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Is it Cruel to Keep Your Dog Outside?

Dog laying in a dog house

With winter now upon us, many pet owners begin to ponder whether or not it is humane to leave their dogs outside during inclement weather conditions. Many dog breeds enjoy playtime out in the snow; some of them so much that it is a chore to make them come inside. When temperatures start to plummet and the snow begins to fly, is it cruel to leave your dog outside? 

Does Weather Matter?

In trying to determine if it is cruel to leave a dog outside, weather does make a difference. During the most extreme temperatures, whether hot or cold, greater consideration needs to go into this question. In the heat of the summer, dogs need the opportunity to cool themselves when they become over heated. Shelter can be provided through a doghouse or large grouping of trees or shrubs which provide shade. But during the humid swells of summer, respite from the heat is not enough to keep a dog from becoming ill from the temperature. Ready access to a plentiful supply of clean drinking water is also critical to helping a dog maintain optimal health while spending time outdoors in the summer months.

By comparison, dogs also require shelter during cold seasons. Since wet fur from cold or rain can easily lead to illness or extreme chill, a safe place to get away from the cold is essential. But having shelter is not sufficient to ward off the worst of winter weather, dogs also require bedding that is dry. 

Do Dogs Enjoy Being Outside?

We often compare how our dogs must feel when outdoors to how we would respond if left outside in similar weather conditions. However, this logic is faulty. Dogs, even ones with only a small amount of coat, do have a layer of protection from their fur that humans lack. Some breeds are born with thick double coats which not only provide insulation from the heat and protection from the cold, but that are also waterproof.

Most dogs do enjoy time spent outdoors. However, the vast majority of them, like their human counterparts, prefer moderate conditions. Some will even eschew opportunities for exercise during wet, snowy weather or extreme heat.

What must be taken into consideration when exploring this question is the breed of the dog and what its original purpose was. Siberian Huskies were bred to function as sled dogs. They are born with coats that provide protection from the harshest weather conditions to enable them to adequately do their jobs. A breed designed to thrive in cold temperatures, the Husky often prefers to be outdoors than indoors.

The Great Pyrenees is a breed in possession of a thick double coat which allows him to remain extremely comfortable in winter weather. In fact, this breed easily overheats if brought indoors where the temperature is much higher than his body is accustomed to.

The Great Pyrenees’ original purpose was to function as a livestock guardian. As such, he needed the insulation from his coat since his work consisted of providing a 24 watch over the sheep or other livestock entrusted to his care. This guardianship occurred in the great outdoors, so the dog needed to have a coat that was designed to provide warmth in the winter and to help the dog remain cool in the summer.

However, there are some dog breeds that are not designed to spend more time in the great outdoors than is absolutely necessary during extreme weather conditions. Brachycephalic or snub-nosed breeds such as the Bulldog, the Pug, and the Frenchie are prone to breathing problems which are greatly exacerbated by outdoor exposure in heat or cold. Likewise, dogs with little to no coat such as Manchester Terriers, Chinese Cresteds, or Smooth Chihuahuas lack the necessary covering to keep their vital organs warm in cold weather.

Are There Certain Breeds that Prefer Outdoor Living?

There are most definitely certain breeds that are predisposed to actually preferring to dwell outdoors. Dogs that were bred to do outside work are equipped with the correct coat for this type of living, and for them, being forced to live indoors is a greater hardship then staying outside where they are most comfortable.

Among the breeds that favor outdoor living are:

Are There Some Breeds that Should Not Be Left Outside?

Just as there are some breeds that prefer cold living conditions, other dog breeds are best suited to living indoors with their families. Most often, it is the small to medium-sized dog types that have very little coat that favor being inside. Extremely small dogs such as Chihuahuas, Maltese, and Yorkshire Terriers were not designed for outdoor living and can freeze to death if left outside even if they are provided with a well-insulated doghouse.

What Should Be Provided for Dogs That Live Outdoors?

For dogs that spend a lot of time or live outdoors, there are some essentials that must be provided for them to ensure they are well cared for. Regardless of the season, all dogs do require a shelter to protect them from the heat of the sun and the wet and wind of the winter. Even if a dog breed enjoys time spent in the snow, they will often want to get out of the unpleasantness of rain. A well-insulated shelter allows the dog to do that. All shelters should be kept dry as well. Though blankets that are regularly changed can provide some comfort and warmth, straw is often a preferable choice since it does not retain moisture.

As with all dogs, dogs that live in the outdoors require high quality food in the correct amount to support optimal health. Since dogs living outside burn more calories, their meal sizes should be larger.

Clean water should be supplied for the dog and replaced as needed throughout the day. Water will often freeze, making it difficult for the dog’s hydration needs to be met, so regular monitoring of this is important. 

Do Dogs Thrive When Left Outdoors Alone?

Dogs are pack animals, and they crave social interaction. This can be provided through time spent with their humans outdoors as well as through other animals for companionship.

But simply doing their job and spending some time with their families or animal companions is not sufficient to keep the outdoor dog’s mind active. An important component of keeping an “outdoor dog” healthy is providing adequate physical and mental stimulation through toys, brain games, and even bones to chew on. Failure to provide these things can lead to the development of nuisance behaviors. 

How to Determine Whether or Not to Leave a Dog Outside

Each dog is an individual, and thus, it is important for each owner to consider their own dog’s personal preferences. If you happen to own a dog breed that loves being outside but lacks the coat for adequate protection, amendments can be made to help the dog be better prepared for winter conditions. Dog sweaters or jackets can assist with maintaining an optimal body condition while dog boots can help keep paw pads from cracking and splitting from the snow, ice, and salt. However, some breeds simply are not suited to outdoor living, and thus, outdoor time should be restricted to reasonable limits.

Dogs living outdoors should be confined to a fenced yard. A tether inhibits a dog’s ability to explore its environment, making outdoor time unpleasant for the dog. In many areas of the country, it is now illegal for a dog to be tied up outside.

Is it cruel to leave a dog outside? The answer is: that depends. There are a number of factors that should be considered before making this decision. However, if your dog spends any amount of time in the great outdoors, owners can help their pooches to remain comfortable by providing the essentials: food, water, and shelter.

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