By Cindy Filmore
The beginner dogsledder has many options to consider when getting themselves set up in their new hobby. They can opt to have a certain number of dogs, they can choose from many types of sleds and harness, the types of trails they’ll run, the breed of dog they choose, and how much of their life they’ll dedicate to Dogsledding. But, one of the hardest decisions has got to be “the dog yard”. Why do I say that? Well, probably because my OWN view of what makes the perfect dog yard changes with each season!!
First let me describe our dog yard. Well, actually, we have 2 – a summer yard, and a winter yard. Our summer yard is all about avoidance. I like our dogs to be able to get out of the sun, away from the flies, and out of the lime-light. We live in an area which gets a LOT of tourist traffic, and if our dogs were to be in our “front” field, we would have a constant barrage of visitors. So, rather than set up a fence, gate, and fee system (although, I might do that, one day !), we have opted to build our summer dog yard amongst a stand of trees, where the air is at least 6 degrees cooler during the heat of the day.
The flies are kept at bay because of the shade and coolness, and although hauling water can be a pain, we feel it is worth it to keep the dogs in this particular yard. Our dogs are still visible from our house so we know what is going on, they simply are not in prime view for our neighbors.
Our winter yard is all about our convenience! During the fall and winter, our dogs are moved into a special yard right beside our “dog house”, a neat little building with a wood stove, 2 sofas, a coffee pot, and somewhere to hang the harnesses. No more damp dog harness, plus a great spot to stop and gossip! The winter dog yard is right next to a (frost-free) water tap, the dog food storage and prep area, and a quick walk to the house. Plus, it is VERY visible from the road, so our guests (for our tour kennel operation) quickly spot us if they are driving by.
What are some considerations to make when building your dog yard? Well, here are some hints to help you start! First is location. Be sure you are in a LEGAL area, for starters (check with your municipality before you decide to open a kennel, to make sure you are allowed to do so!), but also that it is an area of your property that you are ready to dedicate to dogs. Dog smells, dog sights, dog habits, and just dogs! Probably NOT in your front yard (unless you’ve decided to get rid of those rose bushes….). And, be sure you and your neighbors are comfortable with the visibility of your dog yard. All those sights, sounds, smells, etc. that YOU find so endearing may not be quite as cute to those folks next door, or the people that bicycle by each morning or the kids playing on the street out back. And, like me, you might not want folks dropping in to check out your dogs without checking with YOU first (so, make sure your dog yard isn’t accessible to the general public unless you want them in it!)
Second is footing. Slush is a cute name for a pup, but it is NOT a name you want your dog to earn because he is covered in mud! Check your dog yard for drainage, for slope, and for footing. You don’t want your perpetual pacer running circles on cement, but you don’t want your dastardly digger up to her eyeballs in sandy holes, either, and you don’t want ANY of them in a quagmire come spring ! The best footing is what works for you. I like sand (and, it is what we have the most of in our area !), but many folks use pea-gravel (watch for rock-eaters), cement (especially in enclosed runs rather then tethered areas) or even grass.
Third, convenience. Have water readily available, so that you aren’t hauling buckets through waist-deep snow or lugging buckets so far that it evaporates in the heat ! Make sure your feed is nearby, secure, and easy to access for YOU (not so good for raccoons and strays, though!). Old freezers make excellent storage facilities. They’re cheap (usually free), and mice can’t get in to your kibble.
And, make sure your waste-management system (whether it is a sled, a pail, or a tractor bucket) can be used easily and effectively through your whole yard. Plain and simple, set up your dog yard so that you have time to enjoy being with your dogs, and so that “dog chores” aren’t a chore! Because, having fun and enjoying your dogs is what it is all about!!
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