How to contain your dog when you can’t supervise

Table of Contents


Indoors or Outdoors?

What the Law Requires


Unsatisfactory Methods of Containment

Chaining or tethering

Cable run

Electronic, underground, or “Invisible” fence

Regular fence

Satisfactory Methods of Containment

Kennel run

Crate and Crate Training

Containment Options that Depend on the Dog

Loose indoors

Baby gates or closed doors

Doggy daycare



When you leave the house, where should your dog stay?

It is important to keep your dog in a safe, secure environment where it can not interact with other people or animals without your knowledge. While this is true for all breeds of dogs, it is especially true for pit bulls. Pit bulls that are not being watched by their owners need to be securely contained.

Many if not most of the negative pit bull stories you read about in the news occur because a dog has not been properly contained. In order to stop aggravating the pit bull’s current bad situation, it is essential for all pit bull owners to keep their dogs under control at all times. This article will discuss the least secure and most secure methods of containment.

This article is not meant to address the question of where a dog should live. The answer to that question is simple: with the family. Whenever there is an adult family member at home, the dog should be with the family. Dogs are social animals that crave attention. A dog that lives its entire life outside in a kennel, however safe and secure that kennel may be, is not being treated humanely. It is not getting the attention, socialization, and stimulation it needs for mental health.

Dogs that are isolated from the family – i.e. that live alone outside their entire lives – usually develop behavior problems due to lack of training and socialization. They may become hyperactive and unruly as a result of this lack of guidance, thus further distancing the dog from the family. Who wants to play with an unruly dog? The dog gradually becomes more and more of an outcast even though it desperately craves affection. It may develop problems such as excessive barking, self-mutilation, destructive behaviors, aggression, anxiety, territorialism, obsessive behaviors, and so on.

The best place for a dog is inside with its family.

However, there will be some times when the dog must be alone, such as when the adult family members are away at work. Where should the dog stay during these times? There are a variety of options, including:

Never, ever leave a dog alone with a young child. If adults are not present, securely contain the dog where children can not gain access to it.

Indoors or Outdoors?

When you leave the home, you have two broad choices as to where you leave your dog: indoors or outdoors.
Indoors is infinitely preferable simply because it is the most secure. In order to interact with an indoor dog, a stranger would have to break into the house. Wild animals and other dogs cannot just wander into a house. However, some dogs will act destructively when unsupervised indoors, and additionally they may not be able to go out and go potty.

Outdoors, the dog is exposed to the elements: cold, heat, rain, snow, wind, insects, disease, and more. The dog can be more easily accessed by strangers. And the dog is more vulnerable to other animals. The dog can also bark constantly and annoy neighbors. However, an outdoor dog is able to go potty and, if it’s a nice day, enjoy the fresh air.

Whether you keep your dog indoors or outdoors, you must always consider the dog’s safety, security, comfort, and personality. Further, there is really only one acceptable method for keeping a dog outside – a secure kennel as described below. If you cannot manage it, do not keep your dog outside.

What the Law Requires in Terms of Containment

By law, all dogs must have basic shelter. This usually means a place to get out of the sun, rain, and snow. It should be somewhat clean. Different localities have different definitions of appropriate shelter. In some places, all that is required is the overhang of a house, or a covered porch to sit on. Some areas require dog houses. Dogs must also have access to clean water, and regular feedings.

Most communities also have leash laws. This means the dog must stay on the owner’s property at all times unless it is properly leashed.

Some communities prohibit tethering or chaining, or they may regulate the length/weight of the tether or the amount of time that a dog can be tethered.

Some communities have laws determining the minimum height or construction of a fence designed to keep a dog contained. They may prohibit electronic fences as a form of containment.

Some communities have enacted breed-specific legislation that may require special containment rules for “pit bulls” and other types of dogs.

You will need to consult with your local animal control department or city/county government to be sure that your selected method of containment does not violate the local laws. However, most of the methods that are unacceptable by law (such as chaining/tethering and electronic fences) are also listed here as unacceptable means of containment. They are legislated against for the same reasons that I consider them unacceptable: they are unreliable, unsecure, unsafe methods of containment that are more likely to result in loose dogs or dog attacks and injury to your dog.

