Inside or Out
Some dog owners believe that dogs, especially large ones, should be “outdoor only” pets. We believe that dogs of all sizes are happier, healthier, and safer when they can be indoors with their people the majority of the time. Dogs are companion animals and have a need to be social just like we do.
Some people believe that dogs need to be outside so they can get plenty of exercise. The truth is that most dogs don’t exercise when they’re in a yard by themselves; they spend most of their time lying by the back door, waiting for “their people” to either let them in or come out and play with them. However, dogs do need exercise every day, so we recommend walking your dog for 30-60 minutes a day (either yourself or a dog walker), twice weekly enrollment at a doggy daycare, and/or engaging him in a regular game of fetch or tug.
Dogs need to spend time with “their people” in order to learn your rules and how to get along with them. Dogs that spend most of their time alone or only in the company of other dogs, may demonstrate fearful, aggressive, or over-excited behavior toward family members or strangers because they’ve never learned how to act around people.
Dogs that spend most of their time outdoors are at risk for a variety of reasons. They could escape from the yard and become lost; a disgruntled neighbor could throw poison over the fence or spray the dog with mace or pepper spray (this happens more often than you might think), or the dog could be stolen (possibly sold to a puppy mill, research facility or dog-fighting ring – possibilities that are real in the Calgary area). Equally horrific is coming home to find your dog died as a result of getting physically caught in your fence (either hung on top or trapped underneath).
Dogs left alone in the yard for long periods of time often get bored, lonely, and frustrated. As a result, they may dig or bark excessively. Most cities have noise ordinances that penalize owners of barking dogs. If a dog escapes the yard in search of interesting things to do, not only are they at risk of being injured or hit by a car, but the owner is liable for any damage or harm that the dog might do while running at large. If you can’t leave your dog in the house because of behaviour issues, doggy daycare is a great solution when you are away from home and unable to work on training your dog to act more appropriately.
Dogs that spend time with their owners and feel attached to them are more likely to be protective of “their family”. Dogs that spend most of their time outdoors may be friendly to any stranger who pets or feeds them. Alternatively, some yard dogs may become overly territorial and feel the need to protect their territory even from family and friends. If a dog is hardly ever allowed to come indoors, it will be difficult for them to distinguish between family, friends, and uninvited “guests”. A dog that is kept in the yard will very frequently make the assumption that the yard is theirs and therefore everyone else is intruding. Dogs that are kept in the yard get plenty of practice barking at and scaring off “intruders” (any person or animal passing by) and are much more likely to use a higher level of aggression (biting) when the intruder does not go away (someone coming into the yard).
People who are away from home for eight to ten hours a day may be inclined to leave their new puppy in the yard because the puppy can’t control their bowels and bladder for that length of time. Although it’s true that puppies need to eliminate more frequently than adult dogs, it’s also very important for puppies to receive adequate people time at this formative stage of their lives. If dogs aren’t adequately socialized when they are young, they’re likely to become fearful or aggressive toward people, and possibly other animals. Puppies are also more vulnerable to extreme weather conditions than adult dogs. If you must be away from home for more than four or five hours at a time every day, this may not be the right time for you to acquire a puppy.
While dogs may be safer in the garage than in the yard, unless people spend time with them in the garage, they’ll still suffer from isolation and, as a result, may develop any of the behavior problems previously mentioned. Most garages are very hot during the summer months and cold during the winter. Garages are often storage places for tools and chemicals that could cause injury to a curious dog. If the garage has an automatic door opener, the dog could escape or be injured when the door is opened.
Some of us may have fond childhood memories of a family dog that lived outside, but times have changed. More mothers used to stay at home and children used to spend more time outdoors. The outdoor dog had company while mom hung laundry or gardened and the children played outside. With the advent of two-income families, television, and computer games, outdoor dogs are more likely to spend most of their time alone.
If you must leave your dog outdoors, unsupervised for extended periods of time, please provide them with the following:
- A raised, insulated shelter with a wind-proof opening. Some very short-coated breeds like greyhounds, beagles, and labs may not be able to tolerate extreme cold, even with a shelter, and may only be kept outside with access to a heated shelter.
- Shade in the summertime. All dogs need shade, but remember that heavy-coated dogs, such as huskies and chows, are more susceptible to the heat.
- Fresh food and water every day. In winter, you’ll need a heated water bowl to keep the water from freezing. In summer, you’ll need a tip-proof bowl so your dog won’t tip the bowl over in an effort to get cool.
- Interactive play time with people daily.
- A daily walk.
- An escape-proof fence with a locked gate.
- “Busy” toys (see our resource Dog Toys).
Most dogs do enjoy spending time outdoors, but the time dogs spend alone outdoors must be balanced with quality time with “their people.” With a little time and training, dogs can learn to be well-behaved around people and can come to respect the house rules. They can then be left inside alone without cause for worry and be trusted companions and members of the family.