How to Turn an Outdoor Dog into an Indoor Dog - Simply For Dogs
Outdoor Dog

How to Turn an Outdoor Dog into an Indoor Dog

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Most of the time, when I talk about my dogs, I mention Janice and Leroy, the Boxers who enrich my life, my late Boxer, Gloria, who did the same, and Jake, the dog I grew up with. As I mentioned in Accepting the Inevitable – How to Deal With Your Dog’s Journey to the Rainbow Bridge, though, I’ve had several other dogs, one of which was Ellis.

Ellis was a rescue. I’m not sure what his breed background was, but he was a nice-looking dog (as if I’d ever say anything otherwise about any dog!). He was brown with quite a bit of white on his muzzle, medium-haired, short-eared, long-tailed, and a bit smaller than Gloria (actually, a lot smaller than Gloria, until I got him fattened up). A neighbor who was out in the woods checking his rabbit snares found Ellis, tied to a tree, half-frozen and emaciated, and brought him to me.

Of course, I didn’t have to be a detective to figure out what had happened – his previous owner obviously didn’t want to be bothered with an aging dog. For that matter, the previous owner clearly didn’t want to be bothered much with Ellis even before he got old, since other signs pointed to Ellis’s having been tied outside his entire life. The biggest tip-off was that he wasn’t at all house trained.

It took a few weeks to get the house training under control. The biggest battle was convincing Ellis to come inside at all – he’d balk at the door, as much as to say, “No, that’s not allowed!” That just about broke my heart, but we worked through it.

Ellis wasn’t with me for long. He was old to begin with, and he’d had a hard life.  But for the year and a half that I had him, I think he was happy.

No Dog Should Be Left Outdoors

As I pointed out in Can Dogs Live Outdoors Full Time, dogs are social animals, and should never be condemned to a life spent outside in a kennel or chained to a doghouse. I hope that you’re reading this post because, like me, you have rescued an outdoor dog and you want to learn how to help him become an indoor dog. If you’re reading because your outdoor dog is aging, and you think it might be a good idea to bring him indoors, then all I can say is, I guess it’s better late than never.

Making an indoor dog out of an outdoor dog isn’t likely to happen overnight, but with patience, it can be done. Take it slow, and don’t become irritated when he doesn’t catch on to indoor behavior right away.

Start Slowly

You can’t just bring a dog that’s been accustomed to being outside his whole life into the house, and expect him to be fully comfortable. You’ll probably find that he still wants to be outside a fair bit – it’s all he’s known, and being inside the house is outside his comfort zone.

Start by bringing him indoors on leash, letting him stay for a few minutes, and then taking him back out. Gradually increase the length of time spend indoors. If he’s resistant to coming indoors, offer treats and lots of praise. You want him to get the idea that good things happen when he comes inside.

The way to just about any dog’s heart is through his stomach, so also feed him his meals indoors. If he’s resistant, put him on leash again, and gently guide him indoors and to his feeding bowl, offering a few treats along the way. To start with, keep the bowl close to the door, and as you progress, move the bowl a bit further inside each time.

Supervise

When an outdoor dog is learning how to become an indoor dog, you’re also going to have to supervise vigilantly for the first little while. The first problem you’re going to have is the same one I had with Ellis – you won’t have a potty trained dog. He’s going to be accustomed to doing his business wherever he happens to be.

Take your dog out to go potty first thing in the morning, after each meal, and last thing before bed. Also, take him out every couple of hours. This won’t prevent all accidents, but eventually, he’ll get the idea that you want him to do his business outside.

When he messes (and he will), don’t scold him. Just clean it up, and be more vigilant. If you scold him, all that’s going to achieve is he’ll get the message that when you see a mess, you get upset. Then he may try to do his thing in places where he thinks you won’t find it.

Positive reinforcement using treats works very well here. When your dog does his business outside, give him a treat as soon as you’re done. Don’t wait until you’re back in the house – if you do, he’s not going to understand that he’s being rewarded for pottying outdoors. There will have been too much time between the action and the reward for him to make the connection.

