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The INs and OUTs of a dog in the house

This article first appeared in Dog's Life magazine, Sept 2000, and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author Karin Larsen Bridge, part owner and instructor at Get S.M.A.R.T (Successful Motivation And Reward Training) Dogs in Sydney - a dog training school  specializing in positive training classes for pet dogs. She is a Delta Accredited Canine Good Citizen (TM) Instructor and writes and lectures frequently on dogs and dog related issues such as positive training methods, behavioural problems and responsible pet ownership.

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Dog owners come in two distinctly divided groups: those who like to have their dogs in the house and those who prefer to keep them outside. The inside group can't see the point of owning a dog if it doesn't share your home with you. The outside group firmly believe that a dog's place is out in the fresh air, that to bring a dog in would make it soft or spoilt as well making the home less pleasant for its human occupants.

Opinion on whether a dog should be kept inside or outside stems from a mixture of cultural background, personal experiences and practical considerations such as the set-up and size of your home, how many dogs you have and your dog's role in the family. 

In Australia, with our mild climate, working dogs were traditionally kept outside and many people carry on this tradition with their pet dogs. In the colder climates of Europe, even farm dogs traditionally lived-in with the family and the trend continues today with millions of pet dogs still sharing small apartments with their owners.

Although a matter of personal choice, a growing number of canine behaviourists and trainers are recommending that pet owners allow their dogs to come inside the family home.

REASONS TO BRING YOUR DOG INSIDE

1.  Dogs are social animals

Dogs make wonderful pets because they are by nature a social animal. They have a strong need to belong to and interact with, other members of their pack either canine or human. If your pack spends most of its time inside your home, that is where your dog will want to be.

2. More value for your money.

Most people keep dogs today not to fulfil any work function but rather for companionship. It is a fact of modern life however that we spend less time in our homes then ever before and therefore less time in the company of our dogs.  If, added to this the dog is not allowed inside, the time you spend together becomes negligible. To get the most value out of the cost and effort of owning a dog, it makes sense to let your dog in.

3. Inside dogs exhibit fewer behaviour problems.

Outside dogs are more likely to exhibit serious behaviour problems associated with boredom such as excessive barking, destructive chewing, separation anxiety and self-mutilation.  A bored and lonely dog finds minor disturbances like people passing, kids playing or birds chirping, a great excuse for barking which quickly develops into a self-rewarding habit.

4. Better Protection for YOU not your backyard

Your most valuable possessions are inside your house including yourself and your family.  A dog inside your house is a much bigger deterrent to an intruder than an outside dog and much harder to deal with. An outside dog can usually be easily released and/or stolen. When you answer the door to a stranger, a dog by your side is a better deterrent then a dog shut away in your backyard.

5. Observation and interaction -  a natural way to learn.

Your dog is learning from you every minute you are together. This give the inside dog who shares your home a great advantage over an outside dog. The inside dog soon learns what leads to attention, cuddles, and car trips, walks and treats as well as what doesnt!  Even without any formal training, the inside dog will probably learn to fit in just as he would in the wild through observation and experience. You too will learn to read your dog more easily if you are able to spend time observing him in the comfort of your own home.

Compare this to the amount of feedback the outside dog is able to gleam from the relatively small amount of time you and your family spend outdoors. The outside dog must struggle to learn human protocol and is less likely to ingratiate himself into your heart.

If you don't have a philosophical objection to having a dog in the home, it is likely that your dog's behaviour is keeping him at bay. 

Many young dogs appear to be a whirlwind of destruction when first allowed inside a home. Like children dogs need to be taught how to behave in our human environment. 

The ideal time to start is of course with a puppy, but the same principles apply to dogs of any age. If you follow the six simple steps below, your dog too can earn the keys to the executive suite.

