by Jamie O’Connor
Things were at a tipping point. I had been living with my sister and her husband for nearly a year, and their two canines, as much as I loved them, were out of control. Our relatively cheap two- bedroom apartment was surprisingly spacious dogs included, but the sacrifice was that it did not have a closed-in backyard. My sister and her husband had to commit to a walking regimen in order for the dogs to do their business somewhere besides in the house. Let me tell you, full-time jobs and college equals lots of puddles unless the dogs are put inside a kennel all day. I did my best to help walk them regularly, but there’s only so much even three adults can do to accommodate the bodily functions of pets when they all have busy schedules.
The pooping and peeing debacle was not the only ill side effect of not having a closed backyard. Putting the poor canines inside a kennel all day did nothing but build up their energy levels to a point that once freed they were unstoppable attention getters and barkers and jumpers until bedtime. This created an inability for us to leave them unattended for long periods of time. Ten minutes in the living room unsupervised with all that pent up energy to exert could mean anything from a knocked over vase to a torn up couch cushion ripped in the pursuit of a cheese doodle buried in the cracks. It got to the point where we were seriously considering taking all the nice furniture and items we had and taking them to the local StorageMart. We had two options: call Cesar Milan or figure it out ourselves.
It always came back to the lack of a backyard for me. While my sister and her husband struggled to figure out the best way to teach their young dogs old tricks on how to not act so rambunctious and unruly, I started to see the sequence of events that was causing the problems and I started to realize what it took to stop them. It’s really a matter of looking at the world the way the dogs would. Everything they encountered besides each other in their kennels during the day was thus far under the supervision of humans. It’s sort of like kids who never get to play outside by themselves. This created an enormous emphasis in the dogs’ heads on the association between humans and happiness. So when they were released from their kennels, bad behavior through untamed affection followed in the form of jumping, barking, and the release of all that energy.
Coordinating their natural needs to fit the times when we could walk them was an arduous task too that was invariably linked to the lack of a backyard. Dogs that can be “let outside” quickly pick up ways to alert their owners to when they want to be taken out. But when the walking is the sole act of human decision-making, a dog has a much harder time figuring out that a need to go means a need to let the human know. Without a way to let humans know, dogs have no mental option other than to hold it in until they can’t anymore.
We really liked the discount rent, but the solution was simple: find someplace to live with a fenced-in yard. We did, and it was like night and day. The dogs started knowing how to ask to be let outside, they were able to release their energy more, and combined it meant that the reasons for keeping them cooped up all day didn’t apply anymore. The dogs could be let loose around the house without fear of them shredding the sofa to pieces. They also lost their ignorantly rude over-friendliness, instead self-pacifying their behavior. As time went on, they lose their association between humans and everything besides their kennel. They at long last became normal dogs!
I forgot to mention the human benefits. No more messy cleanups, no more messed up furniture, and no more stress added by the extra effort walking dogs that were locked up for the last 8 hours does to you. All it took to make the three of us happier people was to care about what made the dogs happy, and it was just a matter of deciding we needed a closed-in yard to do it.
Jamie O’Connor is a cat person from St. Louis, MO. When she isn’t writing blogs she’s cleaning cat litter and coughing up fur balls.