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How to Make Your Dog Feel at Home Outdoors

By: Joan Paylo

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You could use your yard only as a doggy release pen, where you occasionally play a game with your pooch. But why waste the great outdoors? If you manage your space well, your pet will be happily protected from strangers, the elements and boredom. Even if you have a small yard, a bit of planning and a lot of understanding of your dog's preferences can add a new dimension to his outdoor time.

  • Teach him to use one place to relieve himself. Establish a sand pile or rough grassy area free of stones and gravel as his toilet area. Pick up after him every day.

  • Close off dangerous and tempting places. Enclose garbage cans. Put locks on your gate and tool shed. Make sure there are no holes in thick hedges and put mesh or small-holed chicken wire in front of them to keep him from digging at them. Fence off vegetable gardens. Eliminate toxic plants from your property.

  • Erect a strong fence, high enough to keep him in. Chain-link is the best fencing material. It should be well anchored and buried deep enough so your dog can't dig under it.

    Adding a Dog Run

    If your yard is large enough, you might want to consider building a dog run where your dog can be left alone safely for limited periods. If neighborhood landscaping laws prohibit fencing off your property line, or allow only wooden fences between properties, a run adjacent to your house may be one way to confine your dog. Again, strong, deep and high chain-link fencing is preferred.

    The surface should be sand or soil, since spending too much time on cement can wear down paw pads. Teach your dog to eliminate in one patch only. Slant the run so that it drains well, and always have water available and a few toys to keep the dog happy. If there's room, add a shallow doggy pool in the summer, where he can frolic to his heart's content.

    His House Is His Castle

    Your dog's house can be the simple product of a family crafts project or a sophisticated kennel with light and heat. Its details depend on how much time your dog will spend in it and how much space you have.

    Most dogs should not be left out alone for hours on end. A toy or shorthaired dog shouldn't spend too much time in his outdoor house, so it should function only as a retreat and play room. Some working and sporting dogs that need lots of exercise might prefer living outside in all but the most extreme weather. This group includes dogs with generous, thick or dense coats, like the Akita, Alaskan malamute, St. Bernard, Siberian husky, Doberman and Rottweiler, as well as some setters, pointers and retrievers.

    Even the simplest pre-fab dog house or one that you build yourself must have construction features that include a leak-proof sloping roof; an opening/door at the far end; and a raised threshold at the door, to prevent drafts. The house should be placed on a surface that elevates it above the ground and wards off dampness.

    A kennel for a dog that will live outdoors year-round should have the same features, as well as a source of warmth, like an electric heater. Electric heaters need to be carefully placed to prevent your dogs access to electrical cords.

    The dog house should be "snug" for your dog, with only a few inches' clearance above his head.

    You should insulate the structure and position the dog house in a grove of trees or beside the house to break extreme winds and protect it from blowing snow and rain.

    Select flooring material, such as straw or wood shavings, for their insulation properties. Make sure, too, that it's water-repellent, to prevent mold and mildew. Old blankets or cast-off fleece or Polartec garments provide warmth and repel moisture.

    It is not recommended, however, that a dog live outdoors during the winter months. No matter what the size of the house, there should be food and fresh clean water.

    Keep an Eye on Him

    No matter how rugged you think your pooch is, check on him regularly. You don't want him falling prey to stray animals or passing children who might let him out. Monitor his quarters to make sure he isn't eating something he shouldn't and to make certain that he and his environment are healthy and safe. Be sure to give him lots of attention.

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