Rural dogs have more freedom than city dogs, but that comes with its own set of training challenges, all of them for the safety of the dog and the people and other critters he encounters.
“I had to teach Sofi not to kill our chickens,” says Berta Bader, a full-time student from Boise, Idaho, of her 11-year-old Miniature Poodle. “I supervised Sofi with the chickens and distracted her when she looked at them. Next step was a lot of praise every time she ignored the chickens. Now chicken killing is not her main focus.”
Lisa G. Shaffer, PhD, from Spokane, Washington, has trained her four dogs — two Dachshunds and two Saint Bernards — to stop on command.
“We don’t want our wiener dogs in with our miniature horses,” Lisa says. “The horses don’t like the small dogs, and we worry that they’ll get stepped on. If we say stop, they stop and wait for us to pick them up, or it gets their attention and we can call them back.”
Shannon Bridwell of Greer, South Carolina, lives with two Greyhounds and five Ibizan Hounds. “A lot of rural dogs have issues with barking, reactivity and other behavioral concerns associated with a lack of socialization, training, and mental and physical stimulation,” she says. “A lot of rural owners do not take their dogs out as often as city people do.”
Sharma Sonntag of Lander, Wyoming, who lives with three Rat Terriers, says that rural dogs need to be trained not to chase wildlife and that they should be “snake trained” as well.
Emily Hurt of Sherman, Texas, who lives with seven Border Collies, says that the biggest training must-have for a rural dog is good check-in behavior. “I know when I’m out on the property I can count on my dogs to check in with me periodically just to be sure they know where I am. This is reinforced from the time that they’re very young, and it’s something I make sure to continuously reinforce and strengthen as the dogs go through different stages of maturity.”
Rural dogs need flea and tick control, heartworm prevention, the leptospirosis vaccine and intestinal parasite control, says Lisa Whitney, DVM, from St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
Emily also says that the biggest health must is staying up to date on preventives. “All of my Border Collies naturally seem to avoid or ignore snakes, but my Jack Russell was a master snake hunter back in the day,” she says. “I gave her the rattlesnake vaccine a few times. I didn’t want to be in a bad spot and have her completely unprotected.”
Wendy also believes in preventive care due to the country dogs’ love of nature’s snacks. “Deer poop looks like doggo kibble, turkey poop looks like ice cream, and dead mice and rodents are part of life in the country,” she says. “They’re all delicious to dogs. Got to keep them on the worm preventives.”
Other animals pose a big hazard to the country dog, from snakes to predators, from rabid animals to those who seem like not much of a threat, like deer.
“Petey once thought a deer reclining under an oak tree was our late Greyhound, Magic,” says Wendy of her Chihuahua. “When he went to say hi, the deer hoofed him! He had a huge gash across his torso. Thankfully it didn’t need stitches, but he learned his lesson — and I did, too!”
Linda Chekanow of Sparta, North Carolina, has also had an unexpected experience with a dog and a deer. “Waffles, my Chihuahua mix, fell in love with a doe who kept coming into the fenced acre where we have our fruit trees and chickens,” Linda says. “They ran along the fence together, like playing. After several days the deer turned up in our garden one evening at dusk. Before I could stop him, Waffles went running full speed to her, barking all the way. She eyeballed him, and when he got close enough, she raised one hoof and kicked him. He came yipping back to the door with poop hanging out of his butt! It sounds funny now, but at the time I was scared he might have been hurt. Luckily nothing was broken but his heart.”
Susan Daffron of Sandpoint, Idaho, says that her dogs are never left unsupervised and that they are always on leash, confined in a fenced area or inside the house. “One of our neighbors had their dog stomped on by a moose, which broke the dog’s back. Other dogs in the area have been shot by property owners because the dog was messing with their livestock, such as eating chickens.”
Weather can also pose a health danger. Make sure that your dog stays hydrated in hot weather, especially if he has a thick coat.
“Frostbite can be a hazard, and poor visibility during snowstorms can cause disorientation,” says Kelly Leathers from Vail, Colorado, who lives with Lily, a 10-year-old Newfoundland/Golden Retriever mix. “If you live in a mountainous region, avalanches can be a serious risk. This year there was an avalanche almost every day. Many dog parents choose to put a beacon on their canine companions.”
Even plants in the environment can cause a dog pain and illness. When Sharma worked as a veterinary technician, a young Springer Spaniel, Yukon, was brought into the clinic with thousands of foxtails embedded in his body. The owners wanted the dog euthanized.
“He had them in his ear, his legs, belly, neck, pretty much everywhere,” Sharma says. “I adopted him and then spent nine months removing foxtails and getting him well. Yukon went on to be a therapy dog.”
“We run into a major issue with off-leash, unsocialized dogs,” Shannon says. “There’s a mentality in the country that dogs can just run loose. We can’t even take walks on our road because there are so many loose dogs. I also feel that many rural dogs do not get the same level of socialization and intentional exercise because owners rely on big yards and don’t take the dogs out very often.”
Lisa says that her Dachshund, Trixie, is an excellent mouser, and that if they don’t watch her, the dog will tear up the garden. “She has destroyed a lawn mower trying to get to a mouse nest, torn up sprinklers trying to get to mice, has dug under the deck — basically she’s always in search of mice,” Lisa says.
Rural dogs also find strange things because many are allowed to roam and explore their land.
“My Collie, Emma, brought home an empty tortoise shell,” says Terry Albert, who lives in Poway, California, with four dogs. “Another time she brought home the head of a steer my neighbor had butchered. He had thrown the head into the nearby brush.”
Life as a country dog also has many advantages, and there are advantages for dog lovers as well. Most rural areas allow people to keep many more dogs than they could in a city or the suburbs.
Embrace Pet Insurance’s data shows that their top five claims for rural dogs are:
✯ Cranial cruciate ligament tear
Embrace concludes that perhaps dogs who have property or larger yards aren’t always leash walked and have access to unrestricted running (leading to cruciate ligament tears), versus city dogs, which tend
to be leash-trained.
Other hazards facing rural
✯ Ticks and other biting bugs
✯ Skunk (getting sprayed isn’t fatal, but it’s inconvenient)
✯ Venomous snakes
✯ Foxtail grass
✯ Poisonous plants
✯ Predators + other critters: Mountain lions (also known as cougars, bobcats, coyotes, bears, wild boars, deer, moose, elk, hawks, eagles, owls and raccoons
✯ Rabid animals
✯ Cars zipping down
✯ Unfriendly people and dogs
Editor’s note: This article appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!