If you must keep your dog outdoors, construct an excellent dog house and kennel based on considerations of your dog’s breed, age, health status, your climate and environment, and safety and health features. Schedule daily activities so that your dog doesn’t become depressed or frustrated, leading to difficult behaviors.
It is now a well-established fact that dogs are social, pack-oriented animals who thrive on human companionship and are happiest while living indoors as part of the family. When you bring a new dog into your family, the dog learns to view your family members and your other pets as his or her pack. Everything proceeds well as long as your dog is content with his or her place in the pack. Many behavior problems can be avoided with a little extra effort or training to make the dog comfortable with this position.
The most devastating thing the leader of a pack can do is to isolate an individual from the pack to solve a problem; different problem behaviors will likely arise. The dog might become profoundly depressed or anxious. Nuisance barking is common among dogs kept outdoors. Also, a lonely, isolated dog might disassociate from the family pack and cease to be watchful or protective of the family. You must schedule daily play time or take daily walks. Engage in a new activity with your dog such as nose work.
Keeping your dog outdoors creates some risk
First and foremost, Sunbear Squad does not support the chaining of dogs in any form, as the practice is not humane and is fraught with problems. Read the “Unchain Your Dog” fact page here for more on this subject. If you do not have a securely-fenced yard, then a large pen or kennel can be erected around your dog house to protect him or her without chaining. Think for just a moment how frustrated you would feel if someone whom you viewed as your leader secured you by a chain to your neck in such a fashion that you could not remove it and rejoin the pack? This is exactly how a chained dog feels! Frustration can develop into aggression and jumping, mouthing, or biting behaviors may develop, especially among younger, unfixed dogs. This is a recipe for disaster for all concerned.
If there is a compelling reason for housing your dog outdoors, please do so responsibly and in compliance with all local and state laws and regulations. Daily interaction is required. Police dogs kept outdoors have daily scheduled activities and training with their human partners. People who keep performance sled dogs in arctic conditions spend many hours conditioning and playing with their dogs so they are comfortable with their position and accept their human companions as pack leaders. Farm dogs from our collective history were engaged with farm activities and family all day long, collapsing tiredly in the hay pile in the barn at night along with the other animals.
Don’t simply set up a dog house for your pet and then forget about him or her. While the dog might have shelter, depriving your pet of daily time with his or her pack is emotional neglect and a safety risk. Even individual dogs who are happier outdoors for hours should not be put out in the backyard without frequent visits and safety checks.
If you must house your dog outside part- or full-time for any reason, there are a few things to take into consideration for the well-being and safety of your pet.
Consider your dog’s physical limitations, your local environment, and your climate:
- Is he or she a short-haired breed that would be affected by cold weather more than a breed with a longer, thicker coat? Insulation is critical. (Or vice versa, when dealing with hot weather climates, where ventilation is critical.) Young dogs, dogs with medical conditions such as diabetes, and senior dogs are less tolerant of weather extremes.
- Dogs with short noses such as boxers, pugs, and pit bulls are less tolerant of heat and direct sun.
- Dogs with short hair can develop severe sunburns and skin cancers.
- What are the challenges of your region’s environment? Do you have predators in your area? Raccoons can be very clever at breaking into your dog house to steal food. Remember, some predators like owls can fly away with smaller dogs. Wild dogs or coyotes can also be threats to your dog by digging under pen walls.
- You may need to bring your outdoor dog inside during times of inclement weather — hot or cold or wet — to keep them safe. Always stay informed about weather changes, alerts and watches! Build a kennel in a dry corner of your basement for times like these, if your dog is not allowed in primary living areas.
Design features that will help your dog stay safe and healthy:
- Wood dog houses should be constructed of quality UNTREATED wood (or purchase molded, insulated plastic dog houses made especially for the purpose). Metal is bad because it conducts cold and heat and will not help to maintain comfortable temperatures. Pressure-treated wood contains toxic chemicals; your dog will get sick.
- Dog houses should be large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around comfortably, but small enough to retain the dog’s body heat. Design additional height for installing a ceiling-mounted heat-lamp in the coldest climates or a fan in the hottest climates.
- For warmth in winter, a dark roof will absorb heat from the sun.
- For ventilation in summer, a roofed, open-side porch can help your dog take advantage of breezes. Consider adding ventilation slots near the peak of the roof in humid climates.
- A hinged roof provides access for cleaning the dog house. Remember, insect pests will invade your dog house if you don’t clean it. These pests can cause serious illnesses. Use safe cleaning agents; small spaces and toxic chemicals will make your dog sick.
- In a sturdy wall screw in an eye-bolt, or hanging on a chain-link fence, secure your dog’s water bucket handle with a hook, to prevent it from being accidentally knocked over. Lack of water can be deadly on hot days.
- If your dog is inclined to gnaw on wood, you may need to cover corners and entrance edges with metal (dry wall corner strips) to prevent damage. Small holes will invite mice and snakes. Use caulk to close any small openings.
Siting your dog house properly:
- Put the dog house near your busiest entry door, so you can keep an eye on your dog’s well-being and where you can give head scratches as you pass. Make sure you can easily see your dog from a window of a frequently-occupied room such as a kitchen. He or she will feel less alone.
- Wooden dog houses should be raised a few inches off of the ground to prevent rotting and keep out rain puddles that promote mange. Flat concrete blocks are an easy way to raise a dog house.
- Make sure you can move the dog house to a different spot if needed. Your dog might need stout protection from wind in winter, but need extra shade in summer. A few feet one way or another might make a big difference.
- Dog house openings should face away from the North and West to avoid the cold wind and rain that blows in from those directions. (i.e. they should face towards the rising sun in the morning.)
- A dog house isn’t the same thing as shade. The inside of a dog house gets mighty hot in summer! Provide shade by siting the house under mature trees or hanging a tarp the dog can get under. You can purchase and plant large-sized, fast growing shrubs too.
How to make your dog house more comfortable:
- Line your dog house generously with cedar chips or straw in the winter so your dog will have a warm bed. (Cedar chips are preferable to other chips because they are less likely to rot and they don’t contain mites.) If you use hay instead of straw and it gets wet and soggy, spread it in the sun on a sunny day to dry it out. Hay is too absorbent; use straw if possible.
- Blankets are bad because they become damp or wet and they retain moisture. Wet, frozen blankets will only cause your dog to freeze! Humidity from wet blankets inside the dog house can also encourage mold growth and rotting of the wood. Straw is best.
- To protect the dog from winter winds, the door should be covered with a plastic flap. You can use a car mat, a piece of plastic carpet runner (you can buy this by the foot at home improvement stores), or even a piece of carpet. An interior partial partition that provides an additional barrier can be helpful in cold, windy climates.
- In cold climates, consider purchasing and using an electric-heat dog bed and electric-heat water bucket. Young, senior, and compromised dogs will especially benefit from these but all dogs will appreciate having them when the bitter winds blow.
- Be sure to provide plenty of water in summer and a baby pool filled with water for cooling off.
- Well-designed larger dog houses can shelter two dogs together, if they are friends. This accommodates better the outside dogs’ social needs.
- Plastic travel crates for dogs and metal wire crates for dogs are not dog houses, even temporarily. Travel crates are not insulated, so they will not help to maintain a healthy body temperatures. Neither will dog tents. Neither will old cars or trucks!
- Metal wire crates are designed for indoor use only.
- Insulated dog boxes designed for travel can be useful in some climates, but ceilings are too low to add heat lamps. Fatal fires will result.
- To increase the insulation of your dog’s house in very cold temperatures stack 6 bales of straw in a U-shape around the sides and back of the dog’s house. Make the stack high enough to reach the top of the dog house. Place a weather-treated sheet of ¾ inch plywood over the top. Tuck additional loose straw up over the roof of the house. The straw will insulate against the wind and cold and the plywood will keep the straw from getting wet. It will also make a nice platform that your dog will enjoy standing on. If it’s in a pen make sure that it’s not close enough to the sides that the dog will be able to jump over the fence! (Thanks to Virginia Humane Living Center’s PAWS of Central Virginia.)