Monday, August 20, 2012

Exercise - the second spoke in our wheel

The only problem with having a mixed-breed dog is you really can't tell up front what their exercise needs are going to be. Not that a particular breed's exercise requirements are ever 100% accurate but having that knowledge can give you an idea of what to expect. The shelter we got Bella at told us she was a "Lab mix." Hahahaha.

There is a dog in this picture.
(But you may have to click through to find her.)


Hahahahahahahaha. Hahahaha. Hahaha.


Oh, sorry. Whew.

Where was I?

While Labs are the most popular breed in the world and odds are in their favor that the errant stray will carry some of their genetic inheritance, shelters really do have to do a better job at actually trying (or perhaps not trying at all?) to identify the breed that makes up their mixed-breed dogs.

Because, really, there is not even the remotest possibility that Bella is a Lab-mix. She does not retrieve. She doesn't even fetch. She can't catch anything, not even food, without an enormous set-up. She does not much care for water (we don't even know if she can swim). She is not impervious to pain. And, let's be honest, she's hardly of a mellow and tolerant temperament.

The second spoke in the wheel

In addressing Bella's aggression towards Jan, Dr. Dodman told us we needed to get her more exercise. I know it's trite but the saying "A tired dog is a good dog" has quite a bit of merit to it. It's tough to be on-guard and anxious about everything if you're just too pooped to putt.

And while I say that we were aware she had issues, I will admit we were totally unprepared for her exercise requirements. Heck, we went from having a 14-year-old, mellow, clingy, gentle, deaf arthritic couch-potato to a young, curious, ceaselessly energetic juvenile delinquent that the Energizer Bunny would be ill-prepared to keep up with. What we really didn't understand was just how much her energy needs would play into her behavior.

Despite her altercations with Jan, Bella is actually a very good dog. She doesn't get into the trash. She doesn't counter surf. She doesn't chew everything in sight. She doesn't get into mischief just because she doesn't have anything to do at any given time. (Well, unless she's deliberately trying to get Mom's attention and even then she just steals paper, socks or hair ties - she doesn't chew them.) The problem is she doesn't necessarily find any positive ways to release her energy either.

Of course, that's supposed to be our job.

But then, finding ways to exercise a dog that's reactive to other dogs, afraid of people and faster than lightening can be a bit of a challenge. I've shown pictures of our garden here on the blog before so it might be obvious, but we don't really have a yard that can be easily fenced in and dog parks are pretty much out of the question. We all miss the days of going to the Tufts Farm Field but the new dog park they put in is just too small for us to feel comfortable bringing Bella. (I really have to write about how/why that whole thing changed for us but that is for another day.)

Jan often takes Bella for long walks around the neighborhood but Dr. Dodman said that wasn't enough. We have several of the Nina Ottonson puzzles, any number of treat dispenser toys, numerous Kongs, puzzle balls and the squirrel house. She figures them out so fast, she gets bored with them. Like I said earlier, she doesn't fetch, she doesn't even catch so frisbees, balls and sticks aren't on our list of available options. She doesn't tug either. She likes to run, jump and wrestle. And in none of those activities is mom a worthy competitor.

So how, exactly, were we supposed to get the "one hour a day of unbridled play" Dr. Dodman said Bella would need to help her become a healthy and happy dog? The fact is, we weren't. It's just not a reality for us.


We were able to improve the situation. First, as you probably already know, we enrolled Bella in an agility class for reactive dogs. The class spends time addressing both reactivity and agility obstacles. Bella gets a huge physical workout and a tremendous mental one as well in the class. But the big reveal is: Jan built her several agility obstacles, including jumps and weave poles, so she can run around and burn energy on these at home as well. Score one for hu-dad.

The other thing I did (and in this case, I use the word "I" specifically because it took some convincing to get Jan on board with the idea) is I figured out a way to create a fenced in area in the yard without spending $25,000. (Seriously, that's a quote we got from a local fencing company of what it would cost to fence part of our yard with the type of fencing we wanted to use. Can you say "cost-prohibitive"? I think you can.)

Instead, I bought a bunch of X-pens I found on sale and, for about $250, a little ingenuity and some garden stakes, Bella now has her own little playground. It's not quite a dog park but she has enough room to run around (which she LOVES), play with agility obstacles and just generally explore.

Note: Pictures taken from inside her playground to show the fence.

Bella used to hide under the bushes when we would taker her outside with us (see first picture in this post for evidence). Now, she's getting more confident to explore further without us. She's even started lying out in the grass and not just under the bushes. She knows to come to us or go to the door to be let in whenever Bailey is out and about or the bugs start to frighten her. She is tuckered out right proper after a day of being outside with us even if she hasn't gone running full tilt for all of it.

If you're wondering how we as gardeners are coping, yes, she digs, her pee turns the grass yellow and her toenails tear up the turf better than any football player's cleats could hope to. But she loves it. And we can live with that.

Queen of all she surveys. 

Snoopy's Dog Blog


  1. Not quite a dog park. Are you kidding? That penned up area is about the size of some our small parks. Lucky Bella. Re: her not being part lab. Does she shed like crazy? That's another good sign.

  2. That's cool!  How many X-Pens did you get?  We have a couple and make our own make shift dog park with our friends when we're out together. 

  3. Mommy defo says CATTLE DOG mix!! She has no doubt at all!


  4. Lab mix? Srsly?

    Well, they make the best guess possible for adoption, I suppose!

  5. I second the Bwahaha on the lab designation. Buddy Dog had Maggie listed as a Labrador Terrier mix. Maggie also doesn't retrieve, fetch, or catch anything, though she and Duke love playing in streams and puddles (though they're scared of the kiddie pool, we donated it to Buddy Dog).
    The x-pen idea looks great! How many sections did you use & where was this sale? The Mr. doesn't like the idea of fencing in our back field permanently, but this might work at my parents' house.

  6. Ben's adoption papers had him as an Australian shepherd-Lab-Sharpei (!! *cue the Bwahahahaha* !!) He is true Aussie in appearance, intellect and the need for everyone to be together under his watchful gaze, but the Lab genes have tempered some of the high-strung, need-for-constant-activity behavior you see in a lot herding dogs. Does he like the water? Not one bit. Does he retrieve. No. Smart dog that he is, he's figured out it's way more fun to keep the ball and lure us into a rollicking game of keep-away that he will inevitably win because he's a herding dog. 

  7. That is so great what you have done so Bella has her own fenced yard to lay and romp in!  Let's face it, when they're happy, we're happy! :)

  8. I love the last picture - what a great idea and I am sure she is getting enough exercise too.  Finn figures out some of the puzzle toys easily as well.  It gets tough keeping her mentally focused sometimes, but we keep trying.  Too bad yours doesn't like fetch!  Have a great day!

  9. Of course we are not experts on exercise; take Dec out for an hour on weekend days and he sleeps solidly until Wednesday... Does Bella not try to jump that fence? 

  10. Bella is SO lucky to have you in her life.  In rescue we sometimes see owners who at the least little issue give up or return a dog rather that work with it and look for answers.  I once had a sweet little 3 mo. old puppy that was returned the next day because she cried the first night home.  Great job with Bella!
    Ernie's Mom

  11. LOL - it's not as big as it looks.  (She has the inside of the yard, not the woods behind the photos. ;)
    She sheds but nothing like a Lab does.  She doesn't have that undercoat.

  12. I think it was 6 but it might have been 7.  I was also able to incorporate some of the hard-scaping in the yard (decks, fences, etc) to make it go further.  In the places where I couldn't use the X-Pens and there was no hard-scape available, I used a plastic mesh netting (like through, around and over bushes.)  They work really well.

  13. That's definitely on our list of options.  My 'cousin' from Australia is also convinced she's part Kelpie which I always thought was a nickname for ACDs but apparently it's a breed unto itself.  

  14. LOL - they just call everything a Lab-mix.  Who could prove them wrong, really?  

  15. They were on sale last year at Petco - a 36" tall panel for $40.

    Jan still isn't thrilled about it but as soon as he saw how much she loved it, he became quite a fan.  (Anything that makes his little girl happy. ;)

  16. Oh I WISH Bella had some Lab in her! She really has that high-strung, has to be into everything, not enough hours in the day mentality of herding breeds.  And yeah, with you on the "smart".  It's kind of embarrassing to always lose the battle of wits to your dog. ;)

  17. LOL - oh Deccy, I love you.  

    And this is where Bella's fearfulness works to our advantage - she's a little afraid of the fence.  Since it's not secured to the ground, it wobbles and bobs if you touch it.  She doesn't get too close to it as a result and, at least at this point, I don't think she's even considered she could jump over it.  

    It's about a meter tall so, while I think she probably could jump it, it would be a real effort and heaven forbid she hit it on her way over - she's be traumatized for life.

  18. Excellent idea with the dog pens! Hopefully practicing her agility moves will help tire her out. 

  19. Very clever fence idea. Bella gets to explore and you keep your garden.

    With two in the house, my garden has taken quite a beating. Maybe it's time to buy another x-pen or two.

  20. You did a great job finding a creative way to exercise Bella despite everything you had to work around. 

    I find the training classes tire them out in a totally different way, but I always know when I've done a good walk because I have pooped out pups.  Our yard is not conducive to any agility equipment, heck it isn't even flat.  

    So you don't have perfect green grass, it's highly over-rated when you have a happy dog. :-)

  21. Ex-pens!! Genius! Why didn't I think of that? Shiva could totally jump it but since she's only ever out when we are they would probably do the trick. You are so smart!

    I think most shelters use "lab mix" and "shepherd mix" as a default when they really have no clue. Uh, the ears are floppy, let's say lab! Uh... This dog is kinda big and has a loud bark, let's say shepherd! That is the one thing with adopting an adult dog from a shelter, you don't really know what you are getting into. A friend of mine adopted what she thought was a high-drive border collie but it turns out he is more lab than BC and doesn't have the energy she wanted. She loves him anyway, obviously, but she was disappointed at first.

  22. Yeah, we're not all that big on grass anyway (as you can probably tell from the photos. ;)  Now, if we could just get her to not dig under the bushes she'd be perfect.  lol

  23. Thanks.  I wan't sure it would actually work but it works pretty well.  She's so happy to be outside with us without being tied up, too.  

    Hey, at the very least, you could arrange some of the panels around the areas you don't want the girls to dig in... Might help. :)

  24. :)  Bella is not let out in the yard without us, either.  We have lots of wild critters around, we've even had bear in the neighborhood
    recently, so I just wouldn't dare.  

    I do get nervous when Bailey (the neighbor's dog) is out and Bella gets rambunctious.  I know she could jump the fence if she wanted to.  But this is actually helping with her reactivity as much as her exercise requirements and we can actually distract her from going mental over Bailey now.  

    I'm beginning to think shelters shouldn't even guess unless it's something obvious. Some people might not be as generous as your friend and return a dog if it didn't live up to their expectations.

  25. Fantastic! Good for y'all! Bella you have no idea what a special furever home you chose or perhaps you do ;) Let's see here...agility classes, home agility equipment courtesy of your Dad, a big fenced yard to explore and play in courtesy of your Mom. What's next? :) If you're not a super happy dog, you need your ears boxed ;)

    Waggin at ya,

  26. Agility is such a great way to build confidence and