Lisa Giroux, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada firstname.lastname@example.org
I have discovered a rather unique challenge in my dog training work. I get a lot of calls about the following problems:
Biting and aggressive behaviour.
Wild behaviour on the leash.
Instant over-the-top excitement when the dog sees something moving, either on the lead during walks or from inside the home
Obsessive attention to things going on outdoors (when the dog is (watching at windows).
Excessive barking in many different situations.
“Hyper” behaviour, especially when restrained (like when people come in and the owner hangs onto the dog).
Dog not totally housetrained, accidents in the house occasionally or even all the time.
Dogs eating their own poop.
Most of the time, there is ONE COMMON FACTOR in all the calls I get…that the owners regularly tie the dog outside for periods of time during the day.
Many dog owners use a tie-out to allow their dog to toilet outside. Usually there is a line attached somewhere near the doorway and the owner attaches the dog and allows him some outside time to do his business.
This is a very casually accepted, “normal” way of managing dogs, and people do not often associate the problems they experience with their pets with the practice of having the dog tied on. However, many of the above problems are a direct result of this management method. I’d like to tell you why and how it happens, and what you can do to fix the problem.
First of all, there are little to no ill effects to using a tie-out to allow the dog to toilet. But this means a VERY BRIEF time on the tie-out…pee, come in. If your dog is spending very little time out there, you won’t get the problems I am about to talk about.
However, time spent on the tie-out usually stretches out gradually to minutes, then hours.
When owners get a new puppy they often use the tie-out to help housetrain the dog. This is done by simply placing the puppy on the tie-out and leaving the puppy outdoors for a period of time, then bringing the puppy into the home, assuming the dog has done its business. Often the puppy has not, and then has accidents in the house. This leads to a dog that is confused about where it is supposed to go to the bathroom and causes the housetraining process to break down. See my housetraining article for more information about successful housetraining techniques.
Puppies are naturally happy, chewy, investigative critters and they need a lot of supervision. Owners are confronted with a lot of really annoying behaviour, and most of the time don’t know how to deal with it. The puppy is chewing things up, grabbing at the kids, peeing on the floor, humping the stuffed toys, chasing the cat, etc. Hard work!
THIS IS WHERE THE BIG PROBLEM BEGINS.
The owner discovers that when the dog is outside on the tie-out, life is easy! None of the problems occur. No housetraining accidents to clean up, no intervening as the puppy chases the cat around the house and knocks over your favorite curio cabinet, no comforting the children when those little puppy teeth pierce the skin, no furniture chewed up or papers shredded. So the owner takes the easy route and starts putting the dog out for longer and longer periods of time.
OWNERS OFTEN DON’T REALIZE JUST HOW LONG THE DOG IS OUT THERE. At first it’s just a few minutes, but then it evolves into longer and longer periods of time. If you use a tie-out to manage your dog, you might be saying “it’s just a little while each day.” But sit down and figure out how many hours per day it really is. When I do private lessons, I often sit down and make a time sheet and figure out how much time the dog is spending on the line. Most families are absolutely shocked at the sheer time their dog spends outside. Often they have the perception that the dog is indoors MOST of the time, and usually the opposite is true.
Owners often tell me that they leave the dog outdoors for a perceived benefit for the dog. They see that the dog initially really enjoys being out there, watching the world go by. Fresh air, outside…what could be better for a dog, they think. Maybe the owners go to work for 8+ hours a day and can’t trust the dog in the house during that time, and they decide to leave the dog outdoors for the whole day. Gradually the dog is spending most of its time on the tie-out. Probably the dog sleeps indoors and spends part of the evening inside. But the dog’s life, essentially, is outdoors and restrained. MOST OF THEIR WORLD is seen from the end of that tie-out.
At first everything is fine (for the owners, that is!). The dog is quiet, nothing is getting destroyed in the house, and best of all the dog is getting loads of fresh air and sunshine, right? But as time goes by, things start to go wrong. The dog begins to develop behaviours that are difficult for the owners to deal with. The tie-out starts to teach the dog a certain way to act…
The (Unintentional) Tie-Out Training Program
When dogs are left on a tie-out, there are several things the dog “accidentally” learns.
