Things to Know When Keeping Dogs Outside in Winter

There is nothing wrong with letting your dog enjoy the outdoors and even sleep when you know they can handle it.

And it's better if the doors into your home are always open for your pet should they choose to come inside.

Certain Northern breeds love spending many hours outdoors in winter and refuse to return indoors.

However, most breeds cannot sustain the cold for too long.

Yet, some owners continue to keep dogs outside in winter.

If that's you, or if you know someone who keeps their pet outdoors overnight in cold winter months, keep some of these things in mind, including why this practice is often not recommended for most breeds.

Reasons to Not Keep Your Dog Outside in the Winter

1. It is possible for a dog to freeze to death

Keeping dogs outside in winter for too long may lead to frostbite and hypothermia. 

They can freeze to death, which is not uncommon

Whether a dog has access to a well-insulated shelter, how cold it is outdoors, and whether they're dressed in proper winter clothes, most breeds can freeze to death in extremely cold temperatures.

A dog freezing to death is a long and drawn-out process that occurs when they have become frozen to the ground on which they are sleeping. 

If your pet is not a northern breed and the outdoor temperatures are freezing, allow them to sleep in a warm house with you regardless of the season.

2. Outdoor dogs get sick more often

Even when an “outside dog” is given an insulated dog house, they are still exposed to more extreme conditions than dogs kept inside a home. 

Fluctuations in temperature and the desire to seek companionship mean your pet is regularly exposed to frigid temperatures.

Cold temperatures force a dog's body to work harder to stay warm and can take a toll on their circulatory and immune system. 

While some Northern breeds instinctively know how to keep themselves warm and they're safe under a double coat, most other dogs do not and cannot. 

Elderly, young, or immune-compromised dogs are especially at risk of developing cold weather-associated illnesses.

Like Any Animal, a Dog Can Be Driven to Desperation

3. Like any animal, a dog can be driven to desperation

Dogs are living, sentient beings, and it is not beyond them to do anything it takes to survive.

Out of desperation to seek warmth and companionship, keeping dogs outside in winter may cause them to break out of their yard and hurt themselves or others.

4. Unhappy dogs will vocalize

Have you ever heard that “annoying” barking dog in the neighborhood? 

One of the reasons for that is when a dog becomes bored, lonely, or in need. 

Leaving a dog outside in winter may make your pet one of those “annoying dogs,” too. 

Your dog will vocalize for exercise and stimulation because they are uncomfortable, lonely, and cold.

5. Not immune to angry neighbors

The nuisance barking? It's only the beginning. 

Most neighborhoods are filled with dog lovers. 

They won't hesitate to act when they believe that a dog is being mistreated (for example, keeping dogs outside in winter when the temperatures are unsafely cold).

In the best instances, these individuals will contact local authorities, who will contact you with specific requests to remove the dog from the cold, as happened in this case

In other instances, it could get ugly: your angry neighbors may steal your dog or vandalize your property to show their anger.

Modern Dogs are Far Removed from Wolves

6. Modern dogs are far removed from wolves

We have domesticated dogs for the past 10,000 years. 

That means that dogs have advanced with 10,000 years of evolution. 

During this time, modern canines have become reliant on people and adjusted to domestic living. 

They are no longer equipped to be living in extreme temperatures.

Their fur coats have thinned, their defense and protective mechanisms have greatly diminished, and they are simply unable to thrive

It means that the claim that “dogs are just like wolves and can survive living outdoors” is simply incorrect. 

There are many differences between a modern pet dog and a wild wolf.

6. Animal abuse is criminal

At the beginning of 2016, the FBI made animal cruelty a top-tier felony

This means that if an owner is found to be abusing a dog by failing to provide adequate care, companionship, shelter, and provisions, they will be prosecuted. 

This means a criminal record for the dog owner, and the conviction will be a felony.

Having a felony on one's criminal record can prevent people from getting gainful employment in the future and enjoying numerous freedoms granted to U.S. citizens. 

Keeping dogs outside in winter could seriously affect the rest of a pet owner's life.

8. Outdoor life may be dangerous for dogs

Force a dog to live outdoors means subjecting them to potential psychological torture. 

It deprives them of the social contact they naturally crave and isolates them. 

Research shows that dogs who live at the end of a chain are increasingly likely to exhibit aggression and cannot adjust to a “normal” life if they are ever released.

Living in Cold Outdoors Changes a Dog’s Behavior

9. Living in cold outdoors changes a dog's behavior

Any living being deprived of basic needs (such as warmth and companionship) will fail to develop “normally.” 

Constant deprivation causes desperation, distrust, and suspicion. 

In dogs, deprivation of basic needs can also lead to failure to bond with humans, aggression due to limited resources, and a “lone wolf” mentality.

Dogs are naturally social creatures. 

They live in packs, develop emotional bonds, and are exceptionally intelligent. 

Deprivation causes disruption in psychological development where these “normal” connections and behaviors are no longer “normal” but instead threatening.

