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From my back porch I can look across a canal and small field to the back yards of several of my neighbors. One of my new neighbors across the way has a beautiful chocolate lab. I don't know why they have a beautiful chocolate lab though as it seems I see this dog more often than any of them do.

I take my smoke breaks outside. I go out in my back yard a minimum of 15 times a day, more so as I often play with my own dog or have chores to do in the back yard. I have never not seen this dog in their back yard. I have never seen a person spend more than a few moments in this back yard with this dog. They do not play with it. It has no toys that I can see. High up in the Rocky Mountains, where the winters can get bitterly cold, this dog does not even have its own doghouse.

Their solution to wanting to own a dog, not wanting to let it into the house, ever, and not wanting it to freeze to death is to leave a door open to their garage. The slice of the interior of this garage that I can see shows that it is used for storage and not for parking vehicles. This is, frankly, not sufficient. A roof is not a shelter. This garage is not heated, even if it were it would not remain so with the door to the outside always open. A dog can not produce enough body heat to heat that entire room, especially with the door to the outside always open. A dog needs a doghouse. A dog can fill a doghouse with body heat and so insulate it from the cold outside. A short-haired breed, especially, needs a warm place in the winter.

This, alone, might not cause me to make trouble for these neighbors of mine. After all, I could always buy or build them a dog house for Christmas. No, their neglect of their animal has, this morning, risen to a new height. This good doggy is going to be a bad doggy soon, through no fault of his own, and I don't want to see that happen.

Reading a dog's behavior is not difficult, they are not alien animals. Follow along and tell me if you don't agree with my assessment:

This morning, as I took my first smoke break of the day, I watched the lonely dog across the way. He's got a new trick it seems. He went into the garage and came out a moment later with a great big piece of white fabric with a hoop of some sort on one end. It is either a curtain or a piece of a wedding dress. Anyways, he trotted out with this big piece of fabric trailing behind and marched straight to the back door of the house. He sat for a moment looking at the door. When this didn't produce any result he trotted down the little stairs, dropped the fabric and went back into the garage. I presume he was looking for something else to drag out, he didn't find anything though. He came back out to the big piece of fabric, sat down right behind it and stared at the back door again. He nosed the fabric once or twice and then stared at the door some more. At this point my cigarette was done and I was too sad to watch anymore.

This behavior is obvious to me, I've seen other dogs make the same mistake this dog is making. This dog is so starved for some human company, the company of his humans specifically, that he will invite punishment. Punishment is, even if it is the worst sort, at least some attention. This dog knows he is not supposed to make toys out of the human's things. He does not want to ruin this fabric. He only wants the attention that will come from having done something wrong. When the attention doesn't come immediately he slowly, reluctantly, does some more wrong.

At some point some person in this house is going to glance out their kitchen window and see this piece of fabric on the ground. They will then go out, retrieve the fabric, scold the dog, and reinforce the lesson that doing something wrong will bring attention. It isn't good attention but it is better than complete neglect. This dog will then repeat the behavior, more and more, getting scolded and called bad dog more and more, until they finally tire of their rotten dog and foist it off on someone else or send it back to the pound where it will be euthanized.

I've seen this before, I'm familiar with this behavior. Every person who works in an animal shelter is familiar with this behavior. It is easy to correct, oh so easy - just love the dog. Play with it, give it attention, love it. It will stop the bad behavior immediately.

I have two options at this point, I don't know which I will choose. I can walk around the street, knock on their door and offer them a lesson in animal behavior and responsible dog ownership. I can't see that working out well but it might. Alternatively, I can wait for the next really cold night and call the Humane Society. It is illegal in this city to fail to provide warm shelter to a pet. The impersonal and experienced Humane Society people may make a stronger impact. At the very least, the owners may decide the dog brings more trouble that it is worth (very little to them!) and get rid of it before it has a chance to become a bad doggy. I don't know yet which I will do but I know I will not sit by and watch it happen, again.

Please, if you own a dog and any of this sounds familiar, fix it now. If you believe dogs are dumb animals, try to accept that you were wrong. They experience almost every emotion we experience. They may not analyze them, they certainly don't have any of the mental powers we have, but they do experience life just as we do. Your dog is a member of your family, not an accessory to your home. In its 10-15 years of life your dog will grow and change and experience, it will love and learn. Your garden gnome will not do any of those things. Don't treat your dog like an expensive garden gnome. If that doesn't seem possible then at the very least consider this: you don't play with the poor thing, you don't do anything with it really, why not give it to someone who will? Consider some goldfish, they are probably more your speed.

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