Yard Laziness Syndrome
What is it, how to prevent it and how I still fall short of my goals, but what I have learned has allowed me to be able to see certain things with my dogs that really help guide what they need from me. This is not just for dogs that need serious training...even your sweet family dog could suffer from this.
When you have a yard it is easy to fall into the trap of letting your dog run outside when they want, sneak in chasing a squirrel, barking the neighbor dog, etc. with no instruction.
You take more liberties by not walking your dog for constructive exercise because you are tired or have other things you need to do so you give your dog a bone, ‘free-time’ in the yard, encourage zoomies (running fun and frantic circles around the yard) or just play extra fetch.
Working with so many clients over the years in different situations AND myself having different living situations with my dogs as well as client dogs, I can PROMISE you that you will set yourself up training-wise with your dog in a better and more efficient way when you live in an apartment.
That is not because dogs don’t need space. In fact many issues (especially with multiple dog households) are greatly reduced when dogs have more space to breathe, BUT what about the basic rules of the house and accountability of the owner to take the dog out on a very regular basis?
2 Major basic rules for a dog to continue good listening skills should be:
Waiting at thresholds
Structured Walks where you connect with your dog
When you live in an apartment or condo, you are taking your dog out to potty numerous times a day. This gives you a chance to constantly re-enforce that good behavior of waiting for permission for something they want. Then, if you have multiple gates to go through, you are continually setting your dog up to pay attention to you and wait for permission. It’s a great set up where you end up doing anywhere between 4-6x a day going out and coming back in. Not to mention asking your dog to sit and wait while you grab the leash and leash them up calmly. All of this good practice happening daily with no choice because you have to take your dog out.
Also when you live in an apartment type environment, you should exercise your dog more because of the lack of space (for most dogs). This means taking multiple walks, often long ones because you can’t just do things inside to drain energy. If you want to go to a park you have to get in your car and go, so you end up doing MORE with your dog out in public environments.
Now switch to living in a home. You take your dog for a walk or two most days, hopefully, but the rest of the time you are just letting them run into the yard to sniff around, potty, no urgency, no waiting for permission, just doing their thing! Haha, the easy life :) Even if they make great choices, they are making them on their own, no influence from you, so the habit of looking to you for all the good stuff is greatly reduced.
And then the BIG problem is you have a tired day...a tired several days, or maybe just too busy, so you end up just playing fetch for a few days. Then you walk your dog and wonder why they are so jazzed up being outside in the world when you are trying to get them to walk decently on a leash. You are taking away so many small moments to practice permission then reward and impulse control. I have certainly been in this predicament myself and can tell you that those seemingly small changes end up having a HUGE impact.
This is not just for dogs that don’t behave. If you are active with your dog or want to be, you’ll find relying on your yard too much for exercise might simply result in your dog just not having the best listening skills, isn’t as attentive and thinks for a second before listening. It’s a slow and slippery slope of bad habits that both the owner and dog fall into. Now do ALL dogs need this much effort? Of course not, but this post is for the many pups that do or for owners that aren't sure why they are struggling, this might help.
We want to prevent that as much as possible...so how?
I have a set amount of walks each week that I take my dogs on. Not a dog walker or family member...myself. This is to keep my relationship with my dogs sharp when it comes to the structured walk. My dogs associate me mostly with being off leash in parks and on trails, so you would be surprised how much they struggle on leash in the neighborhood listening without regular practice.
As well as minimum walks, I have maximum amounts of fetch in the yard and maximum amounts of play time. If I don’t put a cap on it the dogs learn to exhaust themselves through high drive exercise more often then slower, low key exercise. This is not ideal for the brain and helping them be calm dogs.
Then with the few thresholds I have I make them count! One of my dogs even waits at the bedroom door because she is young and a little wild. You can find other ways to make sure you are practicing impulse control with your dog. Waiting for their food to be prepared and releasing them to eat is one way. Make sure you don’t always indulge them when they are cute and come to you for pets. Then one of the best ones is making sure they can lay down somewhere and stay while something else in the house is happening. This could be you cooking, kids playing, other dogs or cats in the house roaming around and playing, etc. They just learn to sit and watch on command.
Of course I fall short of my own rules, but I do try to follow them as much as possible and what that has done is allow me to see very subtle signs of my dogs needing more from me. That could be more exercise, enrichment or more leadership. Knowing this I’m able to be in tune with them and see what they need. I hope this helps someone else needing the same thing.