10. Living outdoors changes a dog's physical appearance

Keeping dogs outside in winter will cause them to experience several physical changes that take a toll on their body. 

Some of these changes include frostbite, calloused joints, starvation (resulting from a dog's increased use of energy to keep warm), poor skin or coat condition (from nervous chewing, exposure to the elements, and possibly winter allergies), and damage to sensory organs as the result of the cold.

Any one of these physical changes can open a dog up to infections, more severe health problems, or even death if left unaddressed.

11. Cold weather is exacerbated by other conditions

The wind chill is the effect of wind on the external temperature. 

For example, a thermometer may say 32˚. 

Still, the external temperature will feel much lower if the wind blows an arctic breeze.

Ice can also impact weather conditions, creating colder surfaces on which a dog must sleep. 

Snow, too, can stick to a dog's coat and drop their temperature by leaching body heat. 

You can avoid cold weather and supplementary conditions from impacting your pet by keeping them indoors with you or providing other ways to keep them warm.

Dog’s Body Temperature is Around Four Degrees Higher Than a Human's

12. A dog’s body temperature is around four degrees higher than a human's

When temperatures outside are cooler than natural body temperature, the body must work harder to stay warm. 

If the body cannot access resources to maintain a specific temperature, things go downhill, FAST. 

When dogs' bodies don't have the energy to stay warm, body temperature will begin to drop.

A dog's body temperature is 102.5˚. 

This means that it will take more energy to maintain body temperature, and because you are smaller, any heat generated will dissipate more quickly. 

Keeping dogs outside in winter increases their need for calories and decreases available energy for other functions.

13. Frostbite is painful and expensive to treat

Frostbite happens when the blood vessels in the body contract so much that adequate blood flow and oxygen cannot reach a part of the body. 

Most often, frostbite happens in a dog's paws, tail, ears, and nose due to exposure to freezing temperatures.

There is a tiny window of opportunity to try to save any frostbitten area of the body; even then, the process is painful. 

The tissue or appendage must be amputated if frostbitten tissue cannot be saved. 

Amputation can cause complications such as infection, but it can also impact the body's normal functioning.

14. When temperatures drop to below 20°F, dogs are susceptible to hypothermia

All it takes for any dog to develop hypothermia is for an outside temperature to drop to 20˚F. 

At least 16 U.S. states have an average winter temperature of 20˚F, which doesn't take into account the coldest days of the year. 

In such weather, it takes less than 15 minutes for exhaustion or unconsciousness to set in. 

Depending on the dog's body size, death can happen in 20 minutes or less.

During hypothermia, a dog's body loses heat faster than it can produce it. 

This causes the body temperature to drop.

Prolonged exposure causes the body temperature to continue dropping until the body can no longer maintain essential functions. 

At this point, death occurs.

Outside Dogs Draw Attention from Local Authorities

15. Outside dogs draw attention from local authorities

No one wants to be on the radar of local law enforcement, but leaving a dog to live outdoors in the winter is a surefire way to get their attention

Especially in the U.S., most people are avid animal lovers and are likely to be concerned, even if the dog is a Northern breed and chooses to stay outside.

Every year, more people, states, and different authorities take animal abuse more seriously than ever. 

Humane societies are encouraging everybody to report all dogs seen to be kept outside in winter.

16. Dog becomes a fish in a barrel for hungry predators

Depending on where you live, forcing a dog to live outdoors is akin to making them a fish in a barrel – particularly during winter.

In some areas, predators are waiting for food and energy during winter, especially when food supplies are scarce.

Dogs staying outdoors in winter are an easy target for such hungry predators, like packs of coyotes.

17. This could be setting a terrible example

Even today, some pet owners keep their dogs outside, even if it's too cold, because it's what they've always known. 

It's how their parents treated the family dog and how they learned to treat their dog. 

If you know that the dog breed was never designed to sustain cold temperatures, and you know of someone forcing dogs to live outside – speak up and call local authorities.


How cold is too cold for a dog to be outside?

We all see those Tiktoks of dogs who refuse to come inside even during blizzards. However, it's not smart during these extreme drops in temperature.

A dog left out at 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below is at serious risk of succumbing to hypothermia and frostbite.

Can dogs live outside in the dog house in the winter?

The only exception we would give for a dog living outside during the cold is using a dog house. Not just a basic dog house, make sure it dry and raised a several inches off the ground.

It also must be insulated, and if you can run some electricity on it, make sure they have dry heated blankets.

Keeping Dogs Outside In Winter: Conclusion

There you have it.

The majority of the time, it is a very bad idea to keep a dog outside during winter, especially if it gets in the 20s or lower.

READ NEXT: 20 Tips On How To Keep Dogs Warm In the Winter

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17 Things to Remember If You're Keeping a Dog Outside in Winter

Shelly lives in Iowa with her husband and Australian Shepherd named Tex. She's been an animal lover since she was a child. Currently, she enjoys reading and writing about dogs, and spending time with her family and getting involved in all things pets.