Your local containment laws are in place to make sure a dog physically survives and to ensure public safety. It does nothing to provide for the dog’s mental health, happiness, and quality of life. To have a meaningful relationship with your dog, you have to do much more than the legal bare minimum!


Whether you keep your dog indoors or outdoors, but especially if you keep your dog outdoors, be sure your dog has a collar with ID tags and a microchip. This way, if something happens and the dog gets loose, your dog can be easily returned to you.

Animal control usually makes an effort to contact the owner when a dog with ID comes into their facility. Similarly, the good samaritan who finds your dog running loose will be able to contact you. This may prevent your dog from landing in the city pound or rehomed as a “stray.”

However, dogs without ID can end up in the pound for days or weeks, maybe even rehomed or euthanized if their owners do not reclaim them quickly. People who find dogs without ID may assume the dog is abandoned or stray, and keep the dog for themselves rather than try to find the dog’s owner.

Ask your local animal control department what kinds of ID are legally required for a dog to carry. Most places require a rabies tag and a city or county registration license. I recommend you add a tag with owner contact information.

Microchips are a backup in case your dog’s collar or tags fall off or are taken off by someone. The microchip is injected into a dog’s back and is permanent. It contains an ID number that is linked to your contact information. Most animal control departments and vet offices have a microchip scanner. Ask your animal control department what brand of microchip their scanners will read. There are four or more major brands of microchips out there, and not all microchip readers are universal. You want to be sure you get a microchip that your animal control facility can read.

Microchipping can be expensive when done at the vet, but in many areas you can now find low-cost microchipping programs that offer chipping at steep discounts. Ask your local humane society or animal control department to see if they know of any low-cost microchipping programs in your area.

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Unsatisfactory Methods of Containment

Chaining or Tethering

Dogs should not be chained or tethered. It is not healthy for the dog and it is not safe for you, your family, or your neighbors.

Chained dogs are vulnerable to attacks from loose dogs, wildlife, and people. There are no barriers to keep these strange creatures away, and the chained dog can not escape. This often leads to a “first strike” mentality in chained dogs; they tend to overreact to perceived threats in order to eliminate the attacker before it can do any harm. This means that even innocent human behaviors, such as merely wandering within a chained dog’s reach, may provoke an attack.

Chained dogs can become tangled in the chain, or get other objects tangled in the chain, causing physical injury or death. Some dogs have managed to hang or strangle themselves on their chain.

Chained dogs also suffer from the outdoor dog’s lack of socialization and stimulation. This can result in neurotic behaviors such as constant barking, digging, self-mutilation, and so on.

Chained dogs are responsible for about 1/4 of all fatal dog attacks. Dog bite researcher Karen Delise states that chaining a dog is the most dangerous way to keep a dog.

A few people who are considered pit bull experts, notably Diane Jessup, believe chaining to be more humane than keeping a dog in a crate or kennel. Jessup argues that putting a dog on a chain allows the dog more freedom of movement than would a small kennel, and provides the dog with fresh air and sun, which is healthier than keeping the dog indoors all day.

However, I think the dangers posed by chaining – notably that there are no physical barriers between the dog and a wandering animal, person, or child – outweigh any perceived advantages. Dogs kept in sizeable kennels would have the same freedom of movement and fresh air as a chained dog, but would be physically contained so that they cannot interact with other living creatures without the owner’s knowledge. This increases public safety and ensures the dog’s safety as well.

Cable Runs

Cable runs are similar to chains, except that the tether is attached to a trolley that rolls along a cable. This presumably gives the dog more room to run in a restricted area, since it can run along the length of the cable. Cable runs are particularly inappropriate for pit bulls and other large dogs.

Cable runs have all the disadvantages of chaining. There are no physical barriers to keep the dog separate from other living creatures that may wander within the dog’s reach. This means the dog is vulnerable to attack.

