By Sarah Hodgson
On any given day, one of my family members is assigned the task of playing with the lizard. Each participant chooses either the grass or beach.
Yes, I have four dogs who need their daily dose of stimulation. Yup, a couple of kids, too, who opted for Camp Mom instead of a seven-hour stint at the local pool. But it is the lizard, peering out from inside his glassy habitat that’s nabbed me with the guilties this summer season.
Perhaps I’ve taken anthropomorphism to a whole new level, but when I look at our reptilian pet, who came to us the size of a pencil and now wouldn’t fit into our breadbox, I feel responsible – not only for his physical well-being, but for his emotional well-being, too.
So how did I cure my angst? I marched down to the pet store and purchased a lizard harness. They really do make such things. And now, Rocket, our Bearded Dragon, enjoys daily excursions. If he’s not better off for it, I most certainly am. Don’t ask me what I’ll do come winter: Reptiles can’t stand temperatures under 80 degrees.
Professionally, I routinely listen to my clients lament about their own shortcomings. According to them, their dogs need more attention, more training, more exercise…
Or do they?
Commercialism and the media have been quite effective in convincing the entire Northeast population that anything short of buying their dogs treadmills and serving organic dog food passes as negligence. The truth is dogs have the same brain capacity as a 2-year-old child, and as such need a balance of interaction, exercise and uninhibited play. Key word – balance.
Few people know that dogs, like people, can become exercise junkies, equally addicted to hour-long jaunts at the dog park, 90-minute hikes or routine 5Ks if conditioned to this level of stimulation daily. This is fine if you are, in fact, an exercise junkie who has the time to devote to this routine, but know that excessive exercise is not necessary for a dog’s happiness.
While there is some truth to the idiom, “A tired dog makes for a happy family,” dogs that are not conditioned as athletes can meet their daily doses of stimulation with two bouts of play in the backyard or a short romp with a neighbor’s dog. Extended trips to the dog park and marathon-worthy laps should thus be the exception, not the rule. And the amount of exercise is greatly affected by the type of dog you shelter. Personally speaking, my 100-pound Shepherd needs about four times as much running time as my little 10-pounder.
Of course, summertime brings its own challenges for dog owners and cat owners alike as the outdoor weather is simply too warm to expose any living being to prolonged outings. Dogs should be exercised in the early morning or evening after the sun has dipped down and provided with an endless supply of water, shade or ideally, air-conditioned spaces. All pets enjoy interaction, but time can just as easily be devoted (as it is in our home) to teaching Silly Pet Tricks, like jumping through a hoop, rolling over or “Hot Dog” – my summertime version of play dead.
So while my engineering-minded son is dutifully building a miniaturized treadmill with his Erector set to occupy his lizard during the cooler months, you can think equally creatively about how to stimulate your pets all year long. Though not created equally in size and mental acuity, all pets have the right, at least in my opinion, to a life balanced by love, play and a healthy dose of freedom.
A note about summer and dogs: As summer heat waves take hold and temperatures spike, the dilemma of regulating body heat becomes a canine’s chief concern. With few pores on their bodies to release perspiration, it can be metaphorically likened to our wearing a fur coat 24/7. As you’re enjoying the pleasures of this season, keep these points in mind to ensure that your dog is not only safe, but comfortable, too:
• Access to water. Place dishes of fresh water indoors and out. If you prefer your dog not drink from toilets, fountains or pools, have a large dish alongside each of these locations. Should your daily fun include an excursion, take a collapsible bowl and a bottle of clean water with you.
• Keys in the car. While I’d support a law mandating pets not be in cars when the temperature hits 60 degrees and above, if you must bring your dog in the car, put an extra set of keys in the glove compartment. Should you need to leave your dog in the car for any reason, keep the air-conditioning running. A car can overheat in minutes.
• Slowing metabolism. During the hot months, your dogs’ metabolism will slow down naturally. Do not be alarmed if their food consumption drops or their interest in exercise and play dwindles, especially during the hottest part of the day.
• Feel the pavement. Your dog’s “bare” paws are the most sensitive part of the body. If walking on pavement, place the palm of your hand down before having your dog follow you. Too hot? Choose a cooler time to walk or find a shaded pathway at a park.
• Access to shade and pools of water. When leaving your dog alone, a cool indoor location is ideal. If forced to spend time out of doors, your dog needs access to shade, a shallow pool to lie in and plenty of fresh water to drink. n