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Most Dogs Don’t Need a Fenced Yard

A fenced yard is convenient when you own a dog, but it’s not necessary.

Sometimes people who would like to adopt a dog think they need to have a house with a fenced yard first.

Sure, that would be nice, but it’s not a requirement. Dogs can get enough exercise in other ways. It’s OK to have a dog if you live in an apartment.

For example, Lindsay has never had a fenced yard as an adult. Her dog Ace never had a fenced yard and he got a lot of exercise, training, socialization and interaction without a yard. When he was younger, Lindsay dedicated even more time to exercising him. They often went running for an hour each morning.

We both walk our dogs every day. This is something we would do with or without a yard. (Barbara does have a fenced yard and still walks her dogs of course!)

Most dogs don't need a fenced yard

Reasons why a fenced yard is not necessary for a dog

  • You can take some dogs to off-leash dog parks or beaches to run around.
  • Most dogs don’t use their yards for physical exercise unless someone is interacting with them. Instead, they sniff, pee on things, dig, take naps or patrol the fence.
  • You could hire a dog walker or runner to help you out if needed.
  • About one-third of people in the United States rent their housing, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. Meanwhile, half of U.S. households have at least one dog, according to the Humane Society of the United States. I think we can assume plenty of dog owners are renters.
  • I would even argue that dogs without fenced yards actually get more exercise because their owners are more likely to walk them. These dogs are then more likely to be better socialized and better behaved in public, meaning they get to visit even more places. For example, in the top picture, my dog Ace is visiting a Mexican restaurant. In the second photo, he’s visiting a brewery.

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Benefits of a fenced yard for dogs

Of course, a fenced yard is nice! It definitely has a certain convenience factor, especially as far as quick early morning and late night potty breaks are concerned, along with those on crappy weather days. Also, think about how easy it is to let your pup out into your fenced-in backyard when you’re sick like a dog, pun intended.

Potty training

The biggest benefit of a fenced-in yard would be potty training when you decide to bring home puppies or any other adult dog who’s not yet potty trained. It’s very simple and convenient to just open the back door and let your pup(py) take care of business as opposed to getting fully dressed, wear shoes, and leash your dog.

Don’t get me wrong, all this is doable too. Been there, done that when my two puppies Missy & Buzz moved in with me into a third floor apartment. We did countless trips up- and downstairs while I potty trained the puppies. However, I’d be lying if I said that a fenced-in backyard wouldn’t have been nice for the duration of our potty training.

Socialization

A fenced-in backyard also comes in handy when you’re planning doggy playdates for socialization purposes and to burn off some energy. Unlike at a dog park, you have control over which dogs your dog interacts with in your backyard.

It’s also easier to let your dog wrestle his friends and stretch their legs together outside as opposed to inside your home. There’s less chances of the pups breaking something and drooling all over the place in-between play breaks at the water bowl.

Fetch

Have you ever tried to play fetch with your dog inside your home? It’s not exactly ideal to say the least unless you’re looking to break a vase or similar fragile furnishing. That’s why being able to toss the ball or frisbee inside your fenced-in backyard is a winner! There, your pup will be able to stretch her legs and really give her all to get to her favorite fetch toy.

Freedom

Leash training is important and something I practice regularly, but every dog needs a break from it and appreciates just being able to roam around a bit off-leash. A fenced-in backyard is perfect for that kind of scenario, especially because you won’t have to worry about your pup taking off.

When my puppies and I lived in that third floor apartment, I invested in 50 ft long leashes for the purpose of letting them roam about on our apartment grounds. It worked fairly well, but obviously can’t be compared to the off-leash freedom of a fenced-in yard.

Time together

It’s fun to be able to spend time together with your family, particularly when the weather is nice enough to do so outside in your fenced-in backyard. Picture a BBQ and everyone just hanging out or lounging about on a sun chair. There’d be something missing if your dog wasn’t around for that, right?

Set up a pool

Dogs who love to splash around in the water will have a blast in their very own doggie pool that you set up in your fenced-in backyard. You won’t have to worry about potential rope burn or your dog tripping over his own leash or tie-out.