Get a Checkup

This is particularly important if your dog is a rescue. You’ll have no way of knowing about any existing medical conditions, and it would also be a good idea to have him checked over for fleas, worms and other parasites.

If it’s your own dog, a checkup would still be a good idea, especially if house training is overly problematic, or if you notice any odd behavior. I would hope that you’ve looked after your dog’s medical needs even if you have been leaving him outside, but a checkup is still in order to be sure that he remains healthy when you bring him inside.

If you’re not sure that the dog will behave properly indoors, enrolling him in a basic obedience class can make life considerably easier. A properly trained dog is less likely to be destructive. If you don’t have time for obedience classes, consider hiring a professional trainer. Make sure, though, to find one who uses only positive reinforcement. It’s a big change for an outdoor dog to become an indoor dog, and aggressive training methods aren’t going to help.

Pick an Area

Until the dog adjusts, it’s best to keep him in a designated area. Some outdoor dogs will adjust immediately to being indoor dogs, but they’re the exceptions. There’s almost always an adjustment period, during which it’s best to keep the dog in one part of the house so that you can avoid issues like destructiveness and excessive messing. A crate is also a good idea, for times when you can’t be at home to supervise. If you do have to leave the dog, make sure that he has access to fresh water, and some toys to keep him amused.

Keep the Dog Groomed

When you bring an outdoor dog inside, grooming is important. Clean him up, and make sure he stays clean. You might have to get him used to having a bath, but most dogs love being brushed. Also, keep his nails trimmed. If you hear “ticking” when he walks on a hard surface, his nails are too long. If you feel uncomfortable handling grooming tasks, take your dog to a professional groomer – they’re well versed in handling nervous dogs.

Exercise

Don’t assume, just because you’ve brought an outdoor dog indoors, that the dog is going to turn into a couch potato. Walk him a couple of times a day, or at least have a few play sessions in the yard. When he is indoors, make sure that he has toys so that he can be mentally stimulated. A bored dog is a destructive dog.

Sleeping Quarters

When I brought Ellis indoors, I made sure that he had access to a crate, and also a doggie bed. For the first little while, I kept the bed close to the front door – he seemed to be more comfortable there. In the fullness of time, he ended up gravitating toward my bedroom (I always left the door open), and although he never got to the point where he wanted to sleep on the bed with me, like my other dogs, within a couple of months he began spending every night next to my bed.

I think what I’m saying here is that it’s probably a good idea to let the dog decide, to some extent, where he wants to sleep. If you don’t want dogs on your bed, that’s fine, but allow him some flexibility. You want your former outdoor dog, who is now an indoor dog, to feel fully comfortable in his new surroundings.

Set Rules and Be Consistent

If you don’t want your dog on the furniture, that’s fine. My dogs have always been indoor dogs (even if they didn’t all start out that way), and I’ve always been of the mindset that I can replace furniture if I have to. So, my dogs sleep wherever they please. If that doesn’t work for you, you will have to be firm. It’s not fair to a dog to convey the message “You have to stay off the furniture – unless I feel too lazy to make you stay off.”

Expecting an outdoor dog to be an indoor dog who automatically knows all the rules, and knows when they might not apply, isn’t fair. It adds more stress to a situation that may already be more than stressful enough for the dog. So set the rules, and keep them fair and consistent.

The Final Word

So, can you make an indoor dog out of an outdoor dog? Yes, you definitely can. But approach the transition with patience, positive reinforcement, and lots of love.

No dog should be left outdoors. So if you’ve rescued an outdoor dog, don’t continue with an undesirable pattern – you might think you’re being kind, because being outdoors is what he’s used to. But remember, dogs want to be with humans. And if you’ve been keeping your dog outdoors, bring him in.

All dogs are meant to be indoor dogs.

About the Author Ash