Dogs need the sensory stimulation that comes with the new smells, sounds and sights found outdoors but new research has found that many dogs are confined indoors or to a crate for much of the day.
Crating and close confinement are often used to prevent house-soiling and destructiveness in the short term but in the long term may lead to a worsening of behavioural problems, such as barking.
A recent survey commissioned by SureFlap, the microchip pet door company, investigated how dogs’ exercise and toileting needs are accommodated. It found 76% of owners questioned kept their dog indoors, with no outdoors access, while they were away from home. Of the dogs that were left indoors, 46% were further confined to a room or crate.
Jon Bowen, animal behaviour consultant for the Royal Veterinary College, says that although confinement is often useful to prevent nuisance behaviours such as soiling in the house and destructiveness in young dogs, it can also lead to behaviour issues such as frustration, boredom and problem behaviour.
“For many dogs, simply having the choice to go outside, get some fresh air and have a change of environment improves their quality of life enormously.
“If you leave your dog confined and alone for more than four hours, when you return he/she may be desperate for the toilet. If you are delayed, or your dog is ill, he/she may have no choice but to ‘go’ inside the house. Unfortunately if this happens once, it can soon become a habit. It is much kinder to provide a pet door.”
SureFlap’s new innovative microchip operated pet door has been specially designed to meet the needs of small dogs. The flap unlocks only when a resident pet’s microchip comes within scanning range, ensuring an owner’s pet can gain access, while other animals are kept out.
Dogs create special challenges for microchip operated doors and the reader’s range has been increased to accommodate the wide variety of nose-to-chip distances and to ensure it can detect pets approaching from any direction.
One of the first dogs to try out the SureFlap Pet Door was Treacle Toffee and her owner Marion Trew. Marion has noticed some big changes in Treacle’s behaviour and quality of life since the pet door was installed.
Marion says: “Treacle suffers from a poor digestive system and would sometimes be ill through the night, causing her to have accidents in the house.”
It is important to have toilet arrangements in place for your dog, but this often restricts owners’ activities – in this case Marion’s sleep.
SureFlap’s dog behaviour survey also investigated how toileting needs are met by dog owners. The results showed that 27% of owners who left their dogs inside while they were away from the home felt their dog’s toilet arrangements constrained their lives at some point during the day.
Marion continues: “I can imagine she found these accidents quite distressing, and it was something I would worry about when I went to bed. However, since installing SureFlap’s pet door this hasn’t happened once, which I think has been much less stressful for us both!”
Marion also had problems with Treacle’s barking which she worried it was upsetting the neighbours.
“Treacle is young and lively, so she often wants to go outside and play. When she barked to be let out, and a minute later was barking to come back in, it got quite annoying for me, let alone the neighbours!”
Jon adds: “Marion’s concern is not an isolated incident. In fact, one of the main nuisances neighbours complain about is barking.
“Dogs bark for two main reasons; either to defend their territory against people, birds, cats, and other neighbours or to communicate and get their owner’s attention. Neighbours often consider occasional territorial barking beneficial as it can ward off potential intruders. It is only when it becomes loud and repetitive that complaints occur.
“However, if your dog routinely barks to be let in and out of your home, then this can become a major nuisance. A pet door could reduce this and improve quality of life for the dog, as he/she is ten free to come and go without relying on the owner. These benefits apply both when you are at home and when you are out.”
Marion says: “Now I have the pet door installed Treacle hardly ever barks, she just lets herself out when she needs to. In that respect she is highly independent and much happier in herself. I think it has revolutionised both our lives!”