St. Bernard lying in grass with head down

What compels people get a dog only to keep it isolated outside, away from the family? I have often wondered this as I walk my dogs down streets lined with fences behind which lonely outdoor dogs bark as we go by.

I don’t know what they look like and can only guess their size by the deepness of their voices. But I know what the lives of these dogs are too often like. They are animals born to be part of a social structure, a pack or a family, yet this is denied them. They spend their lives on the outside, looking in.

The experts say many of these dogs will never really bond with owners who interact with them so little. When the puppy is no longer cute and the children grow tired of the care they promised to provide, when the destructiveness escalates or the neighbors complain about the noise, it’s often just easier to dump the dog than solve the problem.

I have always had difficulty understanding why people want to keep dogs outside. If keeping a beautiful house and yard are of the utmost importance to you, then don’t get a dog. If you know someone in your family can’t abide a dog in the house, for whatever reason, then don’t get a dog. If you can’t let a dog be part of your family, then don’t get a dog.

You arguably don’t get the benefits of companionship from a dog you see so little. You likely don’t even get much in the way of protection from the pet who has no access to the house. And don’t count on outdoor dogs as an early warning system. These animals often become such indiscriminate barkers that you couldn’t tell from their sound whether the dogs are barking at a prowler or at a toddler riding a tricycle down the street. Besides, people who keep outdoor dogs seem to become quite good at ignoring the noise they make, as any angry neighbor can vouch.

Outdoor dogs sometimes become a problem to their owners. Bored and lonely, these animals are at an increased risk for developing any number of bad habits, such as digging craters in the yard, barking endlessly day and night and becoming chewers of outdoor furniture, sprinkler heads and siding. And sometimes, without the socialization all dogs need, they may become aggressive, ready to bite anyone who comes into their territory.

If you’re considering getting a puppy or dog with the intent of keeping him exclusively outside, please reconsider — for the animal’s sake as well as your own and your neighbors’. For those who love pets, a pristine home is nothing compared to the pleasures of living with an animal who’s really bonded to you.

If you have a dog who has been banished because of behavior problems, find someone to help you turn the situation around. Start with a trip to your veterinarian, who can investigate medical issues that could be causing your dog’s behavior changes. Your veterinarian may also recommend referral to a behaviorist or trainer who can help address the things that are driving you crazy, whether it’s house-soiling, uncontrolled chewing or just the ill-mannered exuberance of a dog who doesn’t know any better.

Allergies are a tad trickier, but an allergist may be able to help, along with attention to keeping the house and pets cleaner, using air cleaners and turning bedrooms into no-pet zones for more comfortable sleep for allergy sufferers.

It’s worth the effort. Once you have a dog you can welcome into your home and your heart, you’ll start to reap the benefits of a relationship that’s finally being realized to its fullest potential. And that’s good news for you both.