6 Reasons Why City-Dwelling Dogs Need Green Space
Being a pet owner in a house, even one with a tiny yard, usually means access to “green space,” in a front, back or side yard. But what if you live in an apartment, condominium, high-rise or even on a boat? If you’re not in a dog friendly area, your dog still needs green space, even if they’re walked daily on a sidewalk.
1. Pets Need Exercise
A stroll around the block on a leash a couple of times a day is not exercise, at least not for your pet. “Animals need to run daily, if not multiple times a day,” said Dr. Ernie Ward. Ward suggests pet owners should commit to taking their dog to a dog park every day, or as often as possible, even if you have to drive to one. “If it’s not convenient, people aren’t going to do it, but they need to,” he said.
2. Green Spaces Help Prevent Obesity and Health Problems
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) says more than 59% of cats and 54% of dogs are obese. That means 80 million pets, dogs and cats, are suffering from potentially irreversible health problems that could be resolved or prevented by regular exercise. If you don’t want huge vet bills, consider the free alternative – chasing balls and playing with other dogs in a dog park, or public green space on a regular basis. But start going gradually if you’re not already taking your dog regularly now.
“Dogs can have weekend warrior syndrome too,” said Ward. “Your dog is inside all day because you work or whatever, so on the weekend you take them to the park to play. The problem is they’re under conditioned, out of shape, just like a human would be, and then they get to the park. They get excited and want to play and they overdo it and get injured.” Dogs, like humans, don’t lose weight or get in shape through sporadic exercise. “Just like people, dogs need regular aerobic exercise if they’re doing to maintain physical and mental health,” he said.
3. Mental Health and Behavioral Issues
The bonus of regular time in a dog park or being outside means your dog gets the most critical thing for his or her mental health – nature. “Without a doubt, the number one impetus for access to green spaces for dogs is mental well-being. Whenever I see a dog with behavioral issues, the first thing I do is prescribe more exercise and more time outdoors,” he said. “The kind of disorders I’m seeing include howling, yowling, elimination disorders, separation anxiety, depression, accidents in the house – those are all symptoms of stress anxiety brought on by not enough time outside. Ward said. “We confine them all day to a four-walled jail and if they don’t have access to the natural environment, they become very anxious, frustrated and develop separation anxiety which can lead to a variety of health issues. A dog’s natural state is in the outdoors,” he said. “Domestication, with dogs being indoors most of the time, is creating tremendous behavioral problems with dogs.”
4. Older Dogs Need Soft Surfaces
Just like people, as dogs age, their joints become sore, inflamed and painful to be active on. Walking only on concrete can be painful for older dogs, and playing on hard surfaces can set up younger dogs for health issues as they age. “As we age we, dogs and humans, develop arthritis and other joint and mechanical issues,” Ward said. “Walking a dog every day on asphalt or concrete is just going to accelerate the mechanical damage to the pet. This is really critical if you have a dog that likes to jump or lunge. Repeated impacts on hard surfaces put them at greater risk for injuries.”
Hot asphalt or concrete can burn sensitive foot pads. Street debris, like broken glass, metal shards and other items can also injure your dog’s feet. Dog parks with grass, mulch and soft ground provides a welcome surface for animals with health, obesity, age, and inflammation issues.
5. Natural Locations for Pets to Pee and Poop
There’s a reason your dog hesitates to pee or poop on the sidewalk. “It’s not natural,” Ward said. “We know now that substrates, asphalt, concrete, wood, grass and so on play a role in a dog’s elimination. Dogs have a ‘substrate preference,’ and different surfaces create certain feelings that trigger urination and defecation. Many animals learn to do their business, or are forced to because of need, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay or healthy for the animal,” he said. “There seems to be something innate that tells them, ‘When I’m in the grass, the dirt or the soft sand this is the appropriate place for me to eliminate, so I can cover it up. There’s something there that’s evolutionary.” Not having a natural place to eliminate can result in indoor “accidents,” as well.
6. Bonding Time
You can play with your dog in your home, but the best time to get to know and bond with them is while playing outside. Dogs love being outside. In fact, hiking, walking, playing catch or Frisbee at a local park is the best way to bond with your dog because they will associate the good feelings they have outside with you. And, a stronger connection ensures better obedience and a calmer dog. “Playing with our dogs is how we bond. It’s another way we interact with our dogs and it’s arguably the way we evolved and domesticated them, running alongside each other, hunting, tracking, moving from camp to camp. Those are the activities our DNA has used to equip us to bond with each other. When we take a walk with our dogs we feel refreshed and rejuvenate when we come back. The same thing happens with our dogs. The mental, emotional aspect of this being outdoors, being in a green space is critical. If dogs are going to be healthy and thrive, they need access to that natural environment,” Ward said.
If you have a pet and are moving to the city, make sure your new home is close enough to a local park or dog park to ensure your pets get the proper amount of exercise. If you’re currently living in the city and experiencing issues with your dog, the most effective solution may simply be to go to the park more regularly.