Practice agility

If you take your dog to agility classes, he’ll obviously be able to run the obstacle course in a secure area. But what about being able to practice in a similar setting in the privacy of your very own fenced-in backyard? Nothing beats that!

Just to recap, a fenced-in backyard is beneficial for these activities:

  • Potty training
  • Socialization
  • Playing fetch
  • Freedom
  • Time together
  • Setting up a pool
  • Agility practice

Cons to a fenced yard for dogs

However, a fenced yard can also come with a few downsides. The biggest issues result from leaving a dog outside in their fenced yard unsupervised for hours on end. That’s because the dog lacks mental stimulation and ends up getting bored.

Fence fighting

Neighbors who share a fence with dogs on either side often complain about fence fighting. It can start harmlessly with fence running but can ultimately result in frustrated dogs who snarl at each other and jump against the fence in an effort to get to the other dog.

Barking and digging

Dogs whose outside time is limited to their fenced yard only can become bored very quickly, especially if they’re young and full of energy. Excessive barking is one outlet for that pent-up energy, and digging is another one.

A backyard dog is the equivalent of a human stuck inside a small room. Can you imagine how incredibly bored you’d become after a few days of this?

Poop eating aka coprophagia

Gross to us, moderately to highly entertaining to our best friends! Poop eating can be another result of a bored dog who’s trying to come up with a fun pastime.

The easiest solution for this gross habit is to immediately pick up after your dog and not leave them outside unsupervised in the first place.

Escape artists

Some dogs are so bored in their fenced yards that they take matters into their own paws and figure out a way of escaping. Some will jump the fence while others will dig out under it. I remember going for walks in my old neighborhood with my Boxer mixes Missy and Buzz and frequently having a Husky tag along.

He was one of those backyard dogs who dug out under his fence on a very regular basis. He was harmless and not looking to get into trouble, but imagine what could have happened had he been aggressive towards other dogs and/or people.

Fence maintenance

Another downside of having a fenced-in yard is the fence maintenance. It’ll vary depending on the material of the fence of course. Wood fences will need boards replaced as they start to rot or break. Owners of dogs who like to dig under their fences regardless of the material will need to refill those holes and come up with solutions to prevent future digging related escapes.

One option might be lining the bottom of the fence with chicken wire, but honestly the easiest way to stop escape artists is to supervise their yard time and to offer mentally stimulating activities such as (backpack) walks, runs, or bike rides.

To recap, the downsides of a fenced-in yard are the following:

  • Brings out fence fighting
  • Other bad habits – barking, digging
  • Poop eating
  • Escape artists
  • Fence maintenance – replacing boards, covering holes

Some examples of happy apartment dogs

Amy from the blog Two Pitties in the City lives in Chicago with her husband and two adopted pitbulls (pictured below). Her blog is all about how easy it can be to live in a city and still have bigger dogs, even with no backyard.

She said taking her dogs on so many walks has helped expose her dogs to new situations such as parades and festivals. This has allowed Amy and her husband to do even more with their dogs, and she said the dogs are well trained and in great shape.

If they had a yard, Amy said she and her husband wouldn’t have the same type of connection they have with their dogs. She said she really enjoys the family time they have together while walking.

I also follow the blog We Live in a Flat, which features Donna the adopted mixed-breed dog who lives in an apartment in Singapore.

Donna loves to be outside for walks, where she gets to meet other dogs as well as sniff every patch of grass possible, her owner said.

The blog is partly about Donna’s owner learning to manage and train her dog to be “a good canine citizen in a high-density living environment.”

One of the great things about dogs is how easily they really do adapt to our lifestyles as long as we provide them with their basic needs.

Do you need a fenced yard to adopt a dog?

Some rescue groups and shelters in the United States require adopters to have fenced yards, but other groups look at dogs and families on a case-by-case basis.

If you’re trying to adopt a dog, keep looking until you find a rescue group that’s down to earth. Shelters are usually more flexible than rescue groups, and I wouldn’t rule out adopting a dog through Craigslist either.

Why do some rescue groups require a fenced yard?

Hi, Barbara here. I write for That Mutt regularly. Last year, I became a foster failure when I ended up adopting my now two-year old dog Wally from a rescue group. Their requirement for fostering and adopting a dog included having a house with a fenced-in backyard.

