors while you are away, summer and winter.

Country living. Country dog. Is there anything better? As long as you are prepared for every contingency, country living rocks!


Municipal Regulations

Country municipalities have many of the same rules and regulations as their city counterparts. It behoves you to check with your local officials regarding dog ownership in your community.

Many country communities now limit the number of dogs that may be housed in a single-family dwelling. Licensing of country dogs is mandatory, of course. Many municipalities have moved into this century as far as fees are concerned and the cost of a license for the first dog is fairly reasonable. That cannot be said, however, when you add dog number two and dog number three! If you move to the country and you have dogs or you acquire dogs, be sure that your municipality knows that from you. Country communities are very insular and everyone knows everyone and their business. Trust me when I tell you that within hours of you moving to your country estate, everyone who needs to know, knows all (including how many dogs you have!).


Tolerance

When we city folks pull up roots and move to the country, we are often looked upon with scepticism. The natives of your community have seen this before. If you’re familiar with Walt Wingfield (CBC programme starring Rod Beattie that pokes fun at a city stock broker who pulls up roots and moves to the country with all the rose-coloured-glasses vision that that entails), you are considered by your neighbours as city folk. You will be observed with an eye of tolerance as long as you toe the line. First and foremost is that you are a responsible country homeowner. Your property is kept tidy - according to your community’s protocol - and your dog or dogs are under kept under control.

Wild animals (deer, moose, fox, coyotes, raccoons, etc), as delightful as they are to see in abundance as they move freely through your fields, can be very territorial. These animals have enough to contend with in their very tenuous fight for survival. Encountering your dog running at large, barking and leaping at them, is not one of them. Keep your dog on your property with secure fencing.

Farm animals, quietly grazing in their own fields, have a right to do so. Your dog running amongst them barking and getting them all stirred up will only lead to trouble... big trouble. Being kicked by horses or cows can do serious damage to a dog. In many cases, there is no second chance as far as dogs are concerned. In farming communities, where farming is the residents livelihood, tolerance levels for a dog running at large is non-existent. In many communities farmers are well within their rights to shoot dogs that are attacking their livestock.

Dogs can travel vast distances when they escape their own properties. Be aware of this and take appropriate measures to safeguard your pet.


Cold Weather Considerations

Because your country property is open, winds and swirling snow is a given. Country temperatures tend to be at least 10-20 degrees colder than temperatures in a city setting. Genetically, your dog has been given a coat that usually prepares for colder climates. However, if you have one of the shorter coated breeds such as a Doberman, Pointer, Dachshund, etc., you must be aware of temperatures and your dogs tolerance for cold weather and act appropriately. Short visits to the yard for toilet duties may be all that your dog can tolerate. Even the heavier coated breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Collies, etc. can only take short spurts in the yard when the weather is extremely cold. This is even more important if your dog spends most of his time in the house. His tolerance for cold weather will be markedly reduced.
Ponds

As delightful as they are, ponds on a country property can be dangerous to your dog. If he enjoys swimming and takes the plunge at every given opportunity there are times when this could spell disaster; early winter when ponds are not yet frozen over and early spring when they the ice is melting are especially dangerous. Early winter when the pond is frozen at the edges but not the middle and a dog who runs out on to unsafe ice can very easily fall through, not be able to get out and drown. Likewise in the spring when the ice is not safe the dog can fall through and drown. Unfortunately, this has happened too many times to too many dogs. All dogs should be supervised around ponds and trained to ask for permission - and to wait for permission - to swim in the pond.

© Pat Renshaw

Last modified: June 14, 2005

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