Where Should Sleeping Dogs Lie?

Many people tell me that they want their dog to sleep outside. In Guatemala, we have a temperate enough climate in most areas that the dog will not suffer unduly from cold (or heat). However, I highly recommend that your dog sleep inside the house. No matter what your reason for wanting the dog outside at night, I believe that there are many more good reasons for keeping him inside with you.

The usual reason cited for keeping a dog outside here is security. Lots of folks want the dog outside to warn them of intruders. Dogs have always been prized as effective deterrents to people breaking in, and as early warning systems for their owners. In Guatemala, most neighborhoods have a lot of noise at night. Unfortunately, your dog has no idea that you only want him to bark at intruders, and lacking a common language, you will find it quite difficult to explain this to him. Thus, your dog will bark at pretty much any sound or movement at night. This includes cats or rodents on a roof or wall (or on a neighbor’s roof or wall), fireworks going off, a siren, any passing person, car, bicycle, or dog, bats, clouds passing over the moon, wind rustling tree branches; you get the idea.

This random barking generally achieves several things. Usually, the barking dog sets off a chain reaction through all the other dogs who are outside, and the whole area is subjected to a bunch of dogs barking at other dogs barking. Over time, you learn to ignore the barking because the darned dog never stops, and never barks at anything important, anyway. So if an intruder actually does come over the wall, you are most likely not to pay attention to your dog’s warning. Few people can really sleep soundly when a dog is barking outside their window (and the dog, obviously is not sleeping much either), so you end up tired and sleep deprived. If you don’t respond by coming out to see what the ruckus is about, your dog may escalate the barking in pure frustration; he is trying to warn you about something he perceives is dangerous, and you are not listening to him! The barking is probably keeping your neighbors up, too, and if they become annoyed enough, they may do something less than desirable to the dog to stop the noise.

An even more persuasive reason to keep the dog inside with you is that an intruder can silence a dog in the yard very quickly by tossing poisoned bait to it. Don’t kid yourself that you can poison-proof your dog to ignore food tossed into the yard. You can’t. You could end up with a dead dog, and a break in anyway.

Bring your dog in with you at night. If the dog is inside the house, he can’t be poisoned. If you are really interested in security, keep the dog inside with you, preferably in the same room you sleep in. Your dog’s hearing is incredibly sensitive, and he can hear frequencies well above and below those that you can. He will still hear anyone breaking in, and will rouse the dead (or the merely sleeping). The intruder will be left with the doubt as to where the barker is, how big it is, and will be unable to take it out of the equation. This is a much bigger deterrent than a dog loose in a yard. He will also know that he has lost any element of surprise.

A second benefit is that although your dog hears so much more than you do, inside the house he will not see the cat on the roof to bark at it. Dogs also watch our body language and listen for cues from us. If they see that we are not interested in or alarmed by the bell on the bicycle passing outside, they quickly learn to ignore the sound and not bark. So you will both have a much better sleep, and if your dog does bark and wake you, it is probably worth getting up and checking on it.

Finally, from the dog’s point of view, being inside with you only strengthens his bond to you and your family, and increases his feeling of belonging and his desire to protect you. Dogs are not solitary animals. They gravitate to other dogs and to people. Especially if you only have one dog, sleeping alone outside and away from you is very hard for him. Some of the best time I spend with my dogs is with them curled up at my feet while I watch TV, read a book, or work on the computer. Knowing that my dog is near my bed at night makes me feel secure, and being close to me makes my dog feel secure, too. Given his own free choice, your dog would choose to sleep on a mat or pad near to you-why not try it? I bet you will never put Fido outside for the night again.