They didn’t do a home check in person, but did ask me to send in a video where I essentially took them on a virtual tour of my home, fenced-in yard included. Luckily I passed their virtual inspection and was approved both for fostering and adopting dogs.

There are several reasons for this policy:

  • We live in the countryside and unfortunately roaming dogs are a common sight.
  • Rescues want to ensure that the dogs they adopt out are safe, won’t end up getting run over or lost, and most importantly find their forever home. Of course the definition of “safe” depends on the perspective of the person using the word.
  • They’re aware that many people aren’t interested in taking their dogs for multiple daily walks.

Unfortunately, it’s not an ideal policy.

That’s because it disqualifies many great potential adopters from bringing a rescue dog home with them. “Oh I’m sorry, you don’t have a fenced-in yard? Move right along.” That judgement call is both frustrating and unfair. If a dog ends up stuck in a fenced-in yard all day long and frequently escapes, what’s the point of having a fenced-in yard, and is that dog truly safe?

If rescues were more flexible with their fence policy, they’d be able to adopt out more dogs than they currently do. They’d also stop contributing to the creation of bored yard dogs. Obviously they’ll still want to make sure that an adopter and the adopted dog are a good match, but there are other criteria that should matter besides a fence such as:

  • Does the potential adopter have references?
  • Do they make a good first impression?
  • How does the dog react to them?
  • Are they interested in taking the dog for a walk?
  • Do they seem physically fit if planning on adopting a high energy dog?
  • Do they have a support system in place such as a dog walker, neighbor or reliable family member if they work long hours?

To me, it seems like this check-list would still give rescue groups a good idea of who they’re dealing with and whether or not the potential adopter would be a good fit.

What kind of fence is best for a dog?

As far as which kind of fence works best for a dog, it really depends on the dog’s size and their owner’s budget and location as different material fences come with varying costs and maintenance needs. Certain neighborhoods with HOAs will also be able to dictate which type of fence can be installed. The different fence types are, from least to most expensive:

  • Chain link
  • Wooden
  • Vinyl
  • Metal/Aluminum

Vinyl and metal fences are more expensive upfront but require almost no maintenance. They’re also more visually appealing than chain link and wooden fences and are usually found in more upscale neighborhoods.

Vinyl and wooden fences offer the most privacy and can be beneficial for dogs who are easily triggered by anything that moves on the other side of their fence, including mail delivery services, kids on bikes, joggers, and other dogs.

Chain link fences are the cheapest, but also the least effective in securing a larger dog, especially if the dog is bored and prone to escaping. As a matter of fact, dogs who are determined can easily climb that type of fence!

Alternatives to a fence for your dog

If a physical fence isn’t an option, there are a few alternatives. These may work if the fence budget is extremely limited or if HOAs prohibit putting up an actual fence.

Invisible Fence

Invisible fences, also known as e-fences, are electric barriers that run underground. They keep a dog from crossing the electric boundary of their yard without the need of a physical fence.

However, dogs first need to be trained to respect the invisible fence. This in itself is the largest downside of an e-fence because you can’t just have it installed and expect your dog to know what to do. Other cons are:

  • It’s fairly expensive and can easily run upwards of $1000.
  • Requires your dog to wear a special battery operated collar that needs to be charged regularly.
  • It doesn’t keep other animals or people out of your yard.
  • It doesn’t deter a dog from exiting the yard if their prey drive is extremely strong. Those dogs will accept the momentary discomfort of being shocked.

See our posts on electronic fences for dogs:

Tie-out

Tie-outs are in-ground anchors or stakes that have a long cable or leash tied to them. The cable or leash are then attached to the dog’s collar or harness to keep him confined within the diameter of the tie-out.

They’re an inexpensive option of keeping a dog secured outside and can be taken along when you’re moving or camping. However, a dog’s who’s attached to a tie-out shouldn’t be left unsupervised. If he starts getting bored due to a lack of mental stimulation, he might very well start chewing on the cable or leash and break free in no time.

Large Ex-pen for puppies

Large ex-pens are a great way of keeping puppies confined to a certain area, both inside and outside. They’re sturdy and come in different sizes, so it’s highly unlikely that the puppies would be able to climb it or knock it over.

