Should Fenced-In Yards Be a Requirement for Dog Adopters? I Say No

Many rescue groups require fences, shutting out wonderful candidates. It's time to bring some common sense to pet adoption.
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Rescue organizations often hold adopters to a high standard, and understandably. These groups take in dogs who have been thrown away, neglected, or abandoned, and try to find them forever homes. A good rescue organization does not just want a dog to find any home, but the right home with the right family, with the primary goal being “Let’s make sure that this dog does not wind up in a shelter or rescue ever again.”

This means many things: that some dogs are not adopted into multidog homes, that others are not adopted into homes with children, that active dogs are not sent to live with couch potatoes, that dogs with behavioral issues are not sent to families ill-equipped to deal with the training challenges they face, and so on. These are logical considerations for appropriate placement.

But also, frequently, high on the list of adoption criteria is one that galls us: MUST HAVE FENCED-IN YARD.

I hate this one, big time. Here are a number of reasons.

1. Yards Breed Complacency

Many of the families in my neighborhoods have fenced-in yards. The vast majority of dogs living in those homes never go for a walk. Many of my clients say, “Well, I don’t take my dog out to exercise, but we do have a fenced-in yard.” I often observe dogs spending many hours outside, in temperatures that surpass 100 degrees during the summer, without shade or water. Even in cooler conditions, the dogs are either lying down or engaging in boredom-induced behaviors like barking, digging, patrolling, self-mutilation (excessive licking and chewing at self, etc.), but I really never see dogs just running around exercising themselves unsupervised in their yards.

How are these dogs better off than one who spends his day relaxing in a cool house, chewing on a marrowbone, and being taken out for an agility class or long walk in the evening? I’m not sure. What I do see is people using fenced-in yards as an excuse not to interact with their dogs or provide them with appropriate exercise, leash training, socialization, and so forth. Not cool.

2. It rules out otherwise-appropriate adopters

Let’s say we have a Standard Poodle in rescue who is a fabulous sporting prospect. Two families are interested in adopting this dog. One is an active couple who live in the city and are total “dog nerds.” They may live in an apartment building and have no yard at all, but one works from home and can take the dog out for short walks during the day, a long walk each evening, agility classes Tuesday night, and sheep herding, camping, hiking, biking, or dock-diving on the weekend. Family B are couch potatoes when they are home, because they are exhausted from the demands of raising a family of four children, each of whom participates in myriad social, athletic, and community activities. They have a small fenced-in yard, which borders a busy street with a lot of foot traffic. What they don’t have is a lot of time or interest in exercising and training this dog, so he ends up spending the majority of his life in the yard while the family’s life continues separately in the house.

Which life do you think this dog would choose for himself, given an option?

3. Fences are a luxury

I know that nobody wants to see a dog chained outside all day, but I do know plenty of dogs who live inside with families, are well-exercised in a variety of ways, but do go out for short owner-supervised potty breaks on a tether or run. There is a big difference between observing your dog for a 15 minutes on a tether and chaining a dog so that he can spend the rest of his life out in the yard, running back and forth in boredom, wearing a ditch into the ground at the outer edges of his reach. In my opinion, secure tethering for short periods with owner supervision (and interaction!) is a fine way to provide a dog with potty breaks and is in no way abusive. Nor should it preclude someone from being considered a viable adoption prospect.

4. Fences may place dogs in danger

What kind of fencing do you need? I know dogs who will blow through Invisible Fence, dig under nearly any fence that is not reinforced below-ground, or easily climb over a 4-foot chain link fence, and dogs who hae strangled themselves when their collars became caught on fence posts as they were left outside unsupervised. Does every adopter need a 6-foot-plus privacy fence equipped with coyote rollers to prevent dogs climbing over, as well as wire reinforcement underground? If so, we’ve seriously limited the potential pool of adopters, likely eliminating many wonderful, qualified candidates.

5. Yard may be too small

I’ve seen fenced-in areas not much bigger than Cuba’s crate erected as “play yards” for dogs. The dogs can hardly even work up the momentum to trot from one end to the other, let alone run, play, fetch, and get a good workout.

