If I had a quarter for every time I've heard a potential adopter say "I have a big backyard so he'll be able to run!", I’d be an extremely wealthy woman.
Somewhere along the line, more than a few of us have become convinced that providing our dogs with a fenced backyard was the “be all, end all” in canine enrichment. As long as the dog could “run around” in the backyard, all his doggie needs would be magically fulfilled. But I have yet to see any dog suddenly spring to his feet, look at his watch, and say to himself, “Oh boy! It’s 2:00! Better run my laps!”
Simply stated, the backyard is NOT a living place for family dogs. We sometimes mistakenly believe that a dog will be “happier” with fresh air, grass, and more room to “run around.”
But in reality, other than using the backyard for a convenient potty area, a nice sunning spot, and a quick tour of the periphery, most dogs are happy to spend most of their time in the company of, or at least in close proximity to, their owners.
Because truth be told, after a very short period of time, the backyard becomes excruciatingly boring… and lonely. Except for the occasional passersby or UPS truck, which might be fun to chase off, nothing really changes.
Domestic dogs, much like their wild ancestors, are hardwired to move and investigate new environments. So unless your backyard is 20+ fenced acres, your dog is going to require at least one (preferably two) 30-minute “sniffy” walks a day to satisfy his need to move in a linear way and investigate the latest news along the route: Who was here? When? What did they eat today? Boy or girl? Oh boy, this is great stuff!
Additionally, dogs left in the backyard on their own rarely turn out to be well-behaved family members. They become bored and lonely when deprived of attention and affection. Then, when given attention, can show exuberant (annoying) behavior such as jumping and mouthing.
Dogs who live primarily in the backyard often resort to digging, chewing, and endless barking to relieve stress. They are not likely to become reliably house-trained and are at higher risk for relinquishment to a shelter due to all those unwanted behaviors.
However, all is not lost. If used appropriately, a fenced backyard can provide outstanding mental and physical enrichment for dogs and their owners, as they can be fantastic places for safe off-leash play, hide and seek, and even basic obedience training such as loose-leash walking.
Spending time with your dog in the backyard is a great way to bond. Dogs form extremely strong social ties, and one of the most important psychological needs is to be around the people they are bonded to.
Teaching your dog to be well behaved in the home does require some time, effort, and consistency. It also means offering your dog appropriate toys, bedding, confinement space, a collar, and a leash. Remember, access to the backyard does not count as “exercise;” your dog will still require regular walks.
In closing, we must always keep in mind that dogs are highly developed social animals and thrive on human companionship. Unless you spend a lot of time in the back yard yourself, don’t expect your pooch to want to hang out there alone for very long while you are inside the house.
Keeping the dog primarily in the backyard is social deprivation and quite frankly, inhumane. Therefore, only invite a dog into your home and life if you are prepared to share it with your new companion, small or large.
The SPCA's upcoming Walk for Animals is a fantastic opportunity to share a fun experience with your pup and get in one of those regular walks. There's still time to register, or you can do so on event day. Your $25 contribution not only covers you and your dog's entry to the walk, but also the patio party after with music, a cash bar and food available for purchase. The dog park will be open so you can cool off with a drink and your dog can frolic in the pool. Learn more and register at LetLoveLive.org.
A lifetime lover of "all creatures great and small" and a student of the behavior sciences since the early 90's, Ann Kinney brings a modern, science-based approach to her work with the SPCA shelter dogs. For it is only when we understand who our dogs really are, how they learn, and why they do the things they do that we can teach them how to successfully fit into our human households!