Additionally, the cable run does not provide a visible, obvious boundary, so if the dog is not already straining against its tether, passersby have no idea whether the dog’s tether is long enough to allow it to reach them.

Cable runs also tend to have weak spots that can break under strain. The trolley mechanism is one such weak spot. Strong dogs, if they apply enough force, can break the cable run. (I have personal experience with this.)

Electronic, Underground, or “Invisible” Fences

Electronic fences are neither safe nor reliable. They are especially inappropriate for larger dogs, including pit bulls.

In theory, a dog will not cross the invisible boundary because if he gets too close to the boundary, he will receive a shock from a special collar. Some homeowners prefer electronic fences because they feel that physical fences are unattractive, or perhaps their homeowner’s association prohibits physical fences. However, invisible fences are not an effective method of containment.

Electronic fences require electricity to work. When the power goes out, so will the fence. Batteries may also run out, causing the shock collar to stop working. And like all electronics, rarely some units have been known to malfunction, causing the dog to be shocked constantly for no reason at all.

Electronic fences are only effective if we assume that punishment is stronger than reward; i.e. dogs fear the shock, so they will not cross the boundary no matter what is on the other side. However, this is not necessarily true. Dogs with high drive may be willing to take the punishment if they perceive a higher value reward on the other side of the boundary. For instance, a dog may want to chase a squirrel so badly that he will run through the boundary and take the brief shock just to be able to chase the squirrel.

Further, some dogs can get so excited about what is on the other side of the invisible fence that they will charge right through the boundary and take the shock before they even know what has happened. After they have broken through the barrier, they may be extremely reluctant to come back into the yard – they know they will have to cross over the boundary to get back in, and they’re going to get a shock when they do. Now the invisible fence is actually keeping the dog out of its yard.

And once again, the electronic fence does not keep other animals and people out of the yard. People, other dogs, and wild animals do not wander around wearing electronic collars. They will walk right into the yard, oblivious to the invisible fence. This implies uncontrolled interactions between the “contained” dog and strange people and animals. Dog thieves can easily steal a dog contained by an invisible fence. Children can wander into the dog’s territory and be bitten. Strange dogs can enter the yard and start a fight with the “contained” dog.

An electronic fence is not a safe method of containment.

Fenced Backyards

Whether made of chain link or wood planks, a fence is often not as secure as many owners believe. Many of the loose dogs collected by animal control are dogs that have somehow escaped from a backyard while the owner was away. It is not safe to leave your dog alone loose in your backyard, even with a physical fence.

Fences, especially wooden fences, develop weak spots and holes. Dogs can dig under or climb over them. Gates can blow open in the wind or be left open accidentally, allowing the dog to easily leave the yard.

Fenced backyards are easily accessible by humans. Unless there is a lock on the gate, almost anyone can open a gate latch: meter readers, dog thieves, repair people, neighborhood children, and more. Fences can also be climbed over. There have been many stories in the news recently about children being mauled by their neighbor’s dog after the child climbed over the fence into the neighbor’s yard to retrieve a lost toy. Those dog owners have been successfully sued despite the fact that the child was trespassing.

A fence is not a failsafe!

A fenced yard is acceptable as long as the owner is outside with the dog.

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Acceptable Methods of Containment

Let me reiterate: Dogs should be kept with the family whenever possible. Dogs are highly social creatures that bond strongly to their family. It is not mentally healthy for a dog to spend its entire life alone in a kennel. Dogs that are isolated in this way will develop behavioral problems. Any form of containment is for the purpose of ensuring the dog’s safety and well-being while the owner is away from home or unable to monitor the dog. When an adult owner comes home, the dog needs to be rejoined with the family.

Outdoor kennels and indoor containment are the two most secure and safe methods of canine containment, with the latter being preferred and most safe.

Kennels (outdoors)

If you are away from home for longer than eight hours, for whatever reason, it may be hard on the dog to be stuck indoors and unable to potty for that entire time. If the dog must be crated indoors, then it will become uncomfortable in a crate for such a long period of time. If your backyard is large enough, you may consider constructing an outdoor kennel for your dog to stay in while you are away from home.

