Backyard Dogs

Dogs are incredible social beings that thrive as companion animals. Isolation for this reason is very hard on most dogs and as such a welfare issue for the dog.

Isolation is hard on dogs at all stages, but is extremely difficult on young puppies. We can for sure make the lives of “outside dogs” more interesting by training them, exercising them and feeding them in interesting and challenging ways to relieve them of constant boredom. However, in spite of the mental and physical enrichment we supply for them, these cannot make up for the time that they spend alone in social isolation if they spend most of their days & nights on their own.

Beside the isolation issue referred to in above paragraph, when young puppies (or untrained dogs) are kept mainly as outside dogs, it is quite likely that they will not be house trained nor comfortable around household noises and other related activities, and thus create havoc on their confidence and overall comfort when brought inside (for some reason) or traveling with them. In the case of young puppies (3-18 weeks of age) this incredibly rich period of learning is when we must work hard in order for them to feel comfortable and secure in a people’s world. The only way to achieve this is by intense positive association with novel things and people. Once the puppy is over the socialization period, whatever he was not exposed to in a positive manner will be a potential for concern, or worse, fear for the rest of his life. A dog that lives outside will miss out on learning about living in the proximity of people.

In addition, a dog that has not learned to be inside a home when young, in all likelihood would not be a good candidate for traveling. Not only will he be outside his known environment – the home yard, but he will most likely be in distress because of the demands put on him when in an inside environment- one that he does not know at all.

Another big concern for dogs that are left outside – even in the best of set-ups are:

1. Constant exposure to the elements: heat, cold and thunderstorms. Ongoing exposure to outside elements can create distress in all dogs but remarkably so in young dogs or the elderly.

2. Some dogs will develop noise phobias. Phobias can be very debilitating for the rest of the dog’s life and his family. Studies suggest that working breeds (herding dogs, for example) are at a higher risk of developing a noise/thunder phobia.

In some cases, the fact that the dog is alone most of the time may give way to nuisance behaviors such as constant barking or howling, attempts to escape and digging, etc. Once the dog engages in these nuisance and stress or boredom related behaviors, the chances of the dog remaining in the home will decline as complaints from neighbors make the current situation unsustainable.

Some people might find that they want to have a dog as a pet or that they love the one they have, and for some reason the dog cannot live inside; say in the case of someone in the household developing allergies or a landlord that has changed his or her mind, etc. However, while some dogs might fare better than most in such circumstances, backyard dogs rarely get their needs met.

One solution that I find might help both parties is to consider having the dog live with someone else that can give the dog the attention, and can have the dog truly be part of the family. While the current owner can most definitively come around and take on the full responsibilities and the joys of having a dog be a part of his or her life without having to relegate the dog to a life of neglect and loneliness.

If we truly consider our pets to be “family” we must treat them as such. So as a dog pro, and an advocate of dogs, I want folks to go the extra mile and to think creatively and valor so that their pet does not suffer the consequences of the choices we make.