ARTICLE:
Backyard dogs have address only, but no home.


Written by Shelley Smith

Shelley Smith Dog Training
778 836-DOGS (3647)
Email: shelleysmith.dogtrainer@gmail.com

Originally published in The Richmond News, October 15, 2008

Perhaps one of the biggest tragedies is the misconception that dogs are happy living outside in solitude, save for the occasional half-hour walk, rather than living inside the house.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, living outdoors goes against a dog's two most basic instincts: the pack and the den. Wild dogs, even our dog's ancestor the grey wolf, did not, does not, live a solitary life. Grey wolves live within highly structured social groups. Granted, today's dogs are not wild, nor are they wolves, but they do retain that pack mentality. In order for them to survive and be happy, they need to live in a group.

Today's domesticated dog views its human counterparts as its family or its pack, so to separate a dog from its family or pack and banish it to live outside alone is actually the worst fate a dog can experience.

Dogs are classified as companion animals and when you consider what a dog is capable of (think guide dog for the visually impaired, assistance dog for the physically challenged or police dogs) it seems more than sad that some dogs primarily live in solitary confinement.

Even the most well-meaning owner does not spend enough time with the outdoor dog, and that time is shortened with our rainy and cold winters. Most dogs, come winter, will get a pat on the head, a bowl of food and water, a kind word and then are left alone for the next 23 hours and 45 minutes of that day, most probably wondering what they did wrong to be banished from their "pack".

Just because dogs have the coat to be left outside does not mean they have the psychological makeup to be left outside. We would never dream of leaving a family member in solitary confinement, yet we do that to our dogs constantly and think "Well, they're just dogs, they'll adjust" but they don't. The sad part is that they don't adjust, they adapt out of necessity.

By age two, the majority of outdoor dogs develop serious behavioral problems, which include but are not limited to excessive vocalizing (barking and whining all day and night), excessive digging, excessive jumping up on family members when they do go outside to play with them, hyperactivity and then finally, aggression.

What owners of outdoor dogs need to understand is that these behaviors are manifestations of extreme stress in a the dog from being forced to live a life that it is not emotionally equipped for. Over time, it becomes seemingly impossible to bring the dog into the house for even short periods of time as the dog is so hyperactive, but that is because the dog is so overjoyed to be reunited with his pack.

It is possible, however, to introduce a backyard dog back into the house with a bit of patience and know-how. It may be tough going at first but a dog trainer can help you ease this transition. If you want your dog to sleep outside at night, that is fine, but that same dog must be brought into the house during the day to spend time and bond with his "pack".

If your dog does not feel part of a pack, he may not, when the chips are down, protect that pack or its property for that matter, and protection purposes are one of the main reasons why people keep backyard dogs. In fact, a backyard dog, due to extreme stress, may actually attack the family he is supposed to be protecting in the misguided attempt to protect his own property.

An outdoor dog has an address only, not a home. A home for a dog is not confinement outside, but rather living as a family member. I urge all owners of outdoor dogs to bring your dog in for periods of time during the day, so he can feel part of the family - your dog may not be able to thank you verbally but he will be thankful for that.


Shelley