No matter how hectic your lifestyle, having a dog means taking the time to give her the exercise and enrichment she needs to be healthy and happy. It's often tough to find time for a trip to the dog park, but she can get the stimulation she needs closer to home with a backyard playground. You may find her antics so much fun that you end by spending more time with her than ever before.
Before buying fancy equipment, consider the basic space your dog needs. She should have room enough for running and chasing, a fence to keep her safe and a soft but durable play surface, such as grass. She will also enjoy a sandbox for digging and a wading pool for cooling off on hot days. Every playground must include both sunny and shady areas, and a comfortable place to shelter from bad weather.
If your dog has confidence issues -- shyness, reluctance to ride in cars or phobias -- building confidence-building agility equipment into her playground may help overcome her fears in an enjoyable way. A swinging bridge of wooden slats strung on rope fastened securely between two low ramps, or a pivoting teeter totter to practice on, may help get her on that wobbly scale at the vet's office. Practicing high jumps with promise of a reward on the other side may help her jump into the car or up on an exam table when asked. Similarly, tailor some part of the playground to your pet's specific fears to boost her confidence in whatever area she seems timid.
No More Couch Potatoes
Science confirms that exercise makes dogs feel good by releasing endorphins into their systems in the same way as with human runners. If your dog is a couch potato, building interactive components into her playground gets her moving. Some dog lovers provide huge exercise wheels for their dogs, but you can find many designs online to build a simple treadmill using standard lumber, PVC pipe and carpeting. If she enjoys swimming, adding a narrow lap pool to the playground is another way to give her exercise -- and it's especially beneficial for dogs with joint problems.
Learning is Fun
It's important to exercise your dog's brain as well as her body. One fun way to do this is to regularly hide or bury toys for her to find. If you have room, create a maze for her using posts and plywood panels. By putting pegs on every side of the posts and drilling corresponding holes along edges of the plywood, you can hang the panels over the pegs in different configurations to keep her from becoming bored. Agility equipment such as weave poles, A-shaped climbing frames and agility tunnels are both physically and mentally stimulating for dogs, as well.
Being a Dog
However you furnish her playground, don't expect your dog to master everything you give her. She should enjoy her playground in whatever way works best for her. Put playground components together in stages and try them out for awhile to see what she does or doesn't like. She may be a potential agility champ or merely content to chase a ball, take a dip in her pool and lie in the sun. As long as she is stimulated and happy, allow her to be the great dog she is.
By Deborah Stephenson
Animal Planet: 5 Cool Pieces of Dog Exercise Equipment
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Wired To Run: Exercise-Induced Endocannabinoid Signaling In Humans And Cursorial Mammals With Implications For The 'Runner's High'
Make Dog Stuff: Dog Treadmill Blueprints
ABC Pet Training: Confidence Building Exercise
This Old House: How to Build a Pet Agility Course
About the Author
Deborah Stephenson is a homesteader, lifelong organic gardener, former zookeeper, naturalist, artist and anthropologist who brings an eclectic range of experience to her writings. When not writing she can usually be found puttering in her extensive gardens or exploring the national forest next door with her dogs.