Winter Accommodations for Our Dogs

By Ryan Eder

The winter months here in the Midwest can pose threats to the comfort and health of our dogs, especially when they live out in the kennel. I personally have my dogs in the house, but definitely like to give them adequate time outdoors in the kennel as well. This time outdoors helps keep their coats current, and allows for natural shedding and undercoat growth based on the time of year. There is also a small part of me that appreciates the shedding taking place outdoors rather than the floors of my home. Getting our dogs accustomed to cooler temps (even in small increments) is better than a constant seventy degrees in the house, particularly for my retrievers that spend a fair amount of time in the duck blind and goose fields in November and December.

Wind
It is amazing how hardy sporting dogs are and what conditions they can withstand. Wind is the one element that makes withstanding winter conditions nearly impossible. Keeping our dogs out of the wind can be done several ways. Having an indoor portion of your kennel (garage or out-building) where the dog is protected from wind is also a great option, but not possible for all of us. At minimum, an insulated dog house that is sealed from the outdoor elements is a must (especially for dogs living 100% outdoors). Some outdoor dog houses are equipped with electric heaters built in.

There are points in the year; especially when temperatures are below freezing or worse yet, below zero that I feel your dog should not be outdoors all day and night. Try to crate them in your garage, basement, utility room or some space where it is insulated and out of the elements.

If your kennel is not setup to do so, then it becomes necessary to look at ways to block wind from your kennel. To start, figure out where the majority of the wind comes from (here in the Midwest, it is the west wind that brings our weather typically). This means that ideal kennel placement is not on the west side of a structure. For kennels out in the open, it may be a good idea to have a fence on the west side of your kennel (in addition to the kennel panels) to help block wind. It is easy to place and fasten a tarp over the fence for more efficient wind blockage.

Eliminating wind from your kennel can be the difference of being safe for your dogs or not.

Temperature
Temperature and wind go hand in hand. Wind can just exaggerate temperature to be even harder to tolerate. Ultimately, different breeds of dogs are suited for temperature in different ways. Some have double coats (Labradors, Chesapeakes, etc) and some breeds have short, single coats (English Pointers, German Shorthair Pointers, etc.). Coat density is not the sole factor that determines how a dog can handle temperature. The overall health of a dog matters, as well as their nutritional status and of course the length of time the dog is exposed to the colder temperatures.

As mentioned previously, if your dog is in a shelter of some kind that protects them from wind, and gives them some kind of bedding to nestle in and get warm, they can withstand some of the harshest winter temperatures we encounter here in the Midwest. Below zero temperatures are not large concerns if your dog can be in a very well-sealed and insulated dog house, or the garage. The best option is still to crate dogs in the house during the night so that they are warm and you never have to worry. Treat temperature the same as wind; find ways to get your dog out of it when they need to be. Some kind of insulated shelter and bedding is the minimum. Ideal bedding can be straw, kennel mats, or even blankets. Keep in mind that bedding needs to be cleaned regularly (I recommend daily if possible) because moisture and bacteria are health hazards to your dog.

Flooring and Drainage
It is probably safe to say that concrete is a favorite for kennel flooring. For many reasons, it is preferred. The winter conditions however are where concrete’s negatives become more exposed. Water and urine will freeze on concrete. During the day, if the outdoor concrete is exposed to sunlight it may melt the snow or ice, but at night it re-freezes. Frozen ice or urine on concrete is not ideal for a few reasons; it can tear your dog’s pads, as well as make it easier to slip and injure themselves. Concrete can work very well, but it will require regular maintenance such as shoveling or snow-blowing, as well as chipping ice. Keep in mind; you may not be able to hose