Miriam YardenThe Backyard Dog

by Contributing Editor C. Miriam Yarden, B.Sc., MS, APDT

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  • (April 30, 2009) -- I see him in every community: a dog relegated and chained in the yard (even though it is against the law), porch or outdoor run; in effect -- abandoned emotionally, physically and socially.

    He is fed outside and on hot days he may have finished his water and his bowl is empty for hours. If his bowls are metal, the sun will heat them to degrees that may burn his muzzle and the water will become so hot that it becomes undrinkable.

    Food left outside becomes leached of nutrients by the sun and is contaminated by ants and flies (maggots), other insects and birds. In winter cold and rain he shivers, and in summer he languishes from the heat. All year-round he suffers.

    Thousands of years ago when man first formed his partnership with the dog, he paid for the dog's services of guarding, hunting and alarm-giving by sharing his food and his warm, dry cave. He deliberately invited the dog into his own "pack". From that time on, the dog's surrogate pack was the human family. Although times have changed, neither man nor dog are able to abandon this covenant and these basic needs.

    Dogs can, of course, be made to live outside -- but to force this kind of lifestyle on a sentient, family-oriented animal is inhumane and cruel because it goes against two basic needs and instincts -- the need for a substitute pack (the human family) and the need for a safe haven (the owner's house).

    The negative of such a lifestyle for the dog is many sided. He can go in one of two directions: 1) he may become listless, lethargic, emotionally deprived and certainly un-socialized, or 2) he may become hyperactive, fearful, noisy, an escaper, a digger, a constant barker, or aggressive -- even vicious -- when the stress of such solitary life becomes too much to bear.

    He is fed and watered, maybe given a little time when visited, but the rest of his life is spent alone, bored, inactive, yearning for companionship and emotional security.

    The negative aspects for the owner are also considerable. Apart from missing the joy and comfort of the dog's companionship and losing his affection and loyalty he is eager to give, the owner loses the dog's natural protective talent as a member of the human family.

    Dogs do NOT protect back yards! They may bark at people, cats, other dogs, birds, butterflies, falling leaves or just for the lack of anything else to do (much to the dubious pleasure of the neighbors). This is NOT protective behavior. This is boredom and an intruder can easily override it with an offering of food or a friendly approach.

    However, if the dog has free access to the inside via a dog-door, he will protect the house instinctively because it is his save haven as well. Such dogs are the best and most reliable protectors. At the same time, they are also protected from the elements, abusive strangers, teasing children, dog-nappers and dog-poisoners).

    What can the owner do if confronted with an intruder? "Hold on for a moment until I get my dog?" Hardly! Would it not have been wiser to have the dog inside, where he would have warned the intruder before entry and alert the owner at the same time? No, dogs do not protect back yards -- and when was the last time anyone tried to steal your back yard?

    Let us look at some of the physical hazards the back-yard dog faces:


    Dogs can not sweat as we do because they do not have sweat glands. In order to cool themselves, they must pant at a rapid rate to circulate air. In the heat of summer, even in the shade, they can only breathe in hot air and the body temperature rises fast above the normal ~102F range. When it reaches 105F, the dog will have heat stroke. The symptoms are very rapid and labored breathing, deep stress, staggering, or the inability to stand.

    Unless attended to immediately, irreversible brain damage occurs and death can follow. Of course, if the dog is kept outside, the owner may never notice this life-threatening distress in time.


    While it is true that dogs have permanent -- fur coats -- to protect them from the elements, this is only true to a point. Short, fine coats are not enough. Long, heavy fur becomes soaked, retains water and in cold weather this can cause, and certainly aggravate arthritic conditions. In young dogs this can also cause the onset of juvenile arthritis.

    During storms many dogs are terrified of thunder and lightning, heavy pelting rain and noisy winds. Fireworks are the cause of too many dogs running blindly, only to be picked up by Animal Control -- if they are lucky -- or are killed by cars, or are lost forever. Young puppies can't adapt to such weather and are prone to colds and pneumonia.


    Bee and wasp stings can be very serious and even deadly. Dogs can be stung inside the mouth (particularly puppies who think these are fun to chase and catch) and the swelling inside the mouth will block breathing with the risk of suffocation. In many dogs, anaphylactic shock (as in people) can also occur and as in humans, cause death. Again, if the dog is relegated to the yard and the owner does not notice, such accidents are beyond help.


    Dogs don't need swimming lessons since they are natural swimmers. However, an "outdoor dog" may fall in the pool, or go in for a swim, become disoriented and never find the shallow end. He will not be able to come out of the water and he CANNOT float. He will become tired, stop swimming and drown.


    Pet theft is a fact of life these days and is on the rise. The thieves are highly accomplished and fast. They will open gates, lift dogs over the fence, call them away and the reasons for stealing dogs (and cats) are many. Some are sold to experimenters, others are used for breeding (PLEASE SPAY/NEUTER YOUR PET!) and smaller dogs and cats are used as bait to train Pit Bulls to kill. This is a nasty underbelly of pet-life but it is a fact.

    Dogs offer the priceless gifts of loyalty, steadfast devotion, love and reassuring, incomparable companionship. The back-yard dog merely becomes bewildered, emotionally damaged and suffers. For both his and the owner's sake, it would have been better not to get a dog at all.

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    Ms. Yarden's Archives:

  • L.A. Sets Poor Example by Undermining Its Own Spay/Neuter Law

  • There Is No Good Excuse -- EVER! - For Abandoning A Dog Or Cat

  • Keeping Tax Collector's Hands Off Our Pets

  • Animals Are Not For Suffocating Or Burning

  • Ensuring Effective Dog License Canvassing in LB

  • Christmas With Your Companions

  • The Other Side of Farm Animal Cruelty

  • The Coyote: Truths & Myths

  • Katrina, Now Gustav...And Thank God! We Have Learned Something!

  • A Toy For Every Animal

  • Foiling Thieves Who'd Steal Your Dog

  • What To Do, And Not Do, If Your Cat Is Freaked Out By The Quake

  • Driving With Your Dog

  • On CSULB's Unwelcome Coyotes & Formerly Welcome Feral Felines

  • Not Merely Birth Control: The Other Side of Spay & Neuter

  • Return To Front Page

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