SIX STEPS TO RAISING THE PERFECT HOUSE DOG

 1.  Housetraining your #1 priority!

All dogs without a physical disability can be trained not to soil in the house.  The key points to remember are:

  • Select - a suitable area, not too far from the house where you will encourage puppy to do his business. The substrate you choose (usually grass) will become puppy's preferred toileting surface.
  • Supervise - watch your puppy for sniffing, circling behaviour usually a precursor to toileting.  Take your puppy out after every meal, playtime, sleep, and drink and encourage him to toilet.
  • Management - if you cannot supervise, leave him in a safe area where accidents are not a problem.  Realise however that allowing your dog to toilet on more than one surface (e.g. newspapers and grass) while unavoidable may lengthen the housetraining process.
  • Reward - with praise and a titbit when puppy toilets in the preferred spot. It is essential that puppy understands that you like him toileting by establishing a reward history for the right behaviour. 

Interrupt your pup if he starts to toilet in the house as mildly as possible to get the desired effect. The intention is to stop your dog in the act, not to frighten him. Lead him to the appropriate area and encourage him to finish the job. If you frighten the pup he will soon be convinced you have a hang-up about bodily functions and refuses to toilet in your presence - preferring privacy behind the couch or under a bed.

2. Constructive Ways to Avoid Destruction

  • Restrict your puppy to a safe area, complete with suitable chew toys and a sleeping area.  Take him out to play and toilet.  In this errorless environment, your puppy will be set up for success.
  • Develop a chew toy habit by stuffing toys such as Kongs and smoked marrowbones with kibble and titbits to make them more interesting.  Rotate toys so there are always one or two new ones to explore.  
  • Avoid inadvertently teaching your dog that stealing leads to a great game of catch me if you can! Instead practice lots of swaps.  Even when your dog has things he is allowed to have, take them from him, have a look and then give them back.  Occasionally swap them for something better like a treat.  If your dog learns that allowing you to take things from him leads to something of equal or better value for him, there will be no need to run from you or worse still develop possessive guarding behaviour.
  • As pup learns what is expected of him, his area can be increased.  It is not necessary for your dog to have full run of the house to feel a part of the pack.  If you prefer, your dog only need access a well-frequented part of the house such as a kitchen or family area where the pack gather to watch TV or chat.
  • If you prefer train your dog to settle on a mat whenever he comes into the house. This can easily be taught by keeping your dog on lead and sitting next to his mat.  When the dog begins to relax and settle reward with quiet praise and titbits. Use a cue word like 'mat' or 'go to bed'  and your pup will soon understand that if he wants the privilege of being inside he must lie quietly on his mat.  Your dog will still appreciate having gained a foothold into the den and will enjoy being able to observe family interactions from his special spot.

3.  Four on the floor and no more nipping!

  • Right from when puppy first arrives, reward him for keeping four (paws) on the floor, by giving him lots of cuddles and attention down at his level.
  • NEVER reward jumping up with your attention of any kind.  To many dogs even negative attention can be considered fun or a game.
  • Train an alternate behaviour such as sit and reward with what pup wants most: your attention.
  • Teach everyone in the family, especially children to make like a post, fold their arms and look away, if pup gets very excited and/or nips and jumps.  Fence posts are not much fun and pup will soon lose interest. If puppy is really excited put him in his safe area for some time out until he settles.

4. Rover goes to school basic obedience training.

  • As puppy gets older, attend a training class where you will learn how to teach your dog basic behaviours like sit stay come and walk nicely.
  • Training should be fun and stimulating for both you and your dog so look for a class you will both enjoy.
  • Training games are a great way to satisfy your dog's need for interaction and stimulation without having to leave the house.
  • Training will help you to establish a more satisfactory relationship with your dog based on understanding and mutual respect.

5. A snip in time saves lives allergies and dog hairs.

  • If you did some research before making the commitment to buy a dog, you will have been forewarned.  You cannot blame the dog for shedding hair anymore than you can blame a person for being bald!
  • There are breeds of dogs which do not shed much hair and which are suitable for people with allergies.
  • Only allowing the dog in a back part of the house, keeping him off the furniture and regular brushing will go a long way to controlling the problem.

