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Summer is almost here, and the best place for your dog is out in the yard, soaking up the sunshine and frolicking, right? Actually, the summer months are particularly hard on our dogs, their owners and their neighbors. Open windows let noises in (and out), and the abundance of wildlife makes for mischief. But there are ways to allow your dog to enjoy the weather while keeping him healthy and happy.
Keeping your dog indoors and content while you're out of the house is preferable to leaving him outside and creating a barking nuisance or worse.
The Not-So-Great Outdoors
While you may believe that being outside is a necessity for your dog's health, "there's no fresh air requirement," says Katherine Houpt, VMD, PhD, director of the Behavior Clinic at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals. In fact, in many cases, dogs left unattended outside for the day may become nuisances - not because they're out of control, but because the sounds are practically in the neighbor's living room.
Dr. Houpt recounts that she was consulted by a dog owner desperate to resolve her dog's incessant barking problem, which was disturbing her neighbors. She had been told that debarking was inhumane (in fact, it is outlawed in England and "discouraged" in Canada), and thought she had no choice but to euthanize her canine companion. In the course of conversation, Dr. Houpt discovered that the woman left her dog outside every day while she was at work. The solution? Keep the dog inside. The woman hadn't realized that this was perfectly humane - and certainly a better choice than surgical debarking or euthanasia. "I feel that I saved a dog's life," says Dr. Houpt.
Dr. Houpt also warns against leaving an antibarking collar - especially one that delivers an electric shock or any other debarking device on your dog when you're not at home. You want to make sure that the excessive barking is controlled but that the dog is not inhibited from barking when you or your property is threatened. The only way to do that is to be there.
You may also discover that your backyard begins to look like a strip mine once the weather heats up. There are a handful of reasons why Rover may be digging. If he's making a dog-sized hole and lying in it, he's likely trying to stay cool. (This is a problem particularly for shaggy dogs.) The solution is to bring him in, where he can get out of the heat. Another possibility is that he's looking for burrowing creatures. Resolve this problem by getting rid of the quarry in question - perhaps by humane trapping.
He may be digging for fun, Dr. Houpt points out, in which case you can give him an area where he can dig with impunity, and cover up the "off limits" areas with chicken wire. He may be digging because of a lack of environmental stimulation. You might try providing a wading pool, toys hanging from toy branches or even another dog as a companion to keep him busy. Also consider exercising your dog hard before you leave the house each day.
The digging may also be bone burying behavior. He has nothing to do, so he'll bury bones, real or imaginary. He may also be digging to escape. If so, this can be treated like separation anxiety, and you may forced to use psychoactive medication to control it.
Overall. Dr. Houpt recommends that you discover the cause of your dog's digging and try to change his motivation, rather than taking punitive measurements, which are effective only when you are with your dog. Punishment only serves to suppress bad behavior, says Dr. Houpt. "And you still need to know why he's doing it."
The Big Bang
You may also discover the hard way that Rover is terrified of loud summertime noises, such as fireworks and thunder. Dogs that have such phobias can react dramatically.
Fireworks are obviously a major concern around the Fourth of July, and if your canine is frightened of the noise, plan ahead to bring him indoors. You can try desensitizing him to fireworks hv repeatedly playing a recording of hose sounds. At first, play the recordin softly, and then make it increasingly louder. Reward him for calm behavior until he eventually gets accustomed to the loud noises. In addition, you could give him anti-anxiety medication, prescribed by a veterinarian.
Because thunder is preceded by a drop in barometric pressure (which you probably don't notice, but your dog does) and the flash of lightning, there's more for your dog to he afraid of than just the noise. You can lick a thunder phobia by using positive reinforcement to train him to calm down when he hears the noise, but this takes a lot of patience and discipline. You may need to put your dog on an antidepressant lull-time, and use anti-anxiety medicine when you expect a storm. Do not soothe him when he acts frightened because that will reward the fear, not console him.
Keeping the Fun in Summer
Remember that summer may be a great time for enjoying the weather, but it is also the time when dog-bite incidents become more common. If you leave your dog out in the yard, make sure people can't wander in with him - and also make certain that he can't wander out. If Rover is kept outdoors, he may take off in hot pursuit of wildlife, neighborhood cats or other dogs.
Make sure his enclosure has a fence that is high enough so that he cannot jump it to get out, and other dogs can't jump it to get in. Except for the most rambunctious dogs, a six-foot-high fence should be tall enough to discourage jumping. "If the dog prefers to be outside because it's cooler, that's one thing," says Dr. Houpt. "But if he prefers to be inside or if he's bothering the neighbors, bring him in."