There is nothing wrong will letting your dog enjoy the outdoors, and even sleep there, when you know that they can handle it, and when the doors into your home are always open for your pet should they choose to come inside. Certain Northern breeds simply love spending many hours outdoors in winter, and will refuse to go back indoors.
However, most breeds cannot sustain the cold for too long. Yet, some owners continue to stick with keeping 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 recommend for most breeds.
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. Depending on whether a dog has access to a well-insulated shelter, how cold it is outdoors, and whether they're dressed up 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 takes place 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 out companionship mean that your pet is exposed to frigid temperatures on a regular basis.
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.
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 out warmth and companionship, keeping dogs outside in winter may cause them to break out of their yard and hurt themselves or others in the process.
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 result in your pet becoming one of those “annoying dogs,” too. Your dog will vocalize for exercise and stimulation, but they will also vocalize because they are uncomfortable, lonely and cold.
5. Not Immune to Angry Neighbors
The nuisance barking? It’s only the beginning. Most neighborhoods are infiltrated with dog lovers and when they believe that a dog is being mistreated (for example, keeping dogs outside in winter when the temperatures are unsafely cold), they won’t hesitate to act.
In the best instances, these individuals will contact local authorities who will contact you with specific requests to remove the dog from the cold, like it happened in this case. In other instances, it could get more ugly: your angry neighbors may steal your dog or vandalize your property to show their anger.
6. Modern Dogs are Far Removed from Wolves
Dogs were domesticated about 10,000 years ago. That means that dogs have advanced with 10,000 years of evolution. During this time, modern canines have become reliant on people, and they have also adjusted to domestic living. They are no longer equipped to be living in extreme temperatures.
Their fur coats have thinned, their defense mechanisms and protective mechanisms have greatly diminished, and they are simply unable to thrive. It means that the claim of “dogs are just like wolves and can survive living outdoors” is simply incorrect. There are many differences between a modern pet dog and wild wolves.
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 them with adequate care, companionship, shelter, and provisions, they will be prosecuted. Not only does this mean a criminal record for the dog owner, but 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 end up having a serious negative effect on 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 from social contact that they naturally crave, and it isolates them. Research shows that dogs who live their lives at the end of a chain are increasingly likely to exhibit aggression and are unable to adjust to a “normal” life if they are ever released.
9. Living in Cold Outdoors Changes a Dog’s Behavior
Any living being that is 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, they develop emotional bonds, and they are exceptionally intelligent. Deprivation causes disruption in psychological development where these “normal” connections and behaviors are no longer “normal” but rather threatening.
10. Living Outdoors Changes a Dog’s Physical Appearance
Keeping dogs outside in winter will cause them to experience a number of 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 serious health problems or even death if left unaddressed.
11. Cold Weather is Exacerbated by Other Conditions
Wind chill is the effect of wind on the external temperature. For example, a thermometer may say 32˚, but if the wind is blowing an arctic breeze, the external temperature is going to feel much lower.
Ice can also impact weather conditions creating colder surfaces on which a dog must sleep. Snow, too, can stick in 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.
12. 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 does not have access to the necessary energy to stay warm, then body temperature will begin to drop.
Image that instead of 98.6˚ your body temperature is 102.5˚ and is also smaller. This means that it will take more energy to maintain body temperature and because you are smaller, any heat generated will dissipate quicker. 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 are unable to reach a part of the body. Most often, frostbite happens in a dog's paws, tail, ears, and nose as a result of exposure to extremely cold temperatures.
There is a very small window of opportunity to try to save any frostbitten area of the body and even then, the process is painful. If frostbitten tissue cannot be saved, the tissue or appendage must be amputated. Amputation can cause complications such as infection, but it can also impact normal functioning of the body.
14. When Temperatures Drop Below 20°F Dogs are Susceptible to Hypothermia
All it takes for any dog to develop hypothermia is for an outside temperature to drop down to 20˚F. At least 16 U.S. states have an average winter temperature of 20˚F and this doesn’t take in to account the coldest days of the year. In such weather, it takes less than 15 minutes for exhaustion or unconsciousness to set in, and death can occur in only 20 minutes or less, depending on the dog's body size.
During hypothermia, a dog’s body is losing heat faster than it can produce it. This causes the body temperature to drop. Prolonged exposure causes the body temperature to continue dropping still, until the body is no longer able to maintain basic functions. At this point, death occurs.
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 even chooses to stay outside.
Every year, more people, states and different authorities are taking 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 months, especially where and 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 choose to 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 consequently it’s 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.