The Indoor Dog Ideal

If I said to you that I worked with some dogs whose owner makes them live outside, what is your first thought?  I know mine is usually dirty, parasite laden dogs who bark at strangers and don’t care much for being petted.  That’s because those are the outdoor dogs I grew up around.

Some imagine that an outdoor dog is sad and lonely, constantly hoping for the chance to come inside.  Some imagine a dog on a chain whose world is small and unfulfilling.  Depending on where one lives, you might think of the shivering, wet dog who has no shelter while its owners are toasty warm inside.

Few people imagine a dog who is perfectly comfortable in a naturally enriched outdoor environment with adequate shelter and frequent contact with the humans who live inside.  We tend to assume that the outdoor dog has no training or manners.  We assume a general disconnect between dog and owner along with a lack of empathy and perhaps a lack of general care on the part of the owner.

The truth is, there is no one recipe for the perfect way for all dogs to live.  Anyone who has trained dogs in the home knows that a dog being allowed to live inside is no guarantee that the dog is happy, satisfied or better trained.  In fact, some horrendous things happen to indoor dogs, as well as outdoor dogs.

A couple of years ago I would have thought what I’m writing is completely crazy.  But I’ve come to realize that it is quite possible for many dogs to live really fantastic lives without ever stepping foot inside a home.  In fact, for some dogs who have started their life as an outdoor animal, coming inside is absolutely terrifying!

When a trainer goes to a home to work with a client, they ask a lot of questions.  They do this because they must find out if the dog’s behavior is due to a lack of enrichment, lack of exercise, presence of health issues or a relationship problem between dog and owner.  The answer is usually a combination of some or all of these things.

It would seem only fair to say, then, that dogs who live outdoors would also have different situations that need to be explored before determining what is causing any behavioral issues.  I’m not sure that we can assume that living outside is always the issue.  In fact, I’m sure that we can’t.

For instance, a dog who lives outside with acceptable digging spots, treat filled toys, chewies, shelter, fresh water and frequent contact with their owner (playing, petting, training) might be behaviorally healthier than the dog who is indoors but free-fed, free-roaming, with no enrichment and contact with their owners that only includes yelling.  Being inside the house, by itself, does not change any of the issues that we normally want owners to address.

I’m certainly not suggesting that dogs should live outside.  What I’m suggesting is that we could safely expand our definitions for healthy, happy, responsible pet ownership.  We start doing that by throwing out our personal criteria for how it “should” be and instead make an honest assessment of how it is.  We meet people, and dogs, where they are.  We provide suggestions, instructions and solutions for making things better for the unique dog and owner in front of us according to what works for them, not necessarily just pushing them to create a picture that is closer to our own ideal of pet ownership.


While I can't imagine not snuggling with my dogs and cats 50 times a day and cuddling them in bed at night, some people do have pets for different reasons, including dogs. I have no problem with a dog who is an outdoor dog as long as it is exercised, fed, watered and sees a veterinarian on a regular basis. One thing I've learned as a pit bull type owner is that we should never wish our own desires on someone else or judge someone's actions without cause. We all have a reason for owning a pet and as long as the pet is humanely treated and lives a happy life, who is anyone to say they should all live the same life? My sister's German shepherd actually prefers to sleep outside most of the year. He has a dog door into their bedroom and at night he often chooses to sleep in his outdoor dog house. Otherwise, he has full run of the house and gets about 3 1-hr beach walks/swims a day, the spoiled boy!

A shift to this perpective could save lives.  Too often (in sheltering) we hear the words "will be an outside dog" and everything after that is not heard.  Dogs confiscated from hoarding situations or puppy mills, for example, can be good candidates for " outdoor living.  They might not acclimste well to living indoors.

Some people are outdoors most of the day and are doing things that would let their dogs be with them.

To me the obvious example would be a horseperson who spends their waking life at the stable and riding. That can be a great life for a dog. And the dog might well sleep in the barn with the horses too, protecting them from theft.

Another would be farmers who are out in the fields much of the day. Sometimes with the dog riding shotgun on the tractor or the farm truck. Gee, most dogs would love that. Plus for the herding dogs, the joy of herding any livestock .

Some dogs have a "night job" that takes place outside the house.

The livestock guarding dog has a night and day job watching over the stock who are his adopted pack.

Most of the jobs that created our breeds as functional dogs were outdoor jobs, mostly day jobs but some night jobs. Herding, hunting, hauling, and the gamekeeper's dog. So a dog could come home from the job tired enough that a good meal and a comfortable place to sleep , preferably with another dog or a human bed-mate, was all that was needed for the rest of the day-night cycle.

