The Life of a Backyard Dog
You see one in every neighbourhood. A dog tied day after day to a doghouse or back porch, or living isolated in a chain link ‘run’ in the backyard. Perhaps the biggest and most widely held misconception about dogs is the belief that they will be healthy and happy living only in the backyard. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Current studies in dog psychology show that dogs isolated in backyards are highly likely to develop serious behavioural problems that often result in euthanasia.
The Chained Life
Dogs can live on just food and water. But to be happy, dogs need exercise and daily love and attention from their Guardians. Imagine being chained in the backyard year after year. You watch the back door hoping someone will come out to play with you. No one ever does. Chaining is a widespread practice and – as with many historical injustices – this may cause people to assume it is acceptable. You couldn’t invent a worse punishment for a dog than keeping them permanently chained. Forcing a dog to live alone outside goes against their two most basic instincts, the need for a pack and for a den. Dogs are highly social animals. Thousands of years ago people and dogs lived in small groups with a cave or den for shelter. Today domesticated dogs no longer have packs of other dogs to live with, so they need human companionship or “surrogate packs”. Chaining, by definition, keeps a dog in solitary confinement, continually thwarting their instinct to be with other animals or with its human pack.
According to The Humane Society of the United States, dogs are naturally social beings that thrive on interaction with human beings and other animals. A dog kept chained in one spot for hours, days, months, or even years suffers immense psychological damage. An otherwise friendly and docile dog, when kept continuously chained, becomes neurotic, unhappy, anxious, and often aggressive. Dogs chained for even a few weeks begin to show problems. The chained dog is continually frustrated by having their movements restricted. According to the Humane Society’s research, dogs housed in the greatest degree of social isolation spend the most time moving, show the greatest number of bizarre movements, and spend the most time vocalizing. They never get the chance to become well-behaved dogs.
Fight or Flight
As one would expect, these dogs often become aggressive and pose a threat to neighbours. Dogs feel naturally protective of their territory; when confronted with a perceived threat, they respond according to their fight-or-flight instinct. A chained dog, unable to take flight, often feels forced to fight, attacking any unfamiliar animal or person who unwittingly wanders into his or her territory.
In many cases, the necks of chained dogs become raw and covered with sores, the result of improperly fitted collars and the dogs’ constant yanking and straining to escape confinement. Dogs have even been found with collars embedded in their necks, the result of years of neglect at the end of a chain. Dogs’ chains can become entangled with other objects, which can choke or strangle the dogs to death.
In addition to the physical and psychological damage wrought by continuous chaining, dogs forced to live on a chain make easy targets for other animals, humans, and biting insects. A chained animal may suffer harassment and teasing from insensitive humans, stinging bites from insects, and, in the worst cases, attacks by other animals. Chained dogs are also easy targets for thieves looking to steal animals for sale to research institutions or to be used as training fodder for organized animal fights.
Lack of Care
Chained dogs have to eat, sleep, urinate, and defecate in a single confined area. Guardians who chain their dogs are also less likely to clean the area. Although there may have once been grass in an area of confinement, it is usually so beaten down by the dog’s pacing that the ground consists of nothing but dirt or mud.
Rarely does a chained dog receive sufficient care. People who keep their dogs constantly tied outside may rationalize that they are spending time with them, yet it is rarely quality or significant time, particularly in very hot or inclement weather. Chained dogs suffer from sporadic feedings, overturned water bowls, inadequate veterinary care, and extreme temperatures. During snow storms, these dogs often have little or no access to shelter. During periods of extreme heat, they may not receive adequate water or protection from the sun. What’s more, because their often neurotic behavior makes them difficult to approach, chained dogs are rarely given even minimal affection. Backyard dogs may become “part of the scenery” and can be easily ignored by their Guardians. Under the best of circumstances, the backyard dog gets a bowl of food and water, a quick pat on the head and a few minutes of contact with another living being, only to return to solitary confinement when their Guardian leaves.
Chaining is the most frequent type of abuse humane officers investigate. Several municipalities in the United States have outlawed the continual chaining of dogs, and have alleviated much suffering by doing so. Dogs can offer people the gift of steadfast devotion, abiding love and joyful companionship. Those people who cannot accept and return these gifts in kind should not get a dog, lest they suffer the life of a sad, lonely, bewildered backyard dog.