Marty Becker's Advice to Understanding 'Your Dog'

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All of which is why dog walkers/runners, doggy day-care centers, and professional poop scoopers are joining groomers, boarding kennels, pet sitters, and dog trainers— not to mention the most important "service" job of all, the veterinarian— as canine companions that are here to stay, offering help to those who need it. Of course, check references and the Better Business Bureau, and look for membership in trade associations while considering whom to trust with your dog— or to come onto your property.

When I Say, "In the Doghouse," It's a Compliment

Buying or building a doghouse used to be one of those things you did when you got a dog. These days, although some dog owners keep their dogs outside some or all the time, their numbers are dwarfed by people for whom keeping dogs off the furniture doesn't even happen.

In my life, being in the doghouse has gone from being banished to the barn—and even that eventually changed as the years passed— to enjoying the same environmental amenities human family members enjoy, including comfy beds and climate control.

What this means is that the rules for what kind of housing is appropriate for what kind of dog really don't work anymore. Great Danes live in big cities and meet their friends at the dog parks for playtime, and tiny toy breeds ruff— I mean rough— it inside cozy ranch houses, whether they're houses on real ranches (like mine) or the tract home kind scattered throughout every community, the classic three- bedroom/two- bath with a yard the dog uses for a bathroom but not much more. If you're willing to make it work, you can. In fact, one of the writer/editors who works with me all the time has two giant- breed dogs— Scottish Deerhound and a Borzoi— in a San Francisco home that's not much bigger than our kitchen. She makes it work because she wants to, and so can you.

Dog Parks: Fun, But Not Always Friendly

One of the reasons having a large living space isn't so critical in keeping a dog anymore is that many communities have become much more dog-friendly. Cities large and small have responded to dog owners' desire for off- leash play areas, and have even allowed businesses to let dogs dine on patios in the style long enjoyed in many parts of Europe.

Dog parks, though, tend to be only as good as the people using them, and as a dog owner you need to look out for the safety of your dog as well as making sure he's not causing problems for other dogs. Yes, there are dog- park bullies!

The best way to check out a dog park is to go during off- peak hours. You want to see clean grounds and clear rules for pickup and good behavior. A double-gated entry, so dogs don't walk in on a leash (a known fight trigger), and, in the best parks, a separate area for small dogs so they're not trampled or looked at as prey by large ones.

Whether or not children are allowed is a matter of controversy, but dog experts generally agree that it's safer for all involved if they are not. And of course, all dogs should be current on their vaccines (that means no puppies), well socialized, and nonaggressive. People should be paying attention to keeping their own dogs out of trouble, not answering their email.

When they work, dog parks are great for getting pets the exercise they need. When they don't work, they put people and pets at risk of injury, perhaps even deadly ones. So go forth and unleash, but do so with common sense and caution.

My daughter, Mikkel, is a dog trainer and author, and she sees a lot of dogs in her work. She loves Pugs, especially her dogs Willy and Bruce. They came from a breeder, and her other dog, Teddy, a Pomeranian, came from a shelter when he was ten years old. She knew to make sure before saying yes to either dog to understand their activity level, their appropriateness for life with children, and the health issues she'll be dealing with in their lives.

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