Ask the Dog Guide: Small Outdoor Dog?

August 16th, 2008 by Dan

I have a 4-year-old and 2-year-old, and want to have a small outdoor dog. It will have plenty of interaction with kids and adults, but I do not want to have it inside the house. It can stay in the garage or a nice large yard and large dog house. Please advise.

A small dog, probably a Shih Tzu, leaps through snow wearing a sweater.

A small dog, probably a Shih Tzu, leaps through snow wearing a sweater.

Photo by Nutloaf

Answer: I advise you not to get a small dog, or any dog, as an outdoor-only pet. Dogs kept outdoors are exposed to many dangers. Heat stroke and frostbite are common in outdoor dogs. Theft is also a risk, particularly if the dog is of a breed that is in high demand in the area. In most regions, predators capable of killing and eating a small dog also exist and hunt even in suburban neighborhoods. Any predator that will kill a cat can also kill a small dog. Coyotes especially are eager to dine on small dogs left outdoors. Outside dogs are also vulnerable to teasing by passers-by, and a few outdoor dogs each year are poisoned, whether intentionally or because someone thought they were giving the dog a nice treat by slipping it a food item that’s toxic to dogs.

In addition to these serious risks, dogs kept outdoors also suffer behaviorally. Dogs are pack animals, and it causes most dogs a great deal of anxiety to be separated from their human “pack.” Most small dog breeds were bred to serve as lap dogs. This means that they have been selectively bred over hundreds of generations to want to remain close to their owner at all times. When kept outdoors away from their human families, small dogs tend to develop undesirable behaviors like barking, nipping, pacing, digging holes, fear aggression, fence aggression, and even self-destructive habits like licking their own paws and tails bloody.

There is also the question of where you would acquire a small dog to keep outdoors. Very few rescues and shelters will permit a small dog to go to an outdoor home. No reputable, responsible breeder will sell a small dog to a family that will keep it outdoors. In other words, your only option would likely be a dog bred in a puppy mill and sold either by the mill or a pet store. Not only does purchasing a puppy from a mill support cruelty to animals, it also increases the likelihood that you’ll get a dog with a serious health or behavior problem.

The only type of outdoor dog that is generally able to live a physically and behaviorally healthy life is the working dog. Ranchers with livestock and working dogs generally have multiple dogs, each dog is of a breed that was designed for outdoor life and hard work, and each dog spends several hours each day with the owner doing a specific job. This is a satisfying life for a working breed, so long as social interaction with other dogs is continually available and the dogs are large enough and numerous enough to keep themselves safe from predators and human intruders.

In a typical family setting, keeping an outdoor dog is at best unkind, and at worst downright cruel. If you cannot keep your dog primarily indoors, please do not get a dog. Instead, the children can interact with dogs by accompanying you to volunteer at your local animal shelter, or through play dates with a family that has kids and dogs. If, in the future, you are able to keep a dog primarily indoors, you should then consider adding a small dog to your family. In the mean time, please set a good example for your children by declining to take on the responsibility for a dog that you cannot care for in such a way as to keep it safe and healthy, both physically and behaviorally. They may beg for a dog now, but as adults they’ll thank you for teaching them to make responsible choices.

Leave a Reply