In any case , a trainer has to start out dealing with the situation that is already existing. Start with what's there and try to teach people and train dogs in a way that will make the dog's life better and the person's appreciation of the dog better. (Same is true for vets.) Even if you can't make the dog's life perfect, you can make it better. And if the dog is a backyard dog because he is so high energy and "unruly" , too boiserous to be welcome indoors, teaching the owners to be able to train the dog to be under control and thus able to be settled down indoors, that can open the home to the dog at least on a part time basis, eventually full time.

"Start from where you are" : the journey to a well behaved dog (welcome everywhere) begins with a single "Sit"..

And "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good"

Thank you for (hopefully) opening up some tightly closed minds.  My first though in reading your post is that you must have spent some time truly observing a fairly typical dog mushing kennel.

For example, I've set up my own kennel with a variety of confinement systems, which allows me to rotate my sled dogs through a variety of living situations.  Only a small handful of the dogs show a truly strong preference for one over others, though I do have a couple who truly dislike being in the house, apparently because they get too warm.  Some of my dogs prefer sharing a pen with a compatible buddy, and some prefer an elevated post/swivel tether where they can interact with their neighbors when they wish, and disengage when they wish.  Most enjoy the frequent changes in our living arrangements and they ALL love running and pulling - it's in their DNA.

Please, take a look at the 'big picture' BEFORE trying to focus in on a problem behavior.  Every dog is different, every dog's situation is different, and obviously, every owner is different.

Swanny and the Stardancer Historical Sled Dogs (http://www.tworiversak.mushing.htm)

A good dog is so much a nobler beast than an indifferent man that one sometimes gladly exchanges the society of one for that of the other.” William Francis Butler

No, Swanny, I'm not part of the mushing world nor have any close friends there nor spent time observing. But I have read the Coppingers' discussions and seen some articles on Susan Butcher (have I got the name right?) and that other woman who has won the Iditardod a couple of times.

So yes, it's easy to believe that the dogs really enjoy the running and hauling. Also that they would be well prepared to spend a lot of the day resting (indeed even dogs who lead much less athletic lives spend much of the day resting). Also easy to believe that a dog carrying enough coat to be comfortable in sub-freezing weather outdoors would find the much warmer temperature a human would prefer indoors to be very uncomfortable. We humans can put our coats on or off as we see fit to adjust to cold or heat, but dogs cannot.

Now you are giving your dogs a choice of sharing some cabin time with you or staying out in the comfortable cold. They are not deprived of your company, because you are out with them for a lot of the day.

As to any tie-out situation, I would hope and trust that the swivel post arrangement that you describe for some of your dogs is set up so that two dogs cannot get their chains entangled with one another. Nor get a chain hung up in a way that suspends the dog by the neck and hangs him. Nor that could wrap around a leg and cut off circulation.

Lots of people with more than just two or three dogs find that some individuals may not get along well enough with one or more others. That means some kind of rotation system. What I call "playing musical dogs". Maybe it's rotation using crates indoors or maybe rotation between house and outdoor runs. Or maybe it's a lot of stretch gates in the house. I also call keeping incompatible dogs apart "a house divided". One of my breeder pals who also runs a boarding kennel has 3 goups of dogs : group A dogs get along with each other but not group B dogs, group B gets along with each other but not with group A, and group C dogs get along with everyone. So the C dogs are in the house all the time but group A takes turns with group B.

While admitting that there ARE indeed some situations of dogs living outside the house that are good living situations for those particular dogs, let us NOTforget that for most of today's pet dogs being relegated to being a "backyard dog" or an "outside dog" does NOT provide a very good lifestyle. I speak as a Rescue person for my breed (and for some other dogs) who sees the dark side of neglect and lonliness that too many dogs have endured and suffered.

Dogs who are outdoor only are less apt to get groomed and less often petted and caressed. Aside from the obvious deficiencies in enjoyment for the dog, if the owner does not have hands and eyes on dog for at least part of most days, health problems are likely to go unnoticed for longer times, possibly to the point where something easily cured in early stages has now become incurable. Think folks how many times your hands roving over your dog's body, petting and massaging, have suddenly screamed "red alert : a bump !" Sometimes it's just a bit of vegetation or mud caught in the coat , but sometimes it's a real lump, a growth, which taken to the vet could prove to be either benign or malignant or maybe a foxtail abcess. Think how getting your fingers under that long coat can let you know your dog has gained weight or lost it, which may merely mean a dietary adjustment or might be a symptom of illness.

And in climates that are either really hot or really cold, a lot of dogs cannot easily be kept safe and comfortable outdoors. Or at least not as comfortable as indoors where there is some mitigation of heat or cold. Heat of course is the worst. I live in the Sacramento Valley where many summer days are 90 to 95 F or higher in the shade (and occasionally still higher). Any dog would be suffering and the short-snouted ones would be dead. I've got a portable single-room AC, and you know you don't have to guess where my dogs will be on those very hot days.

