It is awfully convenient to be able to open the backdoor and let your dog out. Maybe you are even able leave him there for extended periods. Particularly if he can easily reach water and shelter in your absence, this may work out just fine for you, depending on the type of neighborhood in which you live. And then there are those dogs who sing the backyard blues. Dogs are smart, social creatures. Therefore, leaving them unattended in the yard can cause trouble that outweighs the convenience of having them spend their days outside. If your dog is bored, under exercised, or agitated by being isolated from you, you may find yourself with problems such as:
Barking or howling
Fence-fighting with neighbor dogs
Barking at passing dogs, kids or other pedestrians
Fence jumping (which means not only could your dog be hit by a car, but you will also be in violation of city ordinances; your dog may be picked up by animal control for being “at large” or disturbing people or their property)
Being let out of the yard by a worker, solicitor, or neighborhood child
Coprophagia (eating feces)
Ingesting toxic plants, mushrooms
Pawing or tearing at the screen or back door
Chewing on your belongings or deck
Being frightened by thunder or unruly kids (which can lead to a fear of going into the yard, or aggression toward strangers or children)
Being vulnerable to theft, abuse, or predators (such as hawks and coyotes)
Being in violation of noise ordinances (for incessant, early-morning or late-night barking)
That list covers just about every issue I’ve gotten a phone call about from clients who thought they were doing their dog or themselves a favor by leaving him in the yard, and found themselves with problems down the line.
For most people, the backyard is best used as a place to enjoy the dog by engaging him in fetch, playing or training, or just relaxing and having the dog keep them company while they garden. If you’d like to be able to use your yard to temporarily confine your dog, unattended, here are a few tips to help it turn out well:
- Provide your dog with interesting things to do in the yard so he won’t develop bad habits or anxiety barking. Keep him occupied with: a stuffed Kong tied to a tree, a sandy area in which you bury dog treats, his meal flung out into the grass for him to scavenge, or a Kool Dogs Ice Treat Maker.
- Make sure your dog is housetrained before using the yard this way. Otherwise you may be surprised to learn that your dog does not really understand the concept of “holding it” until given a yard opportunity, since he’ll be in the habit of just eliminating whenever he feels the need.
- Provide adequate exercise for your dog. Your dog will likely just lay around in the yard, or maybe chase a squirrel or two. So you’ll still need to provide exercise in the form of fetch or walks for his mental and physical well being.
- Use a fence tall enough that your dog can’t jump it.
- Be courteous to your neighbors. It is not ok to allow your dog to bark incessantly. Not only does that indicate that he may be stressed, but also that he may be causing your neighbors stress. Noise ordinances prohibit this in many towns.
- Keep your yard free of feces so that you can both enjoy the yard (and cut down on the spread of parasites).
- If your dog is not used to being unsupervised outdoors, start out leaving your dog for short spurts, like five or ten minutes, and build from there. This will give you a chance to monitor whether or not this is a good idea for your dog.
Finally, be aware of why you want your dog in the backyard. If you are avoiding a training challenge, it might be best to get help with the problem that is resulting in him being placed in the backyard in the first place. Perhaps you just need a place to put him so he won’t be underfoot, or so your dog and kids can have a break from each other (in which case I would recommend an indoor Safety Zone). With a little forethought, you can keep your dog from singing the backyard blues.