Keeping the dog obedient and the neighbors happy…or is it the other way around?

The world sure has changed from when we grew up, hasn’t it? I don’t know your age, but when I was growing up, kids played outdoors, and dogs were always around. In many neighborhoods, folks let Fido out in the morning and he cruised the streets and yards all day, meeting up with his buddies to chase cats, roll in stinky stuff, and snarf up garbage if he happened to be so lucky to find it. When it was time for dinner, Fido wandered back home, ate, and fell asleep in one of the kid’s beds. In more rural areas, dogs stayed outdoors 24/7, and it was rarely questioned (except in the extremes of weather). Of course, it was rare back then for dogs to live longer than 10-12 years, even little ones.

My neighborhood was solidly middle class and neither urban or suburban. Our dog lived indoors, but spent tons of time in our fenced yard, mostly with us kids. But many of my friends’ dogs did live outside (albeit in fenced yards) all the time, and it certainly seemed OK.

Now, “yard dog” is a pejorative term. Most folks dote on their pets and they live indoors, only going into the yard to “take care of business” and play fetch occasionally if they are lucky. These days, it is more normal for dogs to be indoors a lot, especially in middle and upper-class neighborhoods. Some people think we are shortchanging our dogs this way, because we are taking them out of their “natural” environment. Wouldn’t they rather be outside, especially in a large, securely-fenced yard? It depends on the dog, but the surprising answer is, generally, no (at least, not without you). Though there are certain breeds who are more independent, and certainly many long-coated dogs seem to love playing in the colder weather, dogs want to be where the people are–which is mostly indoors.

Though some dogs spend lots of time outdoors and seem to do fine, most dogs who are relegated to the yard begin to express themselves in ways we may not appreciate. These behaviors can be termed “nuisance” behaviors, and once learned, they are difficult to change.

Nuisance behaviors in dogs include excessive barking, digging, property destruction and unsupervised roaming. Roaming and barking are two of the worst, because they affect neighbors and the community in negative ways. Because of county leash laws, unsupervised roaming is illegal, and excessive barking can be considered noise pollution. In order to address these problems, we must understand their underlying causes.

Dogs are creatures of habit. If they are not given good habits to practice through humane training methods, they develop habits that are perfectly normal to them but inexcusable to us. Barking, digging, chewing inappropriate items, running free, and destroying our personal property all fit into this category. Simply put, dogs who exhibit these behaviors are bored, usually because they are not getting enough human contact or playtime. The more chances they get to perform these behaviors, the more they will keep doing them. It is a myth that dogs want nothing more than food, water, and a big backyard. Dogs want YOU!

Dogs, like humans, are social creatures who form strong bonds with people, first and foremost, and then also with other dogs or animals from other species. Dogs do not do well when they are separated from their “people pack” for long periods of time. Most barking dogs (and dogs that escape and roam) are simply not having their needs met. We are responsible for their all-around welfare, not just for neutering them, keeping them healthy, giving them nutritious food, clean water and acceptable shelter. We must take steps to prevent unwanted behaviors by making sure we are able to meet all the animal’s needs. What else do dogs need?

Dogs need to have functions to perform as part of the “pack” structure. In domesticated dogs who are not being used for the original purpose which they have been bred, functions could include daily leash walks, fetching a ball or toy, obedience training exercises, agility, flyball or other organized “dog sports,” and bonding time with family members. It is not necessary to own a dogsled to keep your Husky happy, but certainly it is your responsibility to make sure the dog has appropriate activities to do to keep it the healthiest and happiest it can be. Dogs are not meant to spend long periods of time in a backyard with nothing to do and no one with which to do it. Not only will dogs left to their own devices escape to roam, or become noisy and destructive, they will be lonely, and can even become depressed. Structured human contact is part of owning a well-behaved dog–and it is fun!

Well-adjusted dogs have all their needs met, including social needs, and are not given the chance to develop negative behaviors because they are confined securely and their family is busy teaching them good behaviors! Dogs who stay indoors have less to bark at, period–which makes neighbors happy!

Some people think they can relieve Fido’s boredom by getting him another dog to play with. Sometimes this works, but since dogs really want more human contact, the owners often end up with two barking, escaping dogs! Dogs can and do keep each other company, but they are simply not having their needs met if the family keeps them relegated to the outdoors most of the time.

Having a dog doesn’t mean you have to babysit it or cater to it constantly. Many families with full lives still manage to integrate the dog into the routine enough to satisfy his needs and theirs. The trick is preventing inappropriate behaviors while training appropriate ones. If your dog is a “boredom barker” or escape artist, here are some things you can do to alleviate the problem (which will give you instant “good neighbor” points, too!):

1. Arrange for the dog to live indoors with you. This means he is only outdoors when you are playing with or supervising him. A crate, used correctly, is an excellent way to confine your dog indoors until he is trained to the behaviors you expect in your home. If your dog is “too wild” to come indoors, quality training will help acclimate him to your home and understand what you want from him. If your dog is outdoors because he has never been housebroken, you will need to get him on a schedule for accomplishing that. The Pooch Professor has several training options; we can also assist you with crating and housebreaking.

2. Spend time with your pooch every day doing something enjoyable and constructive. Make sure he is getting plenty of exercise to meet his particular needs (with many dogs, a short walk around the block just isn’t enough). Putting the dog outdoors in the fenced yard alone and expecting him to exercise himself isn’t realistic–you need to be out there with him! Some dogs need more exercise than others, but he won’t do it by himself. Consider “doggy daycare” a few days per week if your dog spends most of his day home alone.

3. Teach acceptable behaviors using fun and humane methods, and practice them daily. Integrate commands into your daily life so that they become habit. Learn to be proactive instead of reactive–prevent bad behaviors instead of always having to react to them. Barking and roaming are self-rewarding and fun, so prevent them with confinement, training, and structured time. Dogs give us so much; they deserve to be a true part of the family.

4. Give your dog things to do when you are not home. Acceptable chewing devices such as food-filled Kongs©, sterilized hollow bones, and Nylabone brand chewing devices are a good start. If he is unreliable outside the crate, these items can be left in the crate with him. Challenge him mentally with a Buster Cube–you put food in it, and he has to turn it a certain way to release the food. Be creative with the proper toys, and avoid toys or chewing devices that can be consumed or destroyed. Remember this–”a tired dog is a good dog.”

You may think that it is silly leave your dog “cooped up” (i.e. crated) in the house all day when you have a big, wonderful fenced yard for him to play in. In addition to the fact that dogs rarely exercise themselves enough, many negative things can happen to a dog outdoors unsupervised: he can escape and be lost or hit by a car, be poisoned or hurt by unscrupulous people, be stolen, and just generally be a nuisance. If your dog escapes the yard and knocks over a child or bites someone, you are liable. Fences make good neighbors, but they can frustrate some dogs. Treat your dog as you would a toddler: unsupervised=unsafe. It only takes a split second for a child to stick his hand through the fence, and even the nicest dog on earth can be accused of being vicious if a bite or scratch is involved. It takes very little evidence to condemn a free-running dog, and it only takes a split second for a “secure” yard to become escapable. Tying a dog up all day is even worse; please don’t do it! If your yard isn’t fenced, that is all the more reason for the dog to live indoors.