Say Good-bye to the Backyard Dog!
www.sun-herald.com

December 29, 2004, ENGLEWOOD, FLORIDA--With so many dogs being introduced into new homes these days, let's clear up some common misconceptions. Perhaps the most widely held misconception is the belief that dogs will be healthy and happy living in the backyard. Nothing could be further from the truth .

Current studies prove that dogs isolated in backyards are prone to develop behavioral problems.

What you need to know:

Dogs are pack animals, they love companionship. Dogs are social creatures, in fact, more social than humans. They need to be part of human families. Denied access to human living space can result in behavioral and medical problems. Once you take responsibility for a dog, you are now the dog's pack, and he wants to be with his pack. He wants to be with you. Forcing a dog to live outside with little or no human companionship is one of the most psychologically damaging things a pet owner can do.

Dogs like a safe and secure place to sleep and hang out - like your home. Your dog has the ability to learn and therefore to be housetrained. A dog that lives more in your house than in the yard is a happier, more content animal because of the security and because of your companionship.

Backyard dogs develop behavior problems.

Your dog's instincts tell him it is not good to be left alone or isolated from his pack. As a result, outdoor dogs can become stressed or anxious. A dog exhibits stress by digging, barking, howling or whining, chewing, escaping and hyperactivity. These problems can cause your neighbors to complain about barking, property destruction or your dog escaping.

Backyard dogs are hard to train. Without a strong bond with your family, a backyard dog is harder to train than a dog allowed to belong in your family. He is less responsive to commands because he is not emotionally attached to you and your family.

Backyard dogs make poor guard dogs. A dog becomes naturally protective over his territory, and he will only defend the place he lives in. If he is never allowed in the house, he will not develop a sense of territory and the house will not be a place to protect.

It is not uncommon to hear stories of homes being robbed while the backyard dog snoozed, or failed to raise an alarm through the whole episode.

Backyard dogs are less likely to be rehomed. Backyard dogs are more often given up than house dogs because they were never looked upon as family by their human pack. Sadly, that means they are easier to dispose of. Since backyard dogs do not have the opportunity to become socialized to people and other dogs, they often become so fearful or vicious that they cannot be rehomed.

What you can do:

Let your dog live with you! At a minimum, your dog should have access to your home whenever you are there, including sleeping inside at night. You do not have to spend every waking moment actively interacting with your dog; just co-existing is critical to his mental well-being.

Never tie or chain up your dog. Dogs that are tied or chained outside suffer frustration resulting in hyperactivity and/or aggression towards you, your family or friends. Dogs that are tied cannot protect themselves from predators. They can easily become entangled and do harm to themselves. If you must keep your dog outside, provide a secure high fence or an enclosed dog run with a top for those jumpers. Provide shade, protection from rain, toys to chew on and fresh water. A dog should be exercised before being left for the day in any enclosed area.

Consider how much time you can devote to your dog. People who keep their dogs outside rationalize it, saying they do spend time with their dogs (feeding doesn't count). Spending an hour a day with your dog is simply not enough for his mental welfare. Making the backyard your dog's only home does not make him a part of the family.

Outdoor living. People used to spend a lot of time in the yard; gardening, playing or socializing. Now with televisions, computers, hectic schedules and Florida heat, we actually spend 75 percent less time outdoors and therefore less time with our best friend, the dog.

Train your dog! Take your dog to training classes. This allows you to develop better communication skills and teach him how to act appropriately in the house. Don't wait until he has acquired a taste for destructive behavior. If you acquire an older dog, training him as soon as possible will help him adjust to his new "pack and den".

Give your dog a chance to be your best friend! Don't kick him out because you think he is untrainable. Instead, take the time to make him a part of your family, a part of your pack.

Start 2005 right! Share your house, your home and your heart with a dog and make him a Friend for Life!

Debra Parsons-Drake is executive director of the Suncoast Humane Society Inc., 6781 San Casa Drive, Englewood, and may be reached at (941) 474-7884 and by fax at (941) 475-3877.