The Space In A Dog's Head

The Space In A Dog's Head
June 7, 2012 by Steve Duno
Rico frisbee catch2.jpg

My dog Rico is a relentless energy machine.  He can jump four feet straight up, run for three hours in every direction simultaneously, endlessly chase anything with a pelt, fly as if he had wings, sleep in starting blocks, dream of warp speed.  No home is large enough to hold his geographical aspirations.  Rico needs a farm, a cornfield, a moon crater, a salt flat, a place to run until he falls asleep in mid-stride.  Rico needs space.

A shepherd/pit cross, Rico is a 58-pound ball of muscle with a skull like a bowling ball and a need for perpetual motion.  Picture a field-bred hunting dog on a trampoline in a windstorm who thinks he’s late for supper.  That’s Rico.  He’ll do a two-hour down/stay if I tell him to, but all the while he waits to leap, waits to jump joyously into action, fly up like a covey of quail into a tornado.  In his mind, his world is just not big enough; he thinks he’ll never get there from here.

Other dogs seem totally at ease with smaller spaces, smaller schedules, less to do.  A friend’s greyhound, for instance, though capable of equestrian speed, likes nothing better to do than laze around her home on a bed or sofa, sleep, stare, yawn, wonder if napping in the family room might be better than sleeping in the living room.  This dog’s space requirements are surprisingly small.  Ironic, but true; a dog’s potential for speed has little to do with the desire for space.

Sure, breed has a lot to do with it.  Border Collies, terriers, Vislas- most “busy” breeds go bonkers if asked to lie around the house and watch TV with you.  But I’ve known too many bulldogs, Newfoundlands, Bassets and Shibas whose pedals are constantly to the metal, all the time.  Their heads simply crave more space. 

It’s genetic.  Some dogs are simply born fast, with a need for space, speed, range, action, and lightning-fast experiences.  Think of when a breeder sells “field bred” Labs as opposed to “show-bred” Labs; the difference is largely a matter of innate energy levels.  One needs to be able to course through the field all day, while the other needs to be low key enough to focus, stay calm, tolerate inactivity and handling.  Both types serve a purpose, and each has a different concept of desirable space.

Fast dogs can be a holy terror if you don’t have space.  Their energy will drain you.  Even when trained to stay for hours, you can feel their need to break free, run, explore.  That’s how Rico is.  It makes for a good working dog, but it can be a pain in the butt when all you want to do is sit back and relax.

Sometimes abnormal thyroid function can cause hyperactivity in dogs.  Oddly, both hyper- and hypo-thyroid conditions can create an overactive pooch, so if you suspect a hormonal issue, have your vet test for it.  But more often than not, dogs like Rico just run hot, and crave breathing space.

Walks, runs, agility, fetch, biking, dog parks- any regular exercise can help reduce a “hot” dog’s relentless need for activity.  But, in my experience, I have found that simple space, with no real structured activity, can be the best medicine.  Think in terms of how kids usually prefer unstructured, imaginative play, rather than an organized event.

When I take Rico to the in-laws’ 28-acre farm and let him romp through the fields, he becomes a different dog.  Running, sniffing, marking, digging, chasing- he becomes, well- a dog, in the truest sense.  Honestly, it’s what they were made to do, and he does it well.  He uses his senses, applies himself, tracks things, checks back with me, runs off again, gets into bee or raccoon trouble- a dog’s paradise.

After a day of this, he’s calmer, happier, better focused.  It’s not exercise, per say, but exposure to the right dose of space, as defined by the individual dog’s interpretation. 

If you have a dog like Rico, try getting him or her out into a wide open, safe space when you can.  Let him/her run like a jackass, explore, track, play.  Finding a place to do this can be hard these days though, due to leash laws, so use your best judgment as to what venue will work.  Sometimes an abandoned, fenced-in sports field or tennis court at two in the morning will work; just be sure not to get in any trouble.  An off-leash dog park is great too, though that won’t allow your dog to independently explore as much, because of the other dogs.  That kind of activity becomes more limited to social interaction, which, though fine, won’t be as comprehensive of an experience.  It won’t satisfy that need for space as much.

Rico’s a nut, but it’s fun to watch him on the farm.  He becomes a truer dog.  His head digs the space.  And when he gets home, he actually slows his motor down a bit, and pays attention.  Until the next day.

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Comments (2)

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Thu, 12/13/2012 - 21:32

Dog of the Week!

Meet: Kato