Updated November 29, 2020
I once knew a German Shepherd who lived in a tower block in an English estate. A normal first reaction would be to feel sorry for him, right?
He was one happy, happy dog. Why? His owner was well aware of the potential for problems. He went up and down the lift all day for his walks and toileting.
Was he happier than a dog that lives outside? Can it be true?
Over my life I’ve kept dogs both outside and inside the house and I’ve watched countless other people do the same. I’m also aware of studies in dog behaviour. Here’s what I’ve come to believe.
Should Dogs Live Outside?
It Depends. Factors that influence the decision include:
- Breed Factors. Certain breeds are less capable of isolation.
- Personality Type. Dogs vary in their independence.
- Coat Type, Body Size & Age. Heat and cold need to be considered.
- Access To People. A well-socialised dog needs human contact.
All of these need explaining…
A common new puppy owner’s wish is to keep a him or her outside because their dogs have always been outside. The problem occurs when the previous dogs were Blue Heelers or Kelpies, and the new pup is a Poodle cross.
Different dog breeds have different needs. Dog breeds exist on a spectrum of attachment and affection to humans. They all like us but some need us more.
Generally, we would regard Toy breeds as being more highly attached to humans, and get very uneasy with decisions to keep them outside. However, breed isn’t everything…
Individual variation is greater than breed variation. Knowing your dog’s individual wishes and needs is more important than knowing their breed. For example, terriers are supposed to be good outside. My two terriers are very happy outside when no one’s home, and will even do independent tasks outside while we are home. However, I don’t doubt that their happiness is greater when they can be inside with us.
There’s no doubt that some dogs are independent enough to do just fine outside.
Similarly, your dog’s history is important. Dogs who are very reactive to stimuli, suffer from noise phobias or separation anxiety are usually better off inside.
Coat Type, Body Size & Age
Wolves live in arctic winters. Doesn’t that mean dogs are fine in Australian winters? No way!
We’ve done three big things to dogs to suit our own needs: changed their coats, their size and their climate.
Wolves have a double coat with protective guard hairs covering a cosy insulating downy layer underneath. Dogs breeds who still have double coats (see list at end) are mostly going to cope well with Aussie winter temperatures if they can get out of the weather.
Most breeds these days have single coats with very poor insulating properties. These are the smooth coats like Boxers, Pointers, Jack Russell Terriers or the long coats like Poodles. These dogs feel the cold. You’ve only got to see how differently they behave to double coated breeds in winter.
Vets can see it by watching how much faster their body temperature falls under anaesthetic if they aren’t well-insulated.
To make matters worse, the smaller the size the greater the ration of surface area to body weight. This means small dogs lose heat faster, so even double coats in toy breeds aren’t enough.
It gets worse when they get old. Oscar’s owners noticed it after he was clipped last week. At his age he was affected even inside the house in Adelaide’s autumn weather.
Should Dogs Wear Coats?
Coats aren’t for sissies! Read here the sorts of dogs that benefit from wearing a coat.
The reverse is true for hot weather. Read our guide to heat stress in dogs. Dogs aren’t hot weather animals; all dogs are at risk when outside in hot weather. Large dogs with thick coats are in real trouble.
There’s a myth that if you clip double-coated breeds for summer they will never be the same afterwards. It’s just that- a myth. The coat grows back just fine by next Autumn.
Access to People
Even we’re not at home some dogs are clearly happier inside, especially if anxious. The home is a safe zone with good comforting smells of guardian-humans. Favourite beds and dens are usually inside.
However, most dogs won’t mind where they are if you aren’t there. It’s what happens when you get home that matters. I think that dogs should have the choice to be with us when we are home whenever possible.
We should also make sure we provide at least 30 minutes (and preferably 60) of focused dog-human interaction, such as walking, playing and human contact.
The greatest fear of dog behaviour professionals is that dogs are put outside due to undesirable behaviour. As we say in our article about raising dogs with children, this only sets up a vicious cycle of worsening behaviour. Putting dogs outside is never an alternative to toilet training, puppy socialising or teaching appropriate dog behaviour. If you need help, follow the links or just ask!
All this isn’t to say that you can’t have a happy dog who lives outside. If you pay attention to your dog’s needs, and accept that it’s not for all, some dogs are perfectly contented outdoors.
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!