6. Corgi Clean - is your dog fit for a palace?

  • Properly cared for, dogs are perfectly suited to sharing our homes  - just ask H.M. the Queen!
  • Your dog can and should be kept free of external and internal parasites as well as being generally clean and well groomed
  • Guide dogs for the blind and Assistance dogs for the disabled accompany their partners not only in their homes but in public restaurants, theatres and even surgeries and hospitals as well.
  • Your dog's condition is a reflection of your attitude toward him and is much more easily monitored when he shares your home.  A clean, healthy dog is a loved dog.

 A FRIEND INSIDE IS WORTH TWO IN THE YARD.

Ultimately, the decision to bring your dog in is a personal but for me, dogs nestled around the family room floor convert a house into a home.  In an echo of primal times, the peaceful, slumbering faces of the watchdogs around the camp instinctively tell me that our pack is safe and all is well with the world. 

As my two sons and husband gather in front of the television for another primal activity, the rugby, my guardians and I slip up the stairs to the spare room to snuggle contentedly in front of my favourite romantic video.  Coming inside is good for dogs? Bugger the dogs; its good for me!

 Doggy doors are a great way to increase the quality of life for both you and your dog. Your dog has the freedom to come and go as he pleases and you get to stop playing doorman!

A Case Study: Prince, the dog destined never to come in from the cold.

When the Smith family saw the movie 'Babe' they decided right then and there that a Border Collie was the dog for them. With a big backyard and two kids to play with the active dog would be kept happy. They also liked the fact that they were an intelligent breed that would practically train itself.

The children, who named him Prince, instantly adored the black and white ball of fluff.  The kids were supposed to watch the pup carefully and take him outside for regular toilet breaks but despite good intentions Prince had several toileting accidents on the good new carpet.  Mr. And Mrs Smith decided it might be best to keep Prince outside as, after all, working border collies live outside.
 
The Smiths didn't spend a lot of time outside in their garden so Prince saw his family less and less.  When the kids did come out he was so excited he seemed to go wild - jumping-up and nipping at hands and feet.  It became less enjoyable to go out and see Prince.  Last time Jimmy was knocked over and started to cry. 

Soon, the kids hardly wanted to go into the backyard at all as they were frightened of Prince rushing at them and jumping on them. He was getting faster, bigger and stronger everyday.  Mr and Mrs Smith realised Prince probably needed more exercise so they decided to take him for a walk to the local dog park. 

Prince was so excited he pulled on the lead as hard as he could, aggravating Mr Smith's bad back. He barked excitedly at every dog he saw and lifted his leg on every tree.  At the park, Mr. Smith let Prince off to play - he had the time of his life, chasing birds, snipping at the heels of the kids playing soccer and stealing balls from the other park users.  It took an embarrassed Mr Smith two hours to finally catch Prince and take him home. The whole experience was not one he cared to repeat.

The Smiths decided their only option was to let Prince live the rest of his life in the backyard.

For many dogs the story ends here but not for Prince.  In frustration and boredom he began digging more, chewing more and barking more.  The Smiths once beautiful garden looked like a minefield. The neighbours started complaining about the incessant barking. Once Prince even escaped over the fence and nearly caused a car accident. 

Mr and Mrs Smith decided Prince would be better left in the garage where at least his barks would be muffled and he would be safe.  Prince continued to bark and out of sheer boredom, began to destroy everything he could reach in the garage.  The Smiths were now convinced that their dog was not suited to suburban living and really needed to live on a farm  - at least that is what they told the animal shelter when they left Prince there.

A dog which is too wild to play with the children, destroys the backyard and has to be locked in a garage is not what anyone wants, yet this scenario is repeated thousands of times around Australia each year. More dogs die before 18 months of age due to behavioural problems than from all other causes put together.

The Smiths were not cruel people and Prince was not a bad dog. The problem was simply a lack of knowledge and understanding of basic canine needs and behaviour.  If the Smiths had worked at achieving the six steps outlined above Prince could have become a valued and loved member of his human pack instead of an outcast lone wolf - destined for a short and lonely life.