Dogs Left Outside Are Lonely and Undersocialized
BY TIFFANI ZIMMERMAN
I recently met a family with a young son and an 8-week-old Husky puppy. They are very excited to have a new pup and were told it would be fine for the puppy to be an “outside” dog. Isn’t that too young for a puppy to be left outside alone? My friends think I’m silly and say, it’s ‘just a dog.’ What do you think?
Signed, Heartbroken for the Young
You are not wrong to be concerned about an animal this young being left alone outside by itself for long periods of time. Just because Husky’s coats are well suited to the outdoors doesn’t mean their early socialization should be limited to the outdoors. While ‘outside’ dogs may have been common in the past, times have changed and so has what we expect from pets. Advertisements for products like pet life preservers, rain coats, or joint medications are clear indications of how much pets’ roles have changed in the past few decades.
Years ago when pets spent more time outside, so did the families who regularly played and socialized with them. Families, and children in particular, just don’t hang out and play in the yard as they used to with pets. If your acquaintances expect their new Husky puppy to be a family pet that’s well behaved and good around others, especially their young son, having the pup grow up outside will be a problem.
Dogs are pack animals. They need to be socialized and trained to meet our behavior expectations. In the wild, canines depend on survival by staying close to their pack. Dogs that spend most of their time alone, or only with others dogs, often demonstrate fearful, aggressive, or overactive behavior around people because they haven’t learned to interact in ways we find appropriate. When they don’t live within the protection of the ‘pack’ they often develop more fearful and aggressive behaviors.
Dogs left outdoors for extended periods of time often get lonely, bored, and frustrated as well. I often hear, “I leave all kinds of toys out there for the dog to play with, but he still digs holes.” Dogs generally do not play in the yard by themselves. As a result, they may dig holes, bark excessively, or find ways to escape.
Puppies in particular need to be exposed to various situations to become a well-adapted adult dog. For example, they go through fear stages at about ten weeks and again at four months old. If they had never been around a vacuum cleaner, for instance, and experience one suddenly, it could instill fear of that object forever. Puppies also need plenty of positive exposure to children, cats, dogs and other people in their formative youth. This can teach them how to act appropriately when they encounter these variables on walks, veterinarian visits, or respond to those who pass their yard. It’s important that pups not be overwhelmed by too many new situations, either.
Nine to twelve weeks is an ideal time to begin training. Pups this age are beginning to explore their environment more and focus on people. Also, they are testing dominance and submissive roles within the pack, and with people. There are great puppy socialization classes available to expose them to varied stimuli and appropriate responses. I do not recommend pups be brought to an off leash environment however, like a dog park or hiking areas, until they are fully vaccinated; puppies are more susceptible to disease than adult dogs.
Your questions and concern are not silly–puppies should not be left outside. At Stafford Animal Shelter, we receive a disproportionate number of “outside” dogs. These under socialized dogs take a great deal more training, effort, and sometimes expense, from their adoptive homes to overcome anxieties, fears, and unwanted behavior learned when left alone outdoors. Most adopters are unable to commit to the extra work these dogs need to become a positive member of their home pack. A small percentage of former ‘outside’ dogs are never able to adjust to being relaxed and comfortable with people. This is a totally preventable scenario, and should be addressed during puppyhood.
Puppies, although ridiculously cute and great fun, are a lot of work. With proper care and training a puppy will grow into a loyal, admirable, and obedient friend for life. Please send your acquaintances, or anyone needing advice, to the Stafford Animal Shelter for more information.
Thanks for your great question, Tiffani
Tiffani Zimmerman is the Behavior Specialist at the Stafford Animal Shelter. Email questions to [email protected], call 406/222-1312, or read archived columns at www.staffordanimalshelter.org.