The Myth of the Big Backyard

Think of the stereotypical American dream. Picket fence, golden retriever playing in the yard with the kids. A big back yard, with plenty of lush, green grass. It’s this beautiful, Hollywood-created fantasy that everyone can picture in their mind.

That big backyard isn’t just part of this fantasy home. It’s a thing that many people think is the key to their dog’s happiness. People shop for houses with a fenced yard for their dog, and some rescues won’t adopt to homes without a fenced yard. People who are struggling with out of control dogs often think the yard is their salvation.

“He’s only acting aggressively because he’s cooped up in this apartment. If he had a big backyard to run around in, he’d be okay”

“She’s got so much energy and pulls me everywhere. She just needs to go live on a farm where she can run around.”

“He’s so destructive, and we can’t handle it anymore. We’re building a fence so that he can spend more time in the backyard”

I hear person after person say these things. The backyard is the magic button for behavior issues. It’s an excuse for severe aggression problems, it’s an excuse for separation anxiety, and it’s all totally wrong. The backyard is not going to magically solve your dogs problems. It isn’t a babysitter for your dog, and it isn’t required for them to have a happy and fulfilled life.

People who use the backyard as a bandaid for behavior problems are usually creating even more issues. Bored dogs in yards dig, jump fences, fence fight with neighbor dogs, kill squirrels, and all kinds of other behaviors. A dog who is bored in your house when left to their own devices will be just as bored in your backyard.

I am certainly not suggesting that dogs don’t enjoy yard time, or that free running isn’t very important to them. Yards are great. But they aren’t going to fix any of your problems. Plenty of people living in apartments and condos have well adjusted, fulfilled dogs. These dogs are getting what they need, and have owners who make it happen.

I lived in a 3rd floor apartment with a working breed for 10 months. He was a young dog, an active dog, and the quintessential “he should live on a farm” dog. Well he doesn’t have a farm. He has an owner committed to taking him out multiple times a day to work with him, keep him busy, and make sure that every one of his mental needs is met. That 10 months of apartment living didn’t result in any change in his behavior because I didn’t allow it to.

Rather than buying yourself a picket fence, commit to spending one hour a day working with your dog, 7 days a week. Take an honest look at your dog’s life, and look at what is missing.

  • Does your dog ever get to leave your property?
  • Does your dog get enough interaction with you?
  • Is your dog mentally stimulated during the day?
  • Is your dog physically stimulated during the day?
  • Do you have a high energy working breed that needs a job? Have you given them a job?
  • Are you giving your dog any structure and leadership?

There are so, so many things that lead to behavioral issues. Your lack of a backyard isn’t one of them. Work with your dog, seek out help if you don’t know how, and don’t let your yard be the reason why your dog doesn’t thrive.