At least 157 U.S. children have been killed or severely injured by chained dogs in the past 4 years. Chaining dogs can have tragic consequences. This practice is not only inhumane, but also creates a very real threat to humans as well as dogs and other animals. Chained or penned outdoor dogs are at significant risk for developing aggression. Dogs are social creatures that closely resemble humans in their need for companionship, but when forced to live in isolation, they can develop strong and potentially dangerous territorial instincts. A solitary existence is stressful and fosters anxiety in dogs, which in turn can make them hypervigilant about defending themselves and their living area. Unfortunately, this can (and does) develop into aggression. A small child wandering into the territory of an unsocialized outdoor dog may be perceived as a threat.
Granted, not all outdoor dogs manifest aggressive tendencies; many suffer in silence, unacknowledged and ignored. These dogs often develop permanent emotional problems, nervous behaviors and anxiety disorders. The negative behavioral consequences of chaining and penning are difficult to reverse and in some cases impossible to remedy. Why do people force their dogs to live outside? As a representative for Dogs Deserve Better, I have heard numerous excuses for chaining and penning and would like to address some of the myths about outdoor dogs.
Justification #1: My dog is destructive in the house.
This is a common reason why people keep their dogs outside. It is true that many young dogs tend to chew and destroy things when left to their own devices. Often, however, this is a sign of boredom on the part of the dog that can be very easily prevented by keeping your dog busy (a tired dog is a good dog!), and proper crate training to protect your belongings (and your dog) when you are away. Many people are unaware that dogs almost ALWAYS grow out of this frustrating behavior. I recently took in a 4 year old lab mix that was originally chained outside for destructive behaviors. In the three months of foster care, he has yet to chew or destroy anything.
Justification #2: My dog is not housebroken.
Failures in housebreaking almost always result from a lack of training by the dog’s caretaker. When you adopt a dog, you need to be vigilant about establishing good “potty habits,” teaching your dog the proper place to eliminate, and keeping him/her confined when you are unable to monitor behavior. This is especially important in puppies (and especially easy!). Adult dogs are more difficult to train, but NOT impossible. In several years of taking in over 100 dogs, I have encountered only one that I was unable to fully housebreak. However, this is extremely rare, and related more to the elder dog’s physical health than his inability to learn.
Justification #3: My dog sheds (or is dirty).
Yep, the majority of dogs shed. It’s a fact. I seldom leave my house without a clump of dog hair hanging off my sleeve. However shedding can be kept to a minimum by daily to weekly grooming (depending on the breed), and giving skin and coat supplements. Dogs are not by nature dirty animals. Yes, they may track mud in the house, but this can also be prevented if not eliminated with due vigilance. A friend of mine keeps a towel by her door to wipe her dog’s paws as soon as he comes in the house. She rarely has muddy prints on her floor. And if your dog is stinky, he probably needs a bath, or may have something medically wrong with him. Greasy, scaly, stinky skin is a sign of a medical problem. Take your dog to the vet to rule out medical issues.
Justification #4: My dog is too big to live in the house.
This is a case when prevention is preferable to cure. If you know that your home is small, then don’t adopt that adorable St Bernard mix puppy. It’s best to research dog breeds before you adopt to find out the “worst case scenario” of adult size. If you mistakenly have gotten a dog that is bigger than expected, TRAIN him! A dog with proper house manners can live anywhere. I know a Doberman who would rather die than steal food off the table (despite the fact that he can rest his head on the kitchen counter). It may take some work, but can be done. As an aside, size and breed traits often become problematic when people adopt puppies; adopting an adult dog provides owners with reasonable certainty about size and temperament and also helps the pet overpopulation crisis.
Justification #5: My dog is chained outside to protect my property.
This appears to be a case of deficient logic. If you were a burglar, would you be more wary of a dog barking from the back yard chained to a doghouse, or a dog barking from inside the house? Which would deter you more? Furthermore, if you depend on your outdoor dog as a security alarm, consider this: Dog Control Officers called to investigate nuisance barking commonly find the owners’ response to be “I didn’t hear him barking,” because people habituate to sounds they hear all the time. Outdoor dogs often bark at things out of boredom. After your dog barks 5 or 6 times at the squirrel next door, or the UPS truck down the road, or the people across the street, you start to tune them out.
Justification #6: My dog prefers to be outside.
This is often one of the most difficult myths to debunk. Yes, lots of dogs like it outside. This may be merely because it is a familiar environment and they have no choice. I’ve lost count of the outdoor dogs I have fostered that “prefer being outside,” but spend no more than 5 minutes at a time outside once in my home. They run outside, pee, and then immediately rush back to the door. Dogs do not like being alone. If you are outside with your dogs, then they probably want to be with you. However if you are inside, dogs properly acclimated to living in the house will want to be inside with you. Give them a chance.
Justification #7: Some dogs are outdoor dogs, and some dogs are indoor dogs.
Why? Is that what your family did? It’s time to break that chain! Ponder this: What is the difference between an outdoor dog and an indoor dog? Owners of outdoor dogs often tell me “Small dogs live inside, and big dogs live outside.” Why do small dogs deserve a warm, safe place to sleep while larger dogs must sleep outside in the cold, heat, and rain? Dogs are social creatures, craving love, attention, and recognition, regardless of their size. Please think twice before you automatically condemn your dog to a life of loneliness and anxiety because of its size. Challenge your own belief system. Challenge your parents’ beliefs. Is there really a reason to make one dog an outdoor dog and another an indoor dog?
Justification #8: My dog is a hunting dog: he is not a family pet.
Who says dogs can’t be both companion dogs and hunting dogs? Do you believe that allowing your dog to be a part of the family will make him a less effective hunter? I challenge you to entertain the opposite. A dog that lives in your home will be more bonded and in tune with you, and therefore more likely to do what you ask. Dogs are loyal creatures and are eager to please you. I have spoken with multiple hunters who own indoor beagles that state that their dogs remain excellent, reliable hunters with no change in prey drive. Segregating your dog from people has no bearing on their hunting ability. Worldwide, working dogs live with their families. Have you ever heard of a police dog chained outside? How about a seeing-eye dog? Why not? Because dogs do the best jobs when they are bonded with the person for whom they work. The same goes for the hunting and herding breeds.
When it comes to outdoor dogs, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. PLEASE research the dog you are interested in BEFORE you bring it home! Read about the breed (even mutts share their breeds’ characteristics). How big will the dog be when it’s full-grown? What is the breed temperament? What kind of coat will the dog have? If a clean house is your highest priority, opt for a non-shedding dog. If your house is on the small side, adopt a smaller dog. Also, consider adopting an adult dog over a puppy. When you adopt a puppy, you are adopting the dog you hope he will become. When you adopt an adult dog, you are adopting the dog he is right now. In large part, these preventive measures boil down to the goodness of fit between a dog and its family. If you have problems with your dog and need help--don’t put him outside--call someone! Dogs Deserve Better offers FREE help with dog training. If you simply cannot keep your dog or do not have the time or energy to work with him, we will help you find a new home. Chaining and penning your dog outside is not only cruel but also it is dangerous. Please consider another option! Life at the end of a chain or in a pen is a miserable existence. Dogs are NOT lawn ornaments. Show some compassion for your “best friend” and make him a part of your family.
For more information about our organization, please visit our website www.dogsdeservebetter.org or email me, your Oswego County Area Representative at firstname.lastname@example.org