The outdoor kennel should not depend on the backyard fence for walls. Chain link walls are recommended (rather than wood). For diggers, you should extend the kennel walls into the ground several feet down, or use railroad ties or a concrete footer to discourage digging out. Pit bulls are athletic and many can jump or climb out, so you should put a chain link lid on the kennel. The lid will also keep people and animals from climbing into the kennel (yes, it does happen). Put shade cloth over the top of the kennel to keep out the hot midday sun. You may also need to extend the shade cloth down one or two sides depending on how the sun hits the kennel throughout the day.

Inside the kennel, you will need to give the dog a doghouse for shelter, a bowl filled with clean water, and possibly an indestructible toy like a Kong toy.

Outdoor kennels should be locked and lidded. It is important to keep unauthorized people from gaining access to the dog without your knowledge. If your dog is secure in a locked, lidded kennel, thieves cannot steal your dog. Children cannot enter the kennel. And strangers cannot accidentally let your dog out.

There are some disadvantages to keeping your dog in an outdoor kennel.

  • The dog can bark, making neighbors crazy.
  • People can still enter your yard and harm your dog. It’s very easy to give the dog poisoned treats or shoot the dog through the kennel walls. People can still cut the lock and take the dog.
  • The dog will get dirty from being outside. This may cause you to leave the dog outside rather than bring it in when you come home.

Kennels can also be more expensive than some other containment methods, but the expense is worth the security. Some hardware stores offer kennel kits that are surprisingly good-quality and not too expensive. (You may need to buy a lid and shade cloth in addition to the kit.)

Loose Indoors Unsupervised

Indoor dogs are generally happier and more well-adjusted than outdoor dogs. They are part of the family, rather than a lawn ornament. They are also safer and more secure than a dog left outside. If they bark, the neighbors don’t care. Further, strangers would have to actually break into the house to interact with the dog.

Some owners leave their dog loose inside when they leave the house. Some well-trained dogs do fine, and this can be a satisfactory method of containment.

There are some disadvantages to leaving a dog loose indoors when you are not home.

  • The dog can act destructively, chewing on inappropriate items, getting in the trash, and so on. This can also cause injury to the dog.
  • The dog may interact with other household pets, potentially harming them.

In a multi-pet household, dogs should not be allowed to run loose indoors unsupervised. Allowing pets to mingle can result in injury or death. It is not acceptable to allow pit bulls to run loose indoors unsupervised with other dogs due to the risk of dog-aggression. This is true even if your dog seems perfectly fine with the other pets. Dogs are natural predators, and when you are away from the house, the household dynamics change. The dog will make its own rules. It does not take much for a dog to injure or kill another animal. Do you really want to take the risk of coming home to a tragedy? Remember—an ounce of prevention will save you from a ton of anguish and heartache.

If there are other pets or dogs in the household, the dog should be kept contained so it cannot interact with those pets without supervision. This separation can be achieved through the use of closed doors, baby gates, or crates.

Doors and Baby Gates

Although some dogs do well with these methods of containment, they are usually only effective for puppies, small dogs, calm dogs, and elderly dogs.

Closing a dog in one room or a suite by using doors or baby gates has the advantage of giving the dog more space than a crate while still keeping it indoors but apart from other household pets or trouble spots (like the kitchen trash can). A properly dog-proofed room can be a comfortable and safe place for a dog to stay while the owner is away.

There are some disadvantages to closed doors and baby gates.

  • The dog can destroy objects in the room.
  • Dogs have been known to claw at closed doors and the floor under the door, as if trying to dig out of the room. This may be related to the stress of isolation and the inability to see out into the rest of the house. It can cause significant damage to doors and floors.
  • Baby gates are easy to jump over or knock down.
Crating (indoors)

The crate is the safest and most secure way to keep a dog. For a properly crated dog, escape is virtually impossible and his reach is extremely limited. This keeps possible destruction and damage to a minimum and prevents the dog from interacting with other pets.