That being said, the little ones should still be supervised when they’re hanging out in an ex-pen. It’s a good idea to use an ex-pen if you’re busy around the house but are still able to check in on the puppies, for example when you’re cooking dinner or doing laundry.

Does YOUR dog have a fenced yard?

Let us know in the comments!

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Meg

Sunday 1st of March 2020

I have to have a fenced in your for my Malinois. I agree with the other poster who said it is to keep the dog in and other dogs/wildlife out. I have a wooded wetland with a creek as my neighbor behind me and the deer/coyotes/feral cats are everywhere! We also had a skunk "issue" a few years ago. I love my 6ft vinyl privacy fence. It is perfect for frisbee a match and made potty training a breeze.

Vicky Monogue

Sunday 8th of November 2020

Hi ,

I have been reading all the comments. Here may be another thing to think of. I volunteer for a rescue, have four cats, and after two years we just adopted Colt from the rescue. My poor pup went through hell at 6 weeks he came down with parvo, as did some of his litter mates. He had to be separated, was then admitted to an emergency vet clinic for one solid week. Isolated for that week, then had to be treated for cocsidia . All of this put him behind in his puppy shots. There for I could only give him exercise in my yard as he healed. Of course ASAP he STARTED. His first shots, then he had to be neutered, so there went more time as well as letting his hernia heal too. So with those reasons it would have been great to exercise with him while he had to be protected from things he could have picked up during a walk. I would love to take him to a dog park but he has more shots coming up first...now he has grown ...a lot. You sure can’t play fetch with him on a leash or tie out! His mom is black lab, I’m told def has some poodle. But who knows what dad is! He goes to daycare x2 weekly for socialization, and puppy classes are done this week with other classes I will sign him up for. So we do want a fence but we will also be going for walks. The other thing living in wisconsin winter can be yuck! So w3 can still play in the snow , and go for walks too!

momkastner

Sunday 1st of March 2020

So an issue rarely covered by any training blogs. "Farm/Country" dogs. I live in the middle of a 100 acre woods. I want a dog who's job is to keep the "critters" out of the yard-deer, coyotes, raccoons, etc. Of course, the dog would have indoor access, especially during the cold weather months. But ideally, he would be outside 24/7 as many, if not most critters come during the overnight hours. So how does one teach the dog to stay "in the yard"? My last outdoor dog had the bad habit of going to visit our other farm neighbors - no one really wants someone else's dog at their home. They learned who she belonged to & would call for us to pick her up. Fencing the yard or invisible fence isn't a realistic option. Suggestions?

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 1st of March 2020

I have a post on this topic written by That Mutt's writer Julia. Hopefully it will help you brainstorm: https://www.thatmutt.com/2019/08/26/how-to-train-a-dog-to-stay-on-your-property/

Linda

Sunday 1st of March 2020

Fences are as much to keep other dogs OUT as our dogs IN. I'm in Houston and the number of free-roaming, untrained, un-fixed and unvaccinated dogs is horrifying. They frequently roam in packs, attacking others, and causing massive damage. Give me a fenced yard every time.

Kathleen Glielmi

Thursday 12th of September 2019

I am a volunteer with a breed Rescue and have fostered dogs. While a fenced yard is preferred, adopting out a dog is left to the foster parent. I have adopted out dogs to families that do not have fenced yards or live in an apartment. As long as the person/family understand that sufficient exercise is necessary for the mental and physical health of the dog and have made arrangements for owners providing exercise, doggie day care or a neighbor giving the dog an extra walk. A tired dog is a good dog!!

Shannon

Wednesday 23rd of January 2019

I have a large blue heeler mix in a condo - lol. I can't think of too many breeds that could be worse in a condo. I was lucky enough to have him as a puppy though and he's been well socialized and even attends dog day camp once or twice a week. I also have fields nearby where he can get some running in. My previous dog was a pit bull and also lived in the condo.

TBH, the people I know with large dogs in condos get them out much more often than the yarded ones. Also, about folks giving away dogs on craigslist - most of the adds I read it seems like the people had a yard but their kids don't show interest/etc.