DOG LEARNS TO BE FRUSTRATED BY STIMULATION
Over and over again, the dog sees people passing by, other dogs, crows raiding the garbage, cars passing, etc. A dog has the natural tendency to be curious and want to investigate things…and over and over again, he cannot. Because he is tied on, he is forced to watch while exciting things pass him by.
DOG BEGINS TO STRUGGLE, BARK AND GO CRAZY
He is unable to reach the things he is interested in, and gets frustrated. At first, any dog’s natural response will be interest, attempt to investigate, straining at the end of the tie-out, and eventually maybe barking a time or two depending on the intensity of the stimulus. But after only a few weeks, the dog starts to have a conditioned response on seeing or hearing stimulus. He becomes extremely excited at first sight or sound.
Because the dog is usually straining at the end of a leash, and feeling frustration, the dog starts to associate the feeling of being restrained or held back with extreme excitement.
Dogs have a natural instinct to pull against restraint and to become excited and frustrated. It’s Mother Nature’s way to help the dog want to get itself out of something when it’s caught up! If you’re stuck, struggle and pull and vocalize until you’re unstuck!
DOG LEARNS THAT THE FEELING OF THE LINE ON HIS NECK=TIME TO GET EXCITED
Restraint itself produces excitement…police dog handlers and protection dog trainers always use restraint techniques (holding the dog back from someone “teasing” the dog) to increase drive and excitement to get the dog to bite better and harder. The restraint itself heightens any excited reaction the dog is going to have. After a surprisingly short period of time, a dog begins to see the feeling of the tight pressure on his neck from the tie-out or a leash or you holding onto him as the SIGNAL to become excited.
DOG GETS LITTLE TO NO MENTAL STIMULATION
Because he is outside, the majority of mental stimulation he experiences is from watching things. These dogs are normally bored to tears, totally mentally starved. Dogs need a lot of mental stimulation in their lives to be mentally sound…and tied-on dogs do not get this stimulation. Also, keep in mind that dogs are social creatures. They are programmed to need contact with other dogs or humans. If these kinds of contact are rare, dogs suffer immensely and often behave in ways that are not fun for humans to handle. A dog that does not have adequate mental stimulation is not a sane and happy individual.
So what does this unintentional training program produce?
It produces a dog that instantly becomes excited on visual and aural stimulus, and barks like mad. When the dog feels restraint, such as on the leash during a walk or while being held back by the collar, the dog instantly becomes totally excited and crazy.
Often this leads to instant vocalization (barking like mad)
Often this leads to the dog biting at the person holding him
It can lead to the dog biting or snapping at the thing that’s making him excited, such as your mother-in-law entering your home or the mailman trying to pass by to put your mail in the box, or the stray dog coming over to greet, or the child that wants to pet your dog.
Because the dog is rarely in the house they don’t know house manners or even that they shouldn’t go to the bathroom in the house. They simply do not have enough experience indoors to allow them to behave “properly.”
Because the dog is in a situation with little to no mental stimulation other than what they can see or hear or smell from the tie-out, many dogs develop overexcitement when confronted with other stimulus (such as being in the house, greeting new people, etc).
Dogs that are left on tie-outs and have access to dirt become diggers. I can’t think of a single exception to this rule. If there’s wood nearby such as your backyard deck, they will start to dismantle it. After they’ve learned to do this stuff it usually cannot be un-taught.
But how should I manage my dog?
For toileting, it is best to go with the dog outdoors to be able to praise and reward for toileting in the proper place as the dog is learning to be housetrained. I do NOT advise tying the dog on during this process. However, after the dog understands the concept, it is OK to tie the dog on so that it can do its business. However, do not leave the dog outdoors alone for more than a few minutes.
If you are outdoors WITH the dog there is nothing wrong with a tie-out, either. Supervised, a tie-out can allow you to garden with the dog, barbeque with the dog by your side, and enjoy family gatherings with the dog outdoors.
If you need a break from your dog’s behaviour, a tie-out is NOT the answer.
If your dog is behaving in a way that annoys you to the point that you do not wish for the dog to be in your presence, you need to get help from a dog trainer to solve the underlying problems which are causing the annoying behaviour…which, in nearly all cases, are: the dog is bored, and the owner hasn’t put enough work into shaping the dog into a good canine citizen.
Fix those two things and your problems will probably solve themselves!