Jodi Andersen, a New York-based professional trainer is the founder of Training Works for Dogs and the author of The Latchkey Dog.
No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Reprinted with permission from AKC Family Dog, Summer 2004, Volume 2, No. 1. To subscribe: http://www.akc.org
Managing a family and owning a dog can sometimes he overwhelming. If you're like millions of other dog owners trying to juggle one of the more difficult balancing acts of the 21st century, stress no more-it can be done.
Between your morning yoga class, the kids' various after-school activities, and (let's not forget) making a living, it's no wonder there is precious little quality time left for you to spend with the dog. For thousands of years, dogs have been working members of the family. Whether guarding the boundaries of our property lines, dutifully following along for the hunt, or simply escorting us to school, the dog's job description was clear: Hang close to the pack and he ready for action.
But with more parents in the work force than ever before, and more children booked with daily social and academic schedules that take them far into the evening (leaving dogs to spend the greatest portion of their time home alone), the dog's "purpose" has become unclear. Because they belong to a species bred for centuries to do jobs with and for the people they live with, dogs without a specific job function are likely to find their own work. Unfortunately, that work is often of the digging, barking, and chewing variety.
Have Dog, Will Travel
How, then, do we find yet another space in our day for the dog? It's easy: Just take the dog with you. Here's how:
First, appoint your dog the family's personal trainer.
Skip the gym and take a vigorous aerobic walk with the dog, provided the breed of dog you own is up to the task. When the kids come home from school, they can do it too. The dog will get the exercise he needs, and you'll he thrilled with how it makes you look and feel.
Bring the dog with you to pick up the kids at school.
Let him see and smell the bustle to his heart's content. Remind him to keep all four feet on the ground, making sure he doesn't jump up or nip. If at first he's jumpy and overzealous around children, don't give up; the more children he sees on a daily basis, the calmer and more well-behaved he'll be. Bring him to soccer and Little League games, too. The dog and the kids will love you for it. (One note: On these trips, never leave your dog in a hot car.)
Also, include the dog in daily errands.
Depending on where you live, the bank, the dry cleaner, and other local merchants will often welcome the sight of a dog. Explain first that you're working on the dog's social skills, and then take the time to teach the dog to sit and wait while you're making a transaction or purchase. Reward him (with praise or a small treat) every time he exercises patience and obedience. When you are finished with your errands and arrive at home, instead of being greeting by an attention-starved quadruped, your four-legged partner will he ready for some down time.
When planning your next family vacation, consider dog-friendly hotels and resorts.
Some of the best hotels in the country have "dogs welcomed" policies and treat their canine visitors like royalty. Some resorts have canine facilities on or near the property, giving you the freedom to explore while your dog is pampered in a home away from home. Find one that offers a "virtual tour," allowing you to view the accommodations beforehand. Leaving the guilt behind (instead of the dog) can prove to be more relaxing than you thought possible.
Bring your dog to work or find a job outside the home for both of you.
Although few of us have the luxury of the first option, all kinds of dog-doors are beginning to open. Some companies have "bring-your-dog-to-work" days. Others, like nursing homes and long-term care facilities use companion and therapy dogs as a form of treatment for their patients and residents. Contact a local therapy-dog organization and see what you need to do to certify your dog. Working with your dog while helping others is the best kind of medicine there is.
Try trading your dog's down time for day care.
Find a senior citizen or stay-at-home neighbor who might "babysit" your dog. You'd be surprised bow many people would love the daily companionship of a dog but can't afford the expense of full-time pet care. Allowing someone to borrow your dog can turn out to be a good deed for the dog, the neighbor, and for you.
If a friend or neighbor has a dog that gets along nicely with yours, try letting the dogs spend their days together (or consider enrolling your dog in a doggy day care where canines can play all day and make new friends). A day or two at your house and a day or two at theirs, and your dog's week is spent rolling around with a buddy rather than pining for you.
Finally, if your children are at an age where they're thinking about getting involved in a team sport, suggest one that includes the dog.
Agility, flyball, obedience, and junior handling are just a few of the sports that kids and dogs can do together. Not only are they action-packed, but the added bonus of teaching your child about responsibility and teamwork can be more rewarding than any trophy.
If you're hard pressed to figure out why your dog is spending his days digging to China, or you're going crazy trying to get him to stop chewing up your couch, remember: To the dog, it's all in a day's work. And, if you're like so many whose lifestyle leaves you dog tired and with little time for your furry companion, keep in mind that your dog would love nothing more than to join you in the fast lane. Whether you choose to drop him off at a neighbor's to spend time with a friend or bring him with you to pick up the kids, a dog's job description matters far less than the fact that he's simply part of the pack.
So, the next time you're headed out to face the world, ask your dog to join you. Whatever's on the schedule, you and the dog will be glad if you don't leave home without him.