Should dogs be kept exclusively indoors?

dog looking out a window
Regardless of their size, dogs benefit physically and mentally from exercising and playing outdoors.

The bond between humans and dogs dates back at least 12,000 years [source: National Institutes of Health]. Long before our predecessors learned to cultivate crops, they developed a mutually beneficial relationship with wolves, which eventually led to their domestication. Now, dogs live with us as protectors and companions. But should they live exclusively indoors?

"Not in most situations," said Dr. David Sewell, veterinarian and co-owner of Crestview Animal Hospital in Cumming, Ga. "Dogs need to be outside for exercise and for their mental well-being. It makes them happier."


Our dogs enrich our lives and improve our health, so it's natural to want to protect them. But keeping them inside doesn't do that. Disease-causing pathogens can walk into your home on shoes, with groceries or in your latest online shopping order. Dogs that aren't exposed to germs through outdoor play are actually more at risk for getting a disease because they haven't developed antibodies to fight off infections. Keeping canines indoors isn't a guarantee against pests like fleas, ticks and heartworm-carrying mosquitoes, either -- these critters are stopped by doors.

Confinement also creates health problems like obesity and diarrhea [source: Swift]. Most indoor dogs don't get enough exercise, and they don't have the balance of internal microbes required to develop a healthy intestinal structure. Indoor dogs also need more of certain vitamins than doggies that spend a lot of time outside do [source: Kil and Swanson]. And just like caged animals at a zoo, captive dogs can develop behavioral and emotional problems [source: Ohio State University].

So, going outside keeps dogs physically and emotionally fit. They need to run, jump, chase and swim, but neither small nor and very large dogs should jog with you [source: Paige]. Distance-running hurts the joints of small dogs, and large breeds like Great Danes are susceptible to heart problems and fractures in their ankles and feet. Very young, very old, obese or ailing pups need gentle exercise, like swimming [source: Swift]. Even canines that lack the energy for play benefit from the stimuli of outdoor smells, sounds and sights.

If you're home all day, let your dog have short but frequent outdoor breaks. If your pet is alone for hours at a time, longer walks and play sessions help keep his weight under control and improve your loving bond.

That said, some health or environmental factors warrant keeping a dog indoors, at least temporarily. See what they are on the next page.


When should a dog stay indoors?

While dogs need and enjoy outdoor play and exercise, there are some circumstances when their outdoor time should be limited, or when they should stay indoors altogether.

"With certain surgeries," Dr. Sewell said, "dogs should be kept only in a crate. For other surgeries, they should only go out on a leash." Keeping a dog quiet and calm after surgery helps prevent further injury and allows him to concentrate energy on healing, rather than expending it on outdoor play.


Temperature extremes can also limit time outdoors. When the weather is blazing hot or below freezing, keep your pet's play and exercise sessions short but frequent. Dogs with thick coats can overheat in hot summer weather, and those with short coats may have trouble staying warm in cold weather. If you're uncomfortable outside, chances are good that your pup is, too. And just like you, dogs can get sunburned.

There are some environmental dangers that necessitate keeping your dog inside, at least temporarily. These include the presence of:

  • Coyotes or other predators
  • Environmental chemicals, like herbicides and lawn treatments
  • Fireworks or other loud, frightening events
  • Hazardous weather, including heavy rain and lightning storms
  • Disaster conditions, such as flooding, tornadoes or rioting

Heavy traffic around your home is another concern, although this danger is lessened by keeping your dog in a fenced-in area or on a leash. "Dogs in very urban environments or high-rise apartments should only go outside on a leash," Dr. Sewell said. Small breeds, he also noted, should never be outside alone.

While certain conditions warrant keeping your pet indoors, that's not his natural habitat; dogs benefit physically and mentally from exercising, playing and generally being outdoors.


Dogs Indoor FAQ

Is it healthy to have a dog in the house?
It is completely healthy to have a dog inside your house. In fact, having a dog can improve your mental and physical health! The exception to this is, of course, if you are allergic to dogs.
Are indoor dogs happy?
Indoor dogs are happy, but they need ample daily time outdoors to exercise, play and potty. Many domesticated dogs don’t do well outdoors full-time and should be brought indoors overnight, at the very least.
Can a dog stay inside all day?
An indoor dog should be able to spend a day (not more than eight hours) alone at home without separation anxiety, accidents or destructive behaviours. However, it’s important that they are taken outside for a long walk and bathroom break before leaving them inside for the day.
What should I do with my dog indoors?
If you’re stuck indoors with your pooch, play with them, start to learn fun tricks or perfect old ones, groom them or try homemade boredom-busting games like a homemade snuffle mat or lick mat.
What breed of dog can be left alone during the day?
While most breeds can be left alone at home if you've properly trained them, there are some that are better at it. These include Basset Hounds, Chihuahuas, French Bulldogs and Greyhounds. Many mixed breeds have even temperaments as well, making them good options for those who work outside the home.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • Kil, D.Y. and K.S. Swanson. "Companion Animals Symposium: Role of microbes in canine and feline health." Journal of Animal Science. Vol. 89, no. 5. Page 1498-1505. May 2011.
  • Life Tips. "Are Puppy Vaccines Necessary for Indoor Dogs?" (Aug. 10, 2011)
  • Life Tips. "Is Heartworm Prevention Necessary?" (Aug. 10, 2011)
  • National Institutes of Health. "Can Pets Keep You Healthy?" February 2009. (Aug. 15, 2011)
  • Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. "Environmental Enrichment." The Indoor Pet Initiative. 2008. (Aug. 10, 2011)
  • Paige, Colleen. "A Leg Up On Canine Exercise." Total Health. October/November 2003.
  • Pup Life. "Summer Fun: Keeping Your Dog Healthy in the Spring & Summer Months." 2011. (Aug. 9, 2011)
  • Sewell, David, D.V.M. Co-owner, Crestview Animal Hospital, Cumming, GA. Telephone interview, Aug. 15, 2011.
  • Swift, W. Bradford, D.V.M. "Jump Into Fitness." Animals. July/August 1994.
  • Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. "Cold Weather Pet Tips." July 22, 2009. (Aug. 10, 2011)