Thursday, December 31, 2009

Indoor Dogs, Outdoor Dogs

I did my radio show yesterday (you can hear a podcast at - look for PetSmith), and a caller comment brought up a question -- what does someone mean these days when they say "indoor dog"?
"Outdoor dog" generally still means just that, a dog who spends his or her life outdoors and is not brought into the house. But surely an "indoor dog" does go outside, right? Well, maybe in my world, but what about the world of 100-story apartment buildings? I'm not so sure about that. Do you get a small dog and just use piddle pads or those little enclosures of artificial grass and never actually take the dog outdoors (except maybe when you're carrying it as a fashion accessory)?
The caller said they were getting an "indoor dog" and had narrowed their choice down to a Chihuahua, Jack Russell Terrier, or Beagle. They also said they had four children. Unless they keep their children indoors (which would be truly strange here on the Olympic Peninsula), I can't imagine the dog not venturing outside. So I think what they meant was that the dog would be WELCOMED indoors, not relegated to the yard. So that would make an indoor dog a good thing. But how do you know what someone means when they say those words?
Like so many things in the world of dogs, we struggle with definitions and understandings. The four-part reinforcement/punishment box (positive/negative punishment, positive/negative reinforcement) may work for the realm of psychology, but it messes up communication between dog behaviorists/trainers and the general dog-owning public. Shoot, I know dog trainers who don't understand it!
An even worse problem exists when it comes to animal welfare/animal rights. One still aims for the humane treatment of animals, the other has gone over the edge into being pro-abolition of pets. But does the public know the differences or which organizations are which? In general, no.
I have no idea how to resolve any of this. I try to consider terms carefully and understand what they mean and in my writing, make it very clear what I mean when I say something. But I'm not always successful. And I'm certainly not always successful at understanding what someone else means when they use a particular phrase.
On the radio show, I don't have time to conduct an in-depth interview to parse exactly what someone means, I just have to try and answer their question as best I can (I recommended the Jack Russell from their choices, by the way). For written terms, I usually can't question the author. At conferences, I try and get any questions answered. . . but how many conferences can you attend?
I hope dog "authorities" are not going the way of other fields, trying to make their specialty as arcane and mysterious as they can to make themselves feel superior. But sometimes I wonder.

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