Randomly browsing through the Petfinder website the other day, I noticed how certain shelters require you to have a fenced in yard in order to get a dog from them.  This irks me for a number of reasons.

Why does a dog need a fence? One reason I have seen listed is that the dog is an “escape artist”.  This baffles me.  If the dog is good at escaping, he is far more likely to escape a fenced area.  He can dig under, climb or jump over, or -if particularly smart- figure out how to lift the latch.  Of course, all that can only happen if the dog is left alone unattended in the yard.  If you don’t have a fenced-in yard, you are not going to leave your dog alone in the yard* because of course he will wander off.  So you leave the dog in the house (where he belongs) and lacking opposable thumbs, it is not likely he will turn the doorknob and get out.

Some people think that leaving the dog out in the yard all day will somehow give the dog exercise. Humans are the only animals that exercise themselves. All other animals get their exercise by finding/hunting food. Since the domesticated dog doesn’t have to hunt, he has no reason to exercise. Instead, the dog gets bored and tries to find ways to alleviate said boredom. This then leads to them becoming “escape artists”.

Some people leave their dogs out in the yard because their dog gets destructive when left home alone. This ties in to the issue above. A dog that is insufficiently exercised has pent up energy he doesn’t know what to do with. If you don’t give the dog an outlet for that energy by exercising him enough, he gets destructive. A fenced in dog will be just as destructive as one in the house; grass just grows back but furniture doesn’t. In both cases, sufficient exercise would eliminate this “need” for a fenced-in yard.

Another reason fencing is bad for dogs is it can lead to bad behaviors. The dog is bored, so he digs up your garden. He is bored, so he tries to find ways to get out. He sees people, other animals, other dogs going by on the sidewalk, and he can’t get to them so he gets frustrated. He starts barking at them. They continue on their way, and now the dog learns that when he barks, he can make people go away. So now you have a barker on your hands and the neighbors are annoyed.  In the end, you end up with a hyper dog that barks and digs and escapes and he ends up back at the shelter because his owners couldn’t “handle” him. The very same shelter that likely required the fence that caused all these problems to begin with.

Without a fence, owners are forced to take more responsibility for their animals. They are forced to give the animal adequate exercise and stimulating toys lest the furniture get chewed up. In a more confined space, the dog is taught better manners so he will be a decent roommate. Should someone be denied the companionship of a dog merely because they live in an apartment or condo and do not have a yard at all? I remember visitng New York City and being amazed not only at how many dogs I saw, but how many BIG dogs I saw. Yet they were all well-exercised and well-behaved. Because they HAD to be in order to live in those tiny NYC apartments. Should a dog in a shelter be denied a good home simply because it lacks a fence?

That said, I can see some reasons for a fence if you have a yard and a dog. If you would like to play fetch with your dog, but don’t want to worry about him finding a squirrel more interesting than a ball or frisbee, you might want a fence so you can play with him without worry. If you are often in your yard either gardening or grilling or you have an outdoor patio that gets a lot of use, you might want a fence so your dog can be out there with you without you having to tether the dog to your person.  But in each case, the dog is not out alone. He is not unattended in the yard. When his human is out there with him, the dog is far less likely to seek escape, and if he does, the owner is there to catch him and correct the behavior before it turns into a full-blown problem.

So this fence requirement really frustrates me (not to mention dogs all over) because it encourages/endorses/reinforces bad puppy parenting. Dogs are pack animals. They want to be with their pack. If you are home, they should be where you are. If you are not at home, they should still be inside; the smells of the rest of the pack are there and comforting to the dog. By isolating the dog from his pack and the pack den, you are essentially exiling and punishing him. But a fenced in yard is not a babysitter for your dog, nor is it a substitute for exercising him. It is also frustrating in that there are so many dogs in shelters that could potentially be missing out on a wonderful home all due to a lack of something that isn’t good for them anyway.

*unless you chain him up which is another rant for later.