Chances are you’ve got one in your neighborhood – the backyard dog that seems to bark all day and night. There’s one down the street from me and another a couple of streets away. No matter when I walk by those houses the dogs are barking, one from a garage, the other from a backyard. Bad dogs? No. Bored dogs? Yes! . . and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.As a shelter worker I counseled many people who were considering adopting a dog. I always asked where the dog would be living most of the time. Most people said in the home, at which point I breathed a silent sigh of relief, and began discussing potty-training and house manners training.
Some people said they had garages or backyards that would make “great” homes for a dog, day and night. That answer prompted a different discussion – why backyard/garage living isn’t a good idea.
Dogs are tremendously social critters. That’s one reason they make such great pets and companions. Dogs don’t just like social interaction, they need it. Banishing them to an isolated existence in a backyard or garage is inhumane and bound to result in a cornucopia of unwanted behavior. Dogs living in isolation are lonely, sad, anxious, frustrated and bored out of their minds. When they are permitted to be around humans, the dogs so starved for companionship, their behavior’s out of control.
Dogs who live in solitary don’t get training in house manners, or if they get it, don’t get a chance to practice those manners on a regular basis. As a result, if and when the dogs are allowed inside, they don’t do well and are again relegated to yard or garage.
It’s a vicious cycle. The dogs’ behavior justifies their banishment to the yard. The longer they live in the yard, the more desperate they are for attention and interaction. The more desperate they are, the worse they behave when around humans. The worse the dogs behave, the less the humans want them in the house.
Dogs in solitary confinement will very likely develop frustration and boredom-based problems such as digging; destructive chewing of outdoor furniture, decks, fences and siding; fence-fighting with people and animals passing by; and excessive barking and howling. Backyard dogs are also at risk for developing obsessive-compulsive behaviors like nonstop tail-chasing, shadow or light chasing, fly snapping, and self-mutilation. In addition, because they’re not around humans or other dogs, they’re often severely undersocialized to dogs, people and the sights and sounds of everyday human life. Undersocialization leads to fearful and aggressive behavior. All of this spells disaster for the dogs. They’re more likely to be surrendered to a shelter and to be euthanized.
Besides the ill effects on behavioral wellness, backyard dogs are at risk for health problems. Dogs may be too hot, too cold, wet with no place to dry out, dehydrated, dirty and matted, or attacked by wild animals. Small dogs have been attacked by raptors. Minor illnesses can become major before anyone notices.
What’s the solution?
- First and foremost, don’t get a dog if you don’t want or aren’t prepared for him to live inside with you.
- Dog need daily mental and physical exercise, and ongoing socialization and training. If you don’t have time for those things, get a low maintenance species of pet (like fish and some reptiles) instead of a dog.
- If you leave your dog outside while you’re at work, don’t tether or chain her up. Doing so severely restricts dogs’ movements and can cause neck injuries, strangulation, and anxiety or frustration-based behavior problems. The dog should have shelter from the elements, s warm dry place to sleep, safe chew toys, and lots of fresh water. The yard should be securely fenced – high enough that she can’t jump over the fence, and deep enough that she can’t dig under it. Opaque fencing reduces the chances of fence-fighting and barrier barking at other dogs and passersby. Bring her in when you come home and let her sleep inside at night. Make sure she gets daily walks and aerobic exercise.
- If you have a backyard/garage dog, you’re missing out on the many benefits of having a dog. Get to know your new best friend and roommate starting now! Move her inside and start a positive training program right away. It’s our responsibility to teach dogs how we want them to behave. Enroll in a basic obedience class or read one of the books suggested below. Be patient and set consistent limits. Don’t expect her to learn how to behave in a human home overnight.
- If you know someone with a backyard/garage dog, try to educate him/her about the dog’s sad predicament. Suggest a local positive training class or one of the books below. (All great reads, they’re loaded with useful information and clear instructions for training basic obedience and preventing and dealing with unwanted behavior.)
The Power of Positive Training, Pat B. Miller
How To Teach A New Dog Old Tricks, Dr. Ian Dunbar
Good Dog 101: Easy Lessons to Train Your Dog the Happy, Healthy Way, Christine Dahl