Many dogs are kept outside in the yard all the time each and every day with little social interaction. If dogs could talk, we would likely hear a variety of reasons as to why they were relegated to their yard rather than spending quality time inside the home with their families. The reasons may be several ranging from allergies to hygiene or odors, but sadly in many cases, dogs are kept in the yard because they never really had an opportunity to learn how to be an inside dog or perhaps they were given the opportunity several times, but the dog just didn't meet the owner's expectations. Interestingly, a study provides an insight into the dynamics behind the effects of not meeting a dog's minimum daily social interaction needs and how it can affect behavior.
Dogs are Social Animals
Dogs are social animals who crave companionship and have a strong desire to spend time with their families. When dogs are socially deprived, this can cause serious welfare implications. Human contact is so cherished among puppies and dogs that the timely implementation of social withdrawal as experienced during a brief time-out, works as punishment for dogs who crave social interactions with their favorite humans. Of course, the amount of social interaction needed with humans varies between a dog and another and there are several breed variances. Some dogs need more, while some others may be more on the independent side. This article is therefore mostly meant for those frustrated dog owners who wish to bring their dogs inside, but have relegated them to the yard due to behavior issues and the dogs are suffering the consequences, particularly lack of sufficient social interaction.
"Separation and isolation represent strong aversive events for puppies and dogs alike, forming the emotional basis for time-out procedures used in puppy training and behavior management." ~Steven R. Lindsey
Idle Paws at Work
On top of lacking social interaction, dogs who are relegated to the yard have a strong need for exercise and mental stimulation. It's often forgotten that dogs have a past history as natural scavengers/hunters who spent most of their days foraging in search of of food. On top of that, many dogs were selectively bred for performing tasks such as hunting, herding and retrieving.
With no way to get rid of pent-up energy and with little to do, dogs kept in the yard all day alone may therefore be forced to find their own forms of entertainment, but these hobbies won't be appreciated by their owners. Idle paws are a devil's workshop and dogs may therefore start digging, scratching, chewing and may also engage in incessant barking. Not to mention, aggressive displays targeted towards passersby.
"Chronic isolation situations can be very agitating. For example, long-term confinement to a backyard with a view of passers-by will often (and ironically) product aggressive displays in what would otherwise be a friendly dog."~Jean Donaldson
Double the Trouble
Getting another dog to keep the dog company in the yard may seem like a good solution to help make the dog less lonely, but many dogs still crave human interaction. In a study conducted by Meunier et al. in 2012, it was found that, given the choice, dogs chose interactions with humans over interactions with other dogs. Owners who therefore decide to get another dog in hopes of keeping the other dog company, should keep in mind that they may end up with two dogs with a strong desire to interact with humans and spend time in the home with them. Denying this access and/or not providing sufficient human interaction often results in two dogs who are bored, frustrated and likely to engage in undesirable behaviors such as barking and destructive behaviors.
The Indoor/Outdoor Conundrum
Many dogs who are relegated to the backyard have a history of bouncing off the walls, jumping on people, acting destructive and overall wrecking havoc in the home. Owners may therefore give up keeping the dog in the home or may try to give the dog a few chances before making a final decision. However, many times when dogs are brought inside after being out for a while, their behaviors will not meet the owner's expectations which can lead to the dog being kept permanently in the doghouse. Yet, there's an important phenomenon to be aware of before giving up on these dogs.
A study by Waller and Fuller in 1961 revealed that when puppies were brought up in semi-isolation their needs for social contact triggered excessive activity when they were put into a social situation. However, when kept with their litters, there was a 75 reduction in in the number of social contacts. This seems to suggest that dogs have a biological need for social interaction and when the need for a minimum amount of daily social interaction is not provided, they make up for it, compensating with excessive activity when placed in a social situation, suggests Nancy Kerns in the book "Whole Dog Journal Handbook of Dog and Puppy Care and Training."
Waiting it Out
What does this mean for the dog owner? It's suggestive that it might be worth it to wait it out rather than sending the dog out again the moment he misbehaves which will be ultimately adding more fuel to the fire causing the dog's chances for becoming a house get dimmer and dimmer. Sure, the dog will likely act crazy in the home after being socially deprived and inadequately exercised for some time, but if you grit your teeth for a while, you may find that with time, you will up the chance for him to learn how to behave in the home. If your dog is a handful, and of course if he acts aggressively at any time, keep everyone safe and consult with a trainer or behavior professional.
When you feel things become unbearable, you can always invite your dog to the yard and engage him to play a structured game or you can use a baby gate and provide your dog with an interactive toy to keep busy while you carry on errands around the house. Of course, make sure to provide daily walks, training and opportunities for mental stimulation. And if you are away for a part of the day, it may be a good idea to hire a dog walker. As seen, as a general rule of thumb, most dogs prefer to stay inside the home with their families along with enjoying the many perks of the great indoors such as soft pillows, warmth and cool air in the summer.
"Dog’s physical, social and behavioural needs are very complex. Meeting these is hard, if not impossible, for dogs living outside. Therefore, we advise against keeping dogs outside. Instead of keeping your dog outside, ask someone to visit and walk them at least once each day."~RSPCA
- Oh Behave!: Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker, By Jean Donaldson, Dogwise Publishing (April 1, 2008)
- Whole Dog Journal Handbook of Dog and Puppy Care and Training, By Nancy Kerns, Lyons Press; 1 edition (December 1, 2007)
- Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Adaptation and Learning, By Steven R. Lindsay, Iowa State University Press; Volume One edition (January 31, 2000)