Let's say there is a dog that has shelter and food and water, physically very healthy, friendly towards people (at least some), physically not abused, but never receiving attention from a human beyond feeding (no walking, playing, socialization, no contact outside of feeding, etc.). Imagine, say, a dog locked in a room, yard, shed, that is given food and water and space to move around but nothing else. I actually have two questions:

  1. Informally (or formally) does this qualify as abuse of some type? If so, what is it usually called? The term "neglect", in official channels, seems to connote physical neglect rather than not meeting the social and psychological needs of a dog ("that dog is neglected" -> "no it's not, it's got food and shelter and is in great shape"). The phrase "emotional neglect", fair or not, always seems to immediately trigger eye-rolling in discussions with folks who don't take the issue as seriously as I'd like.

  2. If so, what are the typical signs and behavioral patterns of a dog in a situation where they are physically treated well but never given serious attention? Can I identify these animals with long term observation? Are there definite red flags that indicate a very high likelihood that this is happening?

  • 1
    1) Boredom. Maybe lonliness, maybe not. It isn't clear solitary confinement is abusive if there's enough sensory stimulus 2) Watch an animal in a too-small enclosure at the zoo, and you'll see a stereotyped pacing behavior.if I saw that in any animal I'd be worried. C) "Abusive" is context-dependent. Lab animals, for example.
    – keshlam
    Dec 14 '15 at 21:17

Laws vary by locality, but I think in most places this would be legal. (Note that I recently read of a city in Virginia that passed an "anti-tethering" law: it is illegal to tie a dog to an outside lead for more than 3 hours a day, so there are some places with more restrictions. But this law is getting a lot of criticism, too). In general, if the physical needs are being met (food, water, shelter), and there is no physical abuse, then the government will not try to dictate how much time you spend with your pet.

As for signs of a dog being ignored and isolated, it depends on the dog. Some may act aggressively, others may be depressed and lethargic, others may get into destructive behavior out of boredom (digging, chewing inappropriate items), etc. Other might not show any outward signs, and be content with their life.

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