Dogs are den animals, and as such, a crate is really not the horrific torture device many people believe it to be. Although it seems cruel to stuff a dog in a small space for hours, most dogs actually feel safe and comfortable in their very own crate. A crate provides the dog with its very own “room”, and many dogs choose to sleep in their crate of their own volition if they have been properly crate trained and the crate is in a suitable location.

Crates have many advantages and are considered a humane training tool when used appropriately. The crate is useful for dogs who are destructive or mischevious when they are unsupervised. It is also a great way to separate multiple pit bulls. Crates can be used for housetraining and traveling as well. All dogs should be crate-trained, even if you do not use the crate for confinement.

Crates are not long-term storage solutions. It is no more comfortable for a dog to be confined in a crate than it is for a human to be confined to bed. For short periods of time it can be very relaxing, but after a certain point you get stiff and sore and you need to get up, walk around, go to the bathroom, and get a change of scenery. Similarly, dogs should not stay in crates for extended periods of time. I believe that an eight or nine hour stint in a crate (a typical workday) is tolerable, but pushing it.

Crates should probably be plastic, or in the case of a determined escapee or highly anxious dog, metal wire. Some calmer or older dogs can be kept in a soft mesh crate without a problem, but if you’re concerned about cost, it’s best not to experiment with the mesh. I lost a $150 mesh crate to Dozer after he chewed through the door on the third day (Fel did fine and still uses hers). The mesh and plastic crates are easier on floors, but metal crates work well as long as a blanket or other padding is placed under the wire walls.

The crate should be large enough for the dog to stand up in with room to spare. For many pit bulls this means the crate will be quite large. It can be hard to find space for a crate (or multiple crates for multiple dogs). Inside the crate, pad the bottom with a mat or a thick bedspread. Include indestructible toys.

I recommend putting a water bowl into the crate with the dog. Most dogs will not spill the bowl if the crate is roomy enough. You can also buy a non-spill dish with a wide bottom that resists tipping over. Then the dog actually has to put something (the blanket, a toy, a body part) into the water bowl to make a mess.

For more information about crates, click here.

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Crate Training

Crate training is one of the most important things to teach your dog as early as possible. When used properly, a crate is a sanity saver for owners and dog alike. Crates work marvels for house training, teaching boundaries, fostering independence, and keeping the dog from damaging household items, getting in the trash, counter surfing, and/or chasing or fighting with other pets while you’re not home. Any owner would be furious after coming home from an exhausting day at work to find that the dog has knocked over the trash can and spread it all over the carpet. Subsequent yelling and angry behavior makes the dog nervous, confused, and upset (because there is no connection between the owner’s current anger and the dog’s actions three hours ago). If a dog is securely in its crate while you are out of the house, there is no destruction upon your return, you have no reason to be angry, and the dog is just plain happy to see you because it doesn’t get yelled at when you walk in the door.

For a wonderful primer on crate training, check out the American Dog Trainers Network website.

Time Out vs. Punishment

There is some confusion about the exact role of crating in dog training and care. The crate should never be used as punishment. However, it can be useful as a “time out” where you can put the dog when it is misbehaving. The line between punishment and “time out” is extremely fine, but dog owners need to learn to walk that line correctly in order to send the proper message to the dog.

When you place the dog in its crate, it should always be either 1) a happy event, with treats and toys, or 2) a very neutral event (no treats or toys, but no yelling either). The dog should never be put in its crate directly after being yelled at or spanked, should not be yelled at while it is in the crate, nor should the crate be kicked or shaken with the dog inside. (These behaviors are inappropriate under any circumstance – punishment in any form is not the answer.) Such treatment makes the crate into a punishment, and as a result, you lose the flexibility to use the crate for anything else, such as housetraining, containment while away, “time out”, or a cozy dog bed.

