A long-time topic of debate is whether a dog can live outside safely or not. Some people couldn't bear to leave their pooch outside in the elements, while other people think that's the best thing for a dog.
So, the question is, is it safe for a dog to live outside and be an "outside dog" for their whole life? It might depend on where you live. The climate can have a huge impact on your pup's comfort and health.
Signs Your Dog Might be Too Hot or Too Cold
If your dog is an outside dog, they'll have to experience the elements. If they are too hot, you might notice that they are panting. Since dogs don't sweat, they pant to keep cool. Panting is not an all-out reason for alarm, but excessive panting can be.
Your dog’s temperature might also go up, and they might start drooling excessively and want more than their usual amount of water to drink. You also might notice your dog acting sleepy or lethargic if they are starting to have health problems. It can even turn into a seizure in serious cases. So, it’s best to keep an eye on them if it's hot outside.
Your dog will also experience the cold if they are outside all the time. If your dog becomes cold, you might notice them shaking or holding up one of their paws at a time. Humans do this too when they're cold, and it's not very comfortable. They might also whine or howl if it's too cold for them. So, if it's very cold outside, it might be wise to move them into the garage or a mudroom in your home to keep them warmer.
History of Dogs Living Outside
Dogs are descended from wolves, which definitely live outside year-round. The idea of "outside" or "inside" domesticated dogs has been around for a long time, too. As mentioned, most dog lovers have pretty strong opinions about what is better for their pup.
However, it is interesting to note that in recent years, it seems there has been an uptick in dog owners keeping their dogs as inside dogs. Why? We're not sure, but it offers dogs better regulation of the elements, by being inside at all times.
A former dog owner recently recounted having a debate with her husband about this exact topic. As they talked about getting a dog, he voiced that it should be an outside dog. Even though his family had had a small inside dog for several years, he thought bigger dogs would do better outside with an insulated kennel. His wife, however, couldn't stand the thought of leaving a dog outside in the heat and cold. The debate is still happening, and apparently, it's not an uncommon debate in many households.
Science Behind Dogs Living Outside
Scientifically, dogs are built, to an extent, to live outside. They have fur that most humans think will withstand the elements, but that’s not necessarily true. According to PetMD, not every dog is “created equal” when it comes to living outside. They mention that a dog’s fur, fur color, their size, weight, conditioning, age, and health all play a role in if a dog can live outside safely or not.
For example, if a dog has a double-thick coat, they might thrive outside in the cold - whereas a shorthaired dog might suffer tremendously. Another example is a dog’s weight. If they weigh more, typically, they’ll stay warmer. However, PetMD does note that an overweight dog is really dangerous in itself, too. So, that’s something to keep in mind.
Also, if your dog is older or has medical issues, that needs to be taken into account as well. Even if they have the right tools and body type to stay warm or cold, if they are sick or old, they might suffer a lot outside and even die. So, It’s important to pay attention to your dog and their individual needs.
Preparations for an Outside Dog
Thinking about having your dog live outside? It's a big choice. If you do decide to have them live outside, as mentioned, it’s important to take your dog’s needs into account. Do they have the right body type to handle the climate? Are they healthy enough? Will you keep a close eye on them to make sure they stay safe?
It's also important to remember that not all breeds can live safely outside. Cesar Millan mentions that if your dog is going to be outside, for even a brief amount of time, it’s important that they have shade and maybe even a small wading pool with water to allow them to cool off. He also says that dog houses might not always be a great place for your dog to keep cool because they can get hot. Of course, it’s super, super important to make sure your dog always has clean water to drink, as well.
If your dog is going to live outside in the cold, again, not all dogs are built to live in the cold. The Humane Society of Utah has a long list of guidelines to help keep your dog safe in the cold. One of those guidelines is about their shelter. They will need a shelter to live in that is big enough for them, specifically, and it’ll need to be protected from the wind. So, the door should face south or east.
They also mention having the entrance be off-center so the dog can sleep in the corner and be protected from drafts. The shelter needs to have clean bedding and needs to have proper drainage. If it is too big of a structure, that will also mean the dog’s body heat can not heat the structure properly to stay warm. So, it’s important to get the right sized structure. It’s also important to make sure your dog has plenty of clean water that’s not frozen.
This is not a comprehensive list of things that need to be done for an outside dog. This barely scratches the surface. There are quite a few other things that need to be done for your dog and their shelter in order for your dog to stay warm in the cold or safe in the heat.
So, It’s crucial to do a lot of research and maybe even speak with your vet before making the choice to have a dog be an outside dog. It is important to note that The Humane Society of Utah also says “A dog is happiest if allowed to live and grow up in his owner's home receiving needed love and companionship. Forcing a pet to live a solitary, outside life leads to boredom.”
By Katie Anderson
Published: 04/24/2018, edited: 04/06/2020