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Is it neglectful to have an outdoor dog?

Whitney Coy is a freelance writer and editor based in Columbus, OH, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She writes frequently for SheKnows, as well as several other websites. She writes on topics including parenting, pets...

Experts discuss whether leaving Fido outdoors is natural or neglectful

We see it all the time. A dog that is outside 24/7, living its entire life in someone's backyard.

As a dog lover, that situation always tugs at my heart strings, but is it truly neglectful? Or am I just being a sap? I spoke with a few experts to get their take on the topic, and surprisingly, heard some conflicting opinions.

Dr. Jeannine Berger, head of health at Wagfield Academy, says that yes, it's absolutely neglectful to keep your dog outside at all times.

"Your dog should be part of the family. Outdoors is not a home," she said. "It is neglectful emotionally and also physically."

Berger says that while it's wonderful to be able to provide an outdoor living space for your dog, such as a backyard, that should never be the animal's only living space. "Dogs are social animals and love companionship with humans," she explained. "Dogs form extremely strong social bonds, and one of the most important psychological needs is to be around the people they are bonded to. Making a dog live exclusively in the backyard is cruel — they belong in the house."

More: How to tell if your dog needs more of your attention

She added that despite the notion that dogs love fresh air and space, they're not likely to run around and enjoy it unless you are out there, too. "Dogs exclusively kept outside of the home are inevitably bored and lonely and display many unwanted behaviors such as aggression, barking, digging and escaping and are at higher risk for relinquishment."

She added that dogs that have been forced to spend long periods of time outside often end up assigned to the backyard permanently, often through no real fault of their own. "Most dogs banished to live in the yard never learn proper house manners or social skills, and so when they manage to get some human contact, they are often desperately overexcited from the deprivation and are likely to misbehave. If they are then allowed in the house, they do poorly and are re-condemned back to solitude outside."

Berger says it is possible to happily and safely let your dog stay outdoors during the day, possibly while you're at work, but only if all of the proper safety and security features are in place. "Make sure the fence is high enough and visually opaque so that he is not teased by the sight of a passerby or any passing dogs. Leave him with plenty of entertainment such as chew toys, proper shelter and plenty of fresh water." She added that you should bring him in as soon as you come home, and make sure to fit in a couple more walks before bedtime.

An opposing argument

Bryan Bailey, a nationally recognized, award-winning animal behaviorist, has a completely different opinion on the matter. "Being outside is fine environmentally," he said of dogs. "The risk is that the dog is a social predator."

More: Keeping dogs chained up should be banned, says SPCA

This is along the same lines as Berger's argument that dogs don't like to be alone, but Bailey's solution is not to keep your dog with you. It's to get another dog.

"Dogs suffer from stress due to pack separation and that can bring an onset of pathological stress," he explained. The best way to avoid that, according to Bailey, is to give them a pack — of dogs.

He explained that although we tend to look at dogs as other human members of our family, they are actually domestic wolves. That argument is supported scientifically — dogs and wolves have 99.98 percent of the same DNA.

More: Introduce a new dog to the rest of your fur family with this advice

"Wolves have an absolute need to be a part of a pack. It's more important to them than food," he added.

Bailey did say that while a group of dogs would do fine kept in the outdoors, most of that is because of their ability to act as a pact, interacting with each other, hunting prey and seeking shelter. None of these things can happen if the dogs are kept in small spaces or chained up, so the survival and happiness of the dog is dependent on the situation, even if there are other dogs in the picture.

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