We like to think of our dogs as members of the family, sharing our beds, our living rooms, and our hearts. But in some homes, dogs aren’t family members – they aren’t even allowed indoors.
The myth of the “outdoor dog” persists: Despite constant urging from rescues and animal welfare groups that dogs should live indoors with their families, especially during extreme weather, thousands of dogs live their lives in backyards, sometimes on chains. But there are lots of reasons why forcing a dog to live outdoors year-round is unhealthy and unkind – and it’s not just about the weather.
“Keeping pet dogs outside consigns them to a life of loneliness and frustration,” the MSPCA’s Rob Halpin told The Dodo.
“Dogs are highly social animals whose ancestors and cousins – the wolves – live in packs. Wolves hunt together, sleep together and play together,” Halpin said.
“Dogs don’t have packs. They only have us,” he added. “Depriving dogs of human companionship by forcing them to live outside blunts their natural desires and is its own form of animal cruelty.”
Dr. Rob Proietto, a veterinarian in New York City, explained that, while no dog should live outdoors his whole life, some dogs enjoy spending much of their time outside.
“Many dogs love to be outside and some in rural areas sometimes prefer to be outside. As pup parents, it’s important to know when they need to join their families and seek shelter,” he told The Dodo. “Dogs can overheat very quickly in warm weather climates and can get hypothermia in cold, wet conditions.”
There is no breed or type of dog that is able to live outdoors full-time – dogs are domesticated, not wild, and they rely on humans for comfort and safety.
Like many shelter workers, Adam Goldberg, of the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has seen firsthand the damage that living outdoors can do to dogs.
“One of the cruelest things you could do to a dog is to chain them [up] for a prolonged period of time,” Goldberg said. “It is cruel and inhumane! Dogs kept on chains watch as the world goes by and imagine what life would be like.”
He recalled the story of Hope, a 3-year-old pit bull rescue who had never lived indoors before coming to the Broward County facility. Hope had “rough callouses on her elbows and joints from sleeping on hard surfaces like concrete.”
Living outside, she had never learned the rules of a home; she’d missed out on the training most puppies get from their families. Hope had to be housebroken and taught not to steal from the garbage.
“It didn’t take long for her to learn her inside manners and become accustomed to sleeping inside with her family in a warm bed,” Goldberg said. “Her callouses began to soften and her skin improved due to better nutrition and protection from the elements and fleas. She now lives happily inside as part of a family who loves her.”
Hope was one of the lucky ones – there are many dogs who never get their happy endings, and spend their entire lives outdoors, never knowing what it feels like to be part of a pack.
“More than 10,000 years ago, dogs were domesticated to live with humans: They long for our companionship and need it,” Goldberg explained. “Your dog will only be happy living outside if you live outside with him.”
If you’re interested in helping educate about the importance of letting dogs live indoors, check out volunteer organizations like The Backyard Dog Project, which works to bring in chained dogs.
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