Fenced-in yards can be very dangerous when not combined with careful and constant supervision. While I do have a fenced-in yard, my dogs are not allowed in the main yard without supervision for any length of time. If they are in the yard, so am I. Small dogs have been carried off by birds of prey, and dogs of all sizes, when not contained by privacy fencing, may be subject to harassment from human or canine passersby, which may result in barrier-related behavior problems. And, yes, I do know of dogs who have died from being choked when their collars catch on a fence post or support.

Don’t get me wrong: Fenced-in yards can be a great luxury. My own yard is a great place for the dogs to play together with me, practice training activities, chew on Kongs and bones that are too yucky to have on the living room carpet, or take potty breaks. My fence is actually just some cattle fencing, which wouldn’t work to contain most of the dogs I know, but my dogs never try to escape and are always closely supervised.

I love having a fenced-in yard, but before we installed our fence, Mokie was on a tether (again, short duration and always supervised) out back, and she had a fantastic life then, as she does now. Fenced-in yards can be great fun, convenient, and provide good play and exercise opportunities for dogs and their owners, but should never be a deal-breaker in any adoption decision.

10 thoughts on “Should Fenced-In Yards Be a Requirement for Dog Adopters? I Say No”

  1. This is ridiculous. I have been a very loving Dogmother and both shelters and breeders reject me for not having a fenced in yard. I have raised 3 small dogs, all living well into their teens (and late teens) without a fenced in yard. My joy was in taking care of them,.including daily walks and play groups. Both shelters and breeders have said they want a fence. I have 2 house lots. I said what if I fence in one area? They said no, the entire property must be fenced in. We are talking maybe $10,000.
    I don't get it. My dogs are never outside without me. It's so sad. I provide well for any dog in my life.

  2. We do not have a fenced-in yard, and our last dog got walked for at least thirty minutes twice a day and spent all his time indoors with his family. Sounds like an awful life that no dog should ever be subjected to, right? He was trained, socialized, and a member of the family. Now we don’t want to go to a rescue and adopt someone else’s problem, but no one will let us have a puppy because we have no fence.

  3. It’s ridiculous many wonder people could, give a homeless dog a great life. But get rejected because they didn’t have a fenced in yard. Ridiculous and discriminatory.

  4. I can see why we are rejected for adopting a dog and who keeps their puppy outside especially in florida heat….I have been rejected and an retired of adoption of a chihuahua puppy..because we live condo with no yard yet there are dogs everywhere in my neibhorhood on leashes

  5. I’m with you, if have a lot of love to give and no fenced in yard a lot of folks won’t even discuss adoption with you. I’ve said it more than a million times: not everybody is a bad apple and makes it hard for others.

    1. Exactly they are limiting many good people, who would treat the dog like royalty. But no fenced in yard it’s the dog that looses out.

  6. I didn’t realize this was a necessity. The dog I’m interested in, they even say on their list of qualifications that they don’t want people who own townhouses, just those who own single family houses.

    I understand wanting the dog to get a lot of exercise and perhaps not wanting to adopt to renters since their living situation may change in the future and their next place may not accept animals, but really no townhouses or any house without a fence?

    It’s a 20 lb dog, that they label as easy going, not a larger herding dog.

    Anyway, thanks for the info! And I agree with you.

  7. Thank you for this. I have been rejected numerous times from rescues because I live in an apartment and work full time. After ten months of looking, being interviewed and turned down, I went to a high-kill shelter in the city and plucked out an emaciated, filthy mutt covered in ticks. Two years later, that former street dog has blossomed into a beautiful collie-husky cross who gets off-leash runs at 6am and 6pm every day, plus a dog walker in the early afternoon who loves him and covers him with kisses (the lipstick traces on his head are a dead giveaway). I still live in an apartment, I still work full time, and due to my past experience, will never reach out to a rescue again.

  8. judith gallenson

    I’m happy to have found your website–I have been trying to foster a dog, to see if one would be a good fit with my 2 cats. Surprisingly, I discovered it’s a no-go because of a fenced rule to adopt one. I have all the same questions as you–having a fence doesn’t ensure your dog is safe alone. Things can also jump OVER your fence, as 2 people I know had their dogs snatched by coyotes that easily jumped over the fence and took their dogs. What about all the dogs in a large city (NYC) that don’t have fences and must walk their dogs? It’s really ridiculous that so many dogs have to live in shelters for months or years when there are so many people who want a dog but have no yard. What can we do?

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