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Outdoor Dogs
by Christie Keith

We give them the love we can spare, the time we can spare. In return dogs have given us their absolute all. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made. -Roger Caras

Why do you have a dog?
The reasons people give are many: For companionship, protection, to play with the kids, to bark at intruders. Not too many answer, "To leave outside in the yard all day and all night, except for the occasional Frisbee game, trip to the beach, vet visit, or romp with the kids." But that's the sad fate of many outdoor dogs.

Sad fate, you ask? What's so sad about it? He has a nice dog house, and we play with the dog and take him to the vet. Many dogs are a lot worse off than ours.

That's right, many dogs probably are. But when you consider what the dog is capable of, the extent to which a dog can bond with and become part of a human family, the life of the outdoor dog begins to seem sad and limited by comparison.

Dogs, like wolves, are highly social pack animals. In nature, a wolf is never alone for even one moment in its whole life, unless it has been ostracized by the pack: "The lone wolf." Being cast out from communal life is the worst fate a dog or wolf can experience, and the message it teaches is a harsh one. You are not one of us, it says. Most "lone wolves" go out and seek another pack to join, or attempt to create one of their own. Our dogs, by virtue of fences, chains, tethers, runs, and leash laws, don't have that option.

It's true that some northern breeds find it hard to spend large amounts of time indoors, and seem to prefer to sleep outside at night. I have a dog like that, and he comes and goes through his dog door, sometimes sleeping on the deck, sometimes in the house. But he is not ostracized or kept outdoors or isolated; his distance from the rest of the pack is in his own control.

Legally, as long as you don't let your dog roam, license it, and give it food and water, you've done all that's required of you to own a dog. But for many outdoor dogs, that is all they get. Do they get love, attention, training? Are they mentally challenged, emotionally stimulated? Is their potential developed and fulfilled with appropriate interactive experiences with their substitute pack?

My friend Gina Spadafori, author of Dogs for Dummies and a syndicated pet columnist, recently wrote, "I have never understood why anyone would want to keep a dog entirely outside. What's the point? You don't get the benefits of companionship from a dog you see once or twice a day, just to throw down some food for or maybe play a quick game of fetch with. How can you know an animal you don't really live with? How can he know you?"

This is the point that eats at me. Sharing my life with dogs has taught me just what they are capable of, how much love and humor and devotion and entertainment and true companionship. Keeping a dog outside is like having a million dollars in the bank but choosing to live in your car.

Many people start out with good intentions, and relegate the dog to the backyard due to behavior problems, usually destructiveness and not being housebroken. They have often added a dog to their family without a full grasp on the simple steps that will mold a rambunctious puppy into a well-behaved adult. They let the puppy or new dog have too much freedom and not enough structure, resort quickly to ineffective punishment techniques to try and "train" the dog, and finally bar the dog from the house entirely in sheer self-defense.

There is help for those people and their dogs! Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a good trainer or behaviorist, or check out the Association of Pet Dog Trainers for a referral in your area.

A great online resource for integrating your dog into your family is the Canine Behavior Series, found by clicking on "Behavior" at http://www.VeterinaryPartner.com/. In addition to providing an archive of canine behavior problems and solutions, the site's author, Kathy Diamond Davis, author of Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Help Others and Responsible Dog Ownership, and a contributor to a number of dog magazines, including Off Lead and Dog Fancy, will respond to your emails with individualized advice. Her email address is MrsGoodPuppy@aol.com.

Making an investment of time and love in your dog will pay off big for you and your family. Make the decision to bring your dog inside today!

 
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