The worset aspect of the outdoor , "out of sight, out of mind", situation is that the owner may not be getting much pleasure out of the dog. And the dog may get very lonely and unruly and so when people do go out to visit the dog, the dog may jump up and otherwise behave in a way that is repellant. When winter comes and the ungroomed shaggy monster becomes a filthy mud-monster, that can be the last straw and the reason to drop the dog off at the pound. Or if the dog is lucky, the owner may be aware of Rescue and by-pass the pound to bring the dog to Rescue.

I have received a lot of untrained and ungroomed dogs. Ill mannered and matted. Now I can cure that, teach the dog house manners and how to use a dog door, and get the dog ready for a responsible and knowledgeable and loving home. But don't be surpirsed that an applicant who intends the dog to be an outdoor dog, or even just outdoors when people are not home, gets dropped to the bottom of my list of potential adopters. The ones who treat their dogs as full time members of the family are the ones who go to the top of the list. The ones who say that "my dog goes with me almost everywhere I go" are the ones the dog would choose and the ones I prefer. But comfortably home (ideally with dog door to safely fenced yard if people are gone for more than 5 or 6 hours) and ideally with a congenial canine comrade is also what dogs would choose as a pleasant lifestyle. For all of these some outdoor activities with the owner, preferably something that addresses the dog's bred-in working drives and uses the dog's mind as well as body, is also highly important and for many dogs is crucial. But long walks and visits to the dog park can also fill that role.

'scuse me now. time to take my eldest dog out for a potty break. he's on a month of limited activity due to a medical condition. but he is bedded down in the central room amid the rest of the household.

A good basic overview of how the majority of dog mushers manage even large numbers of dogs can be gained from reading the Mush with P.R.I.D.E. Sled Dog Care Guidelines at  The Guidelines were originally developed to help beginners entering the sport, but have since become something of a recognized 'standard of care' in many legal jurisdictions where animal control authorities have needed to assess dog mushing operations. 

Please note that our recommendations are based on the environment of a MULTIPLE DOG setting and we readily agree they are not necessarily appropriate for the typical 1 or 2 housepet types of settings. 

A good dog is so much a nobler beast than an indifferent man that one sometimes gladly exchanges the society of one for that of the other.” William Francis Butler

Our Chocolate Labrador lives outside in his kennel and very rarely comes inside..sometimes for cuddles in the doorway.

He has lived outside even when a puppy and knows no better. Nor is he affection /attention deprived ..exactly the opposite but hes a dog and a big gooby dog at that.  I would have to say that even though We all love him as part if our family and he very much is loved !! Joey will continue to sleep in his dog kennel and run and wont be coming inside anytime soon.

Joey is played with every single day by our 4 sons and Wags his tail and greets them every afternoon when they arrive home on the bus. He has treats everyday and is a valuable family member...its just hes a dog and to me dogs of his size should definitly he outside living animals....but thats just my opinion :)

I personally like my dogs indoors because I know I will not be spending much time with them if they were outdoors. But I grew up with outdoor dogs too. Most were primariliy indoor dogs but there were a few who were primarily outdoor dogs because they didn't want to be inside. I was younger and spent a lot of time outdoors then so those dogs that stayed outside got as much interaction as the ones inside.

I have a couple of friends who have dogs that stay mostly outside and they feel like they have to justify why. Obviously they wouldn't be my friends if they neglected their dogs. I know a few rescue groups who ask this question on their adoption applications and make judgments based on the answer. I understand the need to be careful in adopting a dog to an ill-suited home but wouldn't focusing on the inhome visit, references, and care of current/previous pets be more important?

Dawn Ross

For those of us who live in urban or suburban areas, what percentage of "outdoor" only dogs do we know who lead quality lives? My guess would be less than 1/2 of 1%.  The weather in most of the US is not safe for most dogs to live outdoor.

The comment of vpoulton is especially troublesome to me. While abused dogs may take more effort to acclimate to a customary indoor life, they almost certainly will be happier for it, and the only reason not to go through the trouble is because it takes effort for the human.

Your guess doesn't tell the true story unless we can prove that it's accurate.  Also, the weather in most of the U.S. is actually safe for most dogs to live outdoors.  Of course there is also a large area of the country where some seasons would not be safe without adequate shelter and a heated waterer. Many of us in the country never get snow and our temps never drop below freezing.

This brings us back to the idea of not making sweeping generalizations and assumptions based on what we believe is a "quality life".  Every dog is different and in some cases it is cruel to force a dog to live indoors.

It's also not accurate to assume that all dogs who are living indoors are living a "quality life", whatever that is.

~Cindy Bruckart




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