“Time out” is a very different application of the crate. When using the crate for “time out”, you must treat both dog and crate with extreme neutrality. Say your puppy is nipping and biting at you, being too rough, and not responding to your cries of “ouch!”. If you can’t seem to get the little piranha to chill out, then it’s time for a “time out”. You very calmly and quietly pick the pooch up, carry him to his crate, and gently place him inside. He doesn’t get any treats or toys, but he doesn’t get spanked or yelled at either. The “punishment” is not being put in the crate, which you have carefully made totally neutral. The “punishment” is separation from the pack at a moment when the puppy would rather be with the pack.

It’s a little like sending a child to his room. The room isn’t being used as punishment; the separation from the family is the punishment. The kid is still quite content to sleep in his room, play in his room, read and study in his room, etc. It would be very different if the only time the kid went into his room was to get spanked or lectured by a parent.

Be sure to keep that distinction clear in your head whenever you are using the crate. Before you put the puppy or dog in its crate for misbehavior, make sure that your actions are totally calm and neutral, like a robot. All other experiences in or around the crate should be positive and involve toys or treats.

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Dog Daycare

Some owners drop their dog off at a “doggy daycare” during the day. At a doggy daycare, dogs get to hang out with other dogs and play with human staff members.

Sounds like fun, right? Well, in theory, daycare provides the dog a way to play, exercise, and socialize with other dogs and people. Some individual dogs do seem to enjoy dog daycare, and the benefits of early socialization can’t be overlooked.

In reality, however, it has been suggested that daycare is really more about assuaging the guilt we humans feel for being away from our dog all day. We sit at work and worry that our dog is bored, lonely, and miserable without us. To remedy this feeling of guilt, we drop the dog off at a daycare where we imagine them romping joyfully with other dogs and having a grand old time.

But are they really having fun? It is a question that I think too many owners do not ask, unfortunately. To some dogs, daycare can be very stressful. Not all dogs enjoy being surrounded by countless strange dogs. Not all dogs enjoy playing with total strangers. And not all dogs like being away from their safe, familiar home and their soft bed. Dogs, like people, handle public places in their own individual way. Some dogs are social butterflies, and others become withdrawn or anxious when they leave home. You should take your dog’s personality into consideration if you want to try out a doggy daycare.

I believe that daycare is NOT an appropriate option for most pit bulls. This is due to the breed-type’s risk of dog-aggression and the potentially devastating consequences of such behavior, especially considering that, in daycare, the pit bull is literally surrounded by dogs of all sizes and temperaments and human supervision is probably minimal. It’s a perfect setup for a fight. Besides, pit bulls really don’t like hanging out with other dogs. They are people-lovin’ dogs, and they want to be with people, not dogs.

Having said this, I do not have an opinion one way or the other if your dog truly is a highly social, dog-friendly, easygoing “dog” dog. Dogs with that type of personality may very well enjoy a day out at a quality daycare. And a quality daycare is a secure, safe place to leave your dog while you are away from home.

A dog daycare can be an acceptable means of containing your dog, assuming the following:

  • daycare staff are competent and well-trained
  • your dog has the right personality (outgoing, dog-friendly, highly social)

I have used daycares, and I know others who have used daycares, as a means to socialize a puppy with other dogs. Whether this is a successful way to socialize a puppy or not depends on the quality of the daycare, the level of interaction of the staff, and what the owner does or does not do outside of the daycare exposure in terms of socialization and training. For instance, owners should socialize their puppy on leash – at pet stores, at the park, and so on. Puppy and owner should also attend puppy socialization and training classes. Without taking these steps, the socialization that a puppy gets at dog daycare is minimal and specific (i.e. off leash, without owner, in one certain place), meaning the dog is not learning how to act in other, more common situations (i.e. on leash, with owner, at store). Doggy daycare is not the solution to socialization needs or behavior problems.

And remember – picking a quality doggy daycare is like picking a quality child daycare. You will need to do your homework. Check out the facility, ask lots of questions, get input from friends and relatives, and so forth. A lousy dog daycare can put your dog’s health and safety at risk and may actually cause behavior problems. Choose wisely.

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