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17 Things to Remember When Keeping Dogs Outside in Winter

Written By: James Rhys Clarke -Nov 21, 2017

Winter is just around the corner and sadly, that means a lot of dogs being left out in the cold. There are many things that you need to consider when keeping dogs outside in winter. This article will also discuss the reasons that we do not recommend keeping any pets outdoors 100% of the time in the winter months.

Whether your dog spends 10 minutes or 10 hours outside, there are things that you need to take into consideration. Before you plan any outside time for Fido, you need to think about the temperature outside, the weather condition and whether or not your dog is physically able to spend long periods of time outdoors in these conditions.

If your canine companion is:

- a senior

- a small or teacup breed

- hairless or has a very thin coat

- …or they have a medical condition that makes them more susceptible to the cold, they should not be outdoors any more than necessary.

1. It is Possible for Your Dog to Freeze to Death

Keeping dogs outside in winter can lead to frostbite and hypothermia, but more importantly, they can freeze to death. Depending on if your dog has access to a well-insulated shelter and just how cold it is outdoors, and whether your dress up the pup in proper dog winter clothes, most dogs can freeze to death in minutes without protection.

PETA writes how for many dogs, 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. Don’t be a jerk, your dog is part of your family and should be given a warm home to sleep in during ALL seasons WITH his family members (that’s you!)

2. Even with Proper Housing Outdoors, Outdoor Dogs Get Sick More Often…Especially in Winter

Even when an “outside dog” is given outdoor housing with insulation, they are exposed to more extreme conditions than dogs kept inside homes. Fluctuations in temperature and the desire to seek out companionship mean that your dog is exposed to frigid temperatures regularly.

These temperatures force the body to work harder to stay warm and can take a toll on your dog’s circulatory and immune system. Elderly, young, or immune-compromised dogs are particularly at risk for developing illness as a result of exposure to the cold.

3. Like Any Animal, Your 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. Avoid this happening by treating your dog as a member of the family and keeping them indoors!

4. Unhappy Dogs Will Vocalize

Have you ever heard that “annoying” barking dog in the neighborhood? That’s what happens when a dog becomes bored, lonely, or in need. Leaving your dog outside in winter will result in your dog becoming one of those “annoying dogs” too.

Your dog will vocalize for exercise and stimulation, but they will also vocalize because they are uncomfortable and cold and because they are LONELY! Keep your dog indoors with you and stop that nuisance barking that’s driving your neighbor’s crazy.

5. You Are 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) they won’t hesitate to act.

In the best instances, these individuals will contact the authorities who will contact you with specific requests. In other instances, angry neighbors may steal your dog or vandalize your property to show their anger.

6. Your Dog Is Far Removed From a Wolf

Dogs were domesticated a minimum of 10,000 years ago.

Let that sink in for a moment. That means that dogs have advanced with 10,000 years of evolution. During this time, dogs have become reliant on us, but they have also adjusted to domestic living. They are no longer equipped to 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. What does this mean? It means that when you claim that your dog is a “wolf” and can survive living outdoors, you’re a liar with little understanding of evolution.

7. Animal Abuse is Criminal

At the beginning of 2016, the FBI made animal cruelty a top tier felony. This means that IF you are found to be abusing your dog by failing to provide them with adequate care, companionship, shelter, and provisions, you can (and will) be prosecuted.


Having a felony on your criminal record can prevent you 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 negative effect on the rest of your life.

8. Outdoor Life is Dangerous For Others and Your Dog

Things to Know When Keeping Dogs Outside in WinterWhen you force your dog to live outdoors you are subjecting them to psychological torture. You are depriving them the social contact that they naturally crave, but you are also isolating them.

Think of a human being forced to live on the end of a chain, alone, year after year. Over time not only will they become resentful, but they will have no social skills, and begin to display symptoms of psychosis. Our dogs are no different.

Research shows that dogs who live life 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 Outdoors (Particularly in the Cold) Changes Your 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 (Particularly in the Cold) Changes Your Dog’s Physical Appearance

Things to Know When Keeping Dogs Outside in WinterKeeping 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 your dog’s increased use of energy to keep warm), poor skin or coat condition (from nervous chewing and exposure to the elements), and damage to sensory organs as the result of the cold.

Any one of these physical changes can open your dog up to infection or even death if left unaddressed. Keep your dog indoors and avoid inflicting this type of pain and stress on them.

11. Cold Weather is Exacerbated By Other Conditions

Ever heard the weather forecast mention “wind chill”? Wind chill is the effect of wind on the external temperature. For example, your 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 your dog must sleep. Snow too can stick in your dog’s coat and drop their temperature by leaching body heat. You can avoid cold weather and supplementary conditions from impacting your dog by keeping them indoors with you or providing other ways to keep them warm.

12. Your Dog’s Body Temperature is Around Four Degrees Higher Than Yours

When temperatures outside are cooler than your body temperature, your body must work harder to stay warm. If your body does not have access to the necessary energy to stay warm, then your body temperature will begin to drop.

Now, imagine that instead of 98.6˚, your body temperature is 102.5˚ and much smaller. This means that it will take more energy to maintain your body temperature and because you are smaller, any heat generated will dissipate 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

Things to Know When Keeping Dogs Outside in WinterFrostbite 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 the paws, tail, ears, and nose of a dog as a result of exposure to extreme 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 extremely 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 ALL Dogs Are Susceptible to Hypothermia

Did you know that all it takes for ANY dog to develop hypothermia is an outside temperature of 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 this weather it takes less than fifteen minutes for exhaustion or unconsciousness to set in and death can occur in just twenty minutes or less depending on body size.

During hypothermia, according to veterinarians (PDF), your dog’s body is losing heat faster than it can produce heat. This causes the body temperature to drop. Prolonged exposure causes the body temperature to continue dropping until the body is no longer able to maintain basic functions. At this point, death occurs.

15. You Are Going to Draw Attention From Local Authorities

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

READ THIS: WARNING – You Risk A Fine For A Pet Left Outside In the Cold

Local authorities are taking animal abuse more seriously than ever, so if you are looking to be seen as (and actually be) a “good citizen”, bring your dog indoors.

16. Your Dog Becomes a Fish in a Barrel for Hungry Predators

Depending on where you live, forcing your dog to live outdoors is akin to making them a fish in a barrel – particularly during winter. Imagine how many predators are wanting for food and energy during winter months when food supplies are scarce.

When you force your dog to live outdoors in winter, you are making them an easier target for those hungry predators. Add in to this the fact that your dog is weakened by the cold, and they simply don’t stand a chance.

17. You’re Setting a Terrible Example

Things to Know When Keeping Dogs Outside in WinterSome people choose to keep their dog outside 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.

Unfortunately, even bad habits are learned from parents. This means that keeping dogs outside in winter will teach your children that this is acceptable behavior…it isn’t! Leaving your dog outdoors is cruel, torturous, and inhumane; don’t let your children think that this type of behavior is acceptable.

The Bottom Line

As your dog’s guardian, it is your responsibility to provide them with their basic needs. To provide your dog with a truly happy home, however, it’s also important to provide for their more complex needs as well – this includes an indoor life with companionship! If you are looking to adopt a dog and intend to leave him outdoors in any weather, we urge you to reconsider. Life at the end of a chain is no life at all.


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