Country Home - Room to Run

By Sherry Benoit

We've all seen the ads in the PETS FOR SALE/PETS FREE columns of the local newspapers, seeking a country/acreage/farm home with "room to run" for an unwanted pet or for large breed and active breed puppies. Those of us who also breed dogs, invariably get calls from prospective puppy buyers who feel that now that they are ˘out in the country÷, they can suddenly own a dog because it will have room to run. For some nexplicable reason these people seem to think that having a dog in the city is cruel. To borrow a phrase from that famous advice columnist, I wish that these people would ˘wake up and smell the coffee.÷ Acreage or country homes are not repositories for unwanted and problem animals, nor do they offer animals a CLUB MED type of existence.

It might surprise these people to learn that a properly raised country dog should have no more freedom than a city dog. Certainly, there is more space available to take them for long walks, or a romp in the field (provided you have a reliable recall) and you might not have to scoop the poop as much, but a dog will not exercise itself. It will either lie around getting fat and lazy or it will get into trouble by wandering off its owner's property. Dogs that run free in the country still get hit by cars, usually with fatal or crippling results, as we don't have speed traps out here, and most country roads and highways have higher speed limits than quiet residential city streets. Plus there are many more interesting distractions and smells in the country; rabbits, gophers, livestock, wildlife, neighboring dogs that are running free, etc. that can entice a dog to roam and wander. For many dogs caught in the act of chasing or harassing a farmer's livestock or area wildlife, the ˘warning÷ shot fired may be the last sound that they hear. In my own county, the farmer must shoot to kill, so injured dogs are not left to die slowly, suffering unnecessarily.

Although chasing gophers and eating them can be great fun for a dog, it can have fatal results if the gopher has been eating poisoned bait. Baited traps or snares are also regularly set out to control coyotes and to trap other fur-bearing animals. Usually as long as they are set up with the landowner's permission or are placed on the person's own private property or grazing lease, the trapper does not have to notify his neighbors of their presence. Traps and snares do not selectively choose their victims and can cause serious injury and a slow painful death to any dog unlucky enough to blunder into them. Although legally traps are supposed to be checked on a regular basis, this time period varies from region to region, and a dog could suffer for hours or days before it finds a way to escape, is found and released or killed, or dies in pain.

There are also the porcupines, badgers, weasels, skunks, muskrats, coyotes and other wildlife to contend with. Skunks are an annoyance when your dog encounters one; the other meetings can be more serious. We all know the dangers of porcupines. A muskrat (badger, weasel, etc.) will bite to defend itself, and can inflict serious damage, requiring stitches and antibiotics. I've seen neighbors' dogs go chasing after coyotes, some of them don't return. Deer, and moose will use their feet and antlers to defend themselves; and not many dogs survive bear encounters.

Many rural pet owners also take a casual approach to neutering, spaying and vaccinating their pets. My own veterinarian, has told me numerous times "don't sell to a farm home" because he regularly sees dogs that have not received regular routine veterinary attention, and many of them are poorly socialized. Often they come into his clinic on a length of chain or rope, soiled and matted, cringing in fear or showing fear aggression. A real delight to work on I'm sure, and no, we don't live way out in the boonies. There are numerous vets in the area and most charge their regular customers less for their services than city vets. Just as an example, the other day, while I was in his office for a casual visit, he received a call from someone (not a regular customer) who wanted to know what to do with their dog, the chain collar had grown into the skin. When advised that they would have to anesthetize the dog to remove it, the person decided to save his money and "look after the situation themselves." I leave it to your imagination what happened to the dog, since the owner wasn't willing to spend the money to treat it, and obviously hadn't spent much time with the dog. When I asked if they could report the person to the SPCA, I was told that they couldn't because the person wouldn't give their name, even if they had a name this wouldn't tell them where they lived, and they hadn't actually seen the animal, so they didn't have any factual basis for a complaint. This is just one of the horror stories that I could relate. I'm sure that they get occasional cases like these in the city, but it is much easier for this type of cruelty to go unnoticed and unreported in the country.

But, back to the lack of veterinary care. Unvaccinated, poorly looked after dogs roaming at large can expose your dog to contagious diseases, and parasites. Unneutered Romeo's will wander the neighborhood looking for bitches in season, getting into dog fights, and generally disturbing the peace and quiet. Even neutered dogs roaming free will form packs and can pose a serious risk to your own pets, children and livestock.

In the late winter or fall when ice is starting to form on area ponds and dugouts, dogs occasionally disappear without a trace. Two Boxers thought to be stolen or lost last fall were found this past week, in their owner's pond. Spring thaw also causes area streams and creeks to rise and flow much faster, again posing a drowning danger to dogs, who unwarily try to cross them, or those who accidentally fall in while trying to get a quick drink. Lastly, a dog that is a problem in the city will also be a problem in the country. Moving a dog from one place to another does absolutely nothing to solve his behavior or temperament problems, and it may even exacerbate certain ones. If the dog is annoying your neighbors in the city, he will probably also annoy the neighbors in the country. A dog barking and howling all night won't make your neighbors happy regardless of where you live. But, you say, your dog is nervous around people and a quiet country home would probably be nicer for him. Tell that to the poor meter reader who gets bitten by a fear biter as he gets out of his truck, because that dog has had even less of an opportunity to be socialized around people.

Maybe he likes to chase the neighbor's cars or cats? Well, what do you think he might do when confronted with the neighbor's children riding their bikes or horses down the road? People also go jogging and walking in the country, and we like to do so without having dogs nipping at our heels or growling at us while we pass. And yes, we also have vehicles out in the country, usually driven at higher speeds. Hitting the ditch at 80 KPH wouldn't do me vehicle or me any good. Yes, I'll slow down if I see the dog in time, but I can't stand the border collie types that come racing out in ambush at the last minute, startling me into the middle of next week.

If anything, dogs that live in the country setting require more training and socialization to make them good pets and good neighbors, especially if they don't have fenced yards to keep them safe and secure. Rural dogs don't have the same opportunity to meet people and to experience different situations, so they don't always learn how to behave or react properly. Dogs are not born with the inherent ability to distinguish right from wrong, it is up to their owners to ensure that they receive appropriate training and are kept under control. Unfortunately good quality obedience classes may not be readily available in rural areas, so even well motivated owners may have difficulty training their dogs. The irresponsible owners who don't realize what a problem they are causing, usually just go out and get themselves a new dog when something happens to their previous one. These are the people who need to be educated the most, and they are often the least receptive. Don't sell or give them one of your dogs, my neighbors and I will appreciate it, and your dog or puppy will live a longer healthier life.