The Benefits of An Exercise Pen

by Joyce Johanson

"Oh the weather outside is frightful . . ."

What do you do to potty your Lhasa when the temps are down, when the snow is deep, when the blizzard is howling, when the sleet sends icy needles into your skin, or when the rain comes down in buckets? What do you do when the last thing you want to do is put on your heavy snow gear and the dog's lead and head down the street to "exercise" the dog (a euphemism we dog show people use when we mean "potty")? What do you do when you know your Lhasa has to "go" but she puts on the brakes the minute you open the door to your back yard and she feels the rain, the wind, or the cold? What do you do when your Lhasa doesn't care if he gets huge snowballs in his hair, but you certainly care about having to thaw them out and get him dry multiple times a day?

Or what do you do if you have a show dog and there is absolutely no way you are going to put that dog with that long coat outside in the rain or heavy snow? Not after spending hours grooming, bathing, and drying. No siree!

To the rescue . . . one of my absolute "I cannot do without it" pieces of equipment--the exercise pen! Years ago, before I knew about dog shows, I had never even heard of an exercise pen, and perhaps you have not either. So I am here to tell you, whether you show dogs or not, an exercise pen is a great thing to have!

An exercise pen generally has 8 wire panels, each 2 feet wide. Depending on your needs, the panels can be as low as 18 inches or as high as 48 inches. The taller pens come with doors in them. The shorter ones don't need doors, as it is very easy to reach over the top and to put the dog into the pen or take him out. My exercise pens are 24 inches tall. My dogs are not jumpers or climbers, so that size works well for me to get them in and out. If you have a jumper or a climber, you need a taller pen or one that has a top.

The pens can be configured as squares with each side 2 panels (4 feet) wide, as rectangles with 3 panels on the long sides (6 feet) and each end one panel (2 feet) wide, or as an octagon. If you are somewhere where the space is tight, you can overlap a couple of panels to make the pen size smaller. If you need a large pen, hook two 8-panel pens together.

The nice thing about exercise pens is that they are portable. They fold up for easy travel and storage. My 8-panel, 24 inch tall exercise pens fold up into a compact 2' x 2' x 3" size that is easily packed in the trunk of my car.

Exercise pens come in handy at the show site so my dogs do not have to potty in the public dog exercise area or pens, Most of the public exercise pens have sawdust or wood shavings in them to absorb the urine; just imagine that mess on a long-coated Lhasa! (Besides, after just a few uses, especially by a few large breeds, those public pens are so very NASTY!) Exercise pens also are helpful at the hotel. If the weather is not conducive for taking your dog outside, or if you want to give the dog a chance to stretch out a bit, or if you are just too tired to snap on a leash after a long day's travel, take a heavy flannel-back vinyl table cloth, spread it on the floor with the flannel side up and vinyl side down to protect the flooring, and set the exercise pen on top of it. Cover the flannel with piddle pads and put the dog in the pen. It's that easy.

When you travel and need to stop at a rest area, set up the exercise pen next to your car in the parking lot. The pen comes in handy especially at night when you are apprehensive about walking the dog in the designated pet area that is generally away from the parking lot and not well lighted.

When you take the dog with you to a picnic, you cannot let her run loose in the park and you probably don't want to keep her on a lead all day. Put her and her blanket and toys in the exercise pen. Or if you have an RV and do a lot of camping, take along an exercise pen. You'll find it comes in handy.

When you use the pen outside, you can put your dog on the grass if you want to, but another handy item is an exercise pen mat made of woven polypropylene. The weave is loose enough to allow urine to seep through the mat and into the ground. These mats come in all kinds of sizes and colors and patterns and offer protective ground cover, if that is what you need for a particular situation. They are easy to clean with a hose and easy to fold or roll up for travel (just take a large garbage bag along to put one in after it's been used). If you don't want to use the mat, I suggest packing a vinyl tablecloth, which can be used for the same purpose. You can get nice heavy ones at reasonable prices if you shop for them after holidays. They may have Easter Bunnies, Santas, turkeys, or firecrackers on them, but who cares? That side is face down anyway!

We have a permanent exercise pen set up in our garage for use in inclement weather and for training puppies. We want our show dogs to be versatile in their potty habits. They need to know it's okay to go on newspapers or piddle pads or exercise pen mats as well as on grass or concrete because we never know what type of situation we'll find ourselves in as we travel. We've made our garage exercise pen a more permanent fixture by using zip ties to secure small pvc pipes along each side of the pen. Since the exercise pen is designed to fold for portability, the pvc pipes keep the sides of the pen rigid. If we want to take it down, all we need to do is cut the zip ties, remove the pipe, and fold the pen.

Of the many pieces of dog equipment I own, I would not be without an exercise pen. For a fairly small investment, the benefits of owning an exercise pen are many! You will find exercise pens in the familiar dog supply stores, as well as in any dog supply catalog. If you are an online shopper, just google "exercise pen," and you'll find all kinds of places from which to buy one.

Please note: Permission to reproduce and/or circulate information in this article is granted. However, the article must be disseminated in its entirety and credit must be given to Joyce Johanson, Joyslyn's Lhasa Apsos. Thanks!

Return to Articles Menu