I sometimes get to work with “outdoor” dogs – dogs that are largely kept outside the house, entering the home just for very short durations or never at all. The behavioural problems these dogs exhibit include excessive barking, digging, obsessive behaviours, depression and self-mutilation, among others. Almost all of these point towards a high level of stress brought on by some extreme frustration. The people in these houses are often perplexed, explaining to me that the dog is getting several walks a day and that dogs they have had earlier had similar lives but did not experience such behavioural problems.
First up, we need to understand that being social with humans was an integral part of a dog’s evolution. It is theorised that a few members of the now-extinct gray wolf species (who were more friendly with humans) were the predecessors of our modern day dogs. That means the friendlier the animals were to humans, the more dog-like they became. They even developed physical features that humans find endearing – floppy ears, large liquid eyes and curled waggy tails.
For a species whose identity is linked so closely with his social contact with humans, imagine how critical this social contact is to his very being and mental stability. A dog that is deprived of social contact can develop several emotional issues. Keeping a dog outside the home puts him in a place where he does not get as much contact with people as he needs.
You may ask – did our grandparents not have dogs outside their homes and fare much better? Yes. As do many pet parents in rural areas to this day do that too. However rural areas do not have confined compounds that limit a dogs movements. A dog has the freedom to range free. He compensates for his lack of social contact at home, by developing good contact with other dogs and other people in the village.
Tiny modern city homes today are a stark contrast to this. The roads are busy all the time. The traffic does not ever ease up, not giving the dog a moment of peace. Walks have gotten shorter, faster and busier, with very little space for a dog to relax and sniff. The Indian culture of delegating dog walking to disinterested domestic staff results in the dog being walked in complete indifference and even animosity in some cases. The only time the dog actually seems to get attention is when someone is yelling at him to stop the barking.
I can understand that there are times when moving a dog in is not an option. In such cases, be aware of the problems and try to address them actively. Make sure that some loving humans put aside some time every day to spend with the dog, talking lovingly and petting or massaging the dog. Make sure that the dog is walked by someone who actually cares for the dog. The dog needs to get a slow walk where he can sniff a lot. The dog needs a quiet soft bed to sleep in, a few objects to call his own and tasty food that he actually looks forward to, instead of dry dog food that tastes the same all the time.
Whatever be our reasons for bringing a dog home, we must acknowledge that he gives us a lot. He is in our home at our behest. So it is incumbent on us to make sure that, in the least, he has some sources of joy in his everyday life. As you can see, dog does not need much.