“My dog is fine outside” says many pet owners when they tell us it is OK to leave the dog door open all day when they aren’t home.
It’s important to remember, with ANY tool- including a fenced yard- your dog should not be left outside unattended for long periods of time. Most of the horror stories I’ve heard about various confinement tools (including fences!) involve the dog being out alone for hours before the owner notices they’re in trouble. Ideally, your dog should be closely supervised while they’re outside. And if you’re transitioning to a new kind of confinement system and aren’t yet sure how your dog will respond, if your dog has a history of trying to go on adventures (or misadventures), or if your dog is completely loose (even if they can generally be trusted not to wander off), you should absolutely have eyes on them at all times. In more practical reality, dogs often like to sniff and putter and take their time. And when you’re getting ready for work in the morning or it’s eleven degrees outside, standing there watching as your dog seeks the world record for pokiest pooper and then decides to take a nap under the bush can be agonizing. For most dogs, keeping an ear on them and checking in every few minutes is sufficient, but you should still be aware of where they are and what they’re doing.
One argument I often hear for a fenced yard is that it gives the dog space to run around. Well, yes and no. A dog alone in any area, no matter how big, will not adequately exercise themselves. It’s like trying to make your preschooler an athlete by shutting them in a room with nothing but a basketball. They might play with the ball for a little while, but they’re going to spend most of the time at the door begging to be let out. That doesn’t mean the room is insufficient or that something’s wrong with the kid. It means you need to get involved. If you have an energetic dog, they need you to walk them, teach them, and play with them, fence or no fence. A fenced area is nice to have but is neither an absolute necessity nor the only thing you need to ensure that your dog gets enough exercise.
Really, the biggest problem with a fence is just that it’s not available to everyone. It can be expensive to install. It may not be a possibility for renters or apartment-dwellers. It may be impractical with certain house layouts or in certain settings. Also, it’s not the solid 100%-effective solution people often think it is. Lots of dogs can climb fences, dig under fences, find weak spots to slip through, or open gates. Blind dependence on a fence can lead to accidents when kids or neighbors or service people have been by and neglected to latch gates properly. If you have a fence and are considering getting a dog (or have a dog and are considering getting a fence), you should have a backup plan for what to do if the fence proves to be insufficient on its own. Use carabiners or locks on gates and latches. Be prepared to make fence repairs. Or, if all else fails, you can always leash up, put on your shoes, and go for walks each day.
For some people and some dogs, an electronic fence like one from our friends at Kennelwood might be a viable everyday option. These can be used alone or in conjunction with other options. These are often invisible and allow people and vehicles to move across freely while keeping your pet inside. Using an electronic fence requires focused and consistent training to teach your pet how to recognize the barrier and stay within it. Most electronic fence companies will send a trainer out when they install the fence to teach you how to do this, but it’s up to you to keep up with the training. Electronic fences have some possible drawbacks. A determined dog or a dog focused on chasing a squirrel or cat may blow through the barrier and then, when that driven moment is over, struggle to get back into the yard and to their home. An electronic fence affects only the animals wearing the collars, so it doesn’t keep anyone or anything out of the yard and is not an ideal solution if you anticipate any dangerous or unsavory visitors.
Most dogs’ favorite option is, of course, the leash walk. Yes, this one requires more active human participation than the others and it can be kind of a pain to have to get up and put pants on at 5:30 AM to trudge through the snow with your dog, but hey- they’d do it for you, right? This gives you the most control and is the best option for dedicated runners because the dog is right at your side the whole time and also gets a chance to explore outside their own yard. Even if your current confinement system works well, short walks can be a real treat for a dog!
No one solution will work perfectly for every dog and whatever you choose, the most important thing is that it keeps your dog safe and at home. They’re your most precious thing and it’s important to protect them!
Don’t have time for a walk? Already took your pants off for the night? Whether your pup needs a quick potty run around the block or a long sightseeing mosey, let our dog-walkers take that chore off your plate. We’ll always do what it takes to keep your best friend safe!
Janie founded 4-Legged Kids, Inc in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1997 and provides education through her PetBizHIVE podcast and her PetBizMBA membership and courses. She is a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator, Fear Free certified and a Certified Professional Pet Sitter. Learn more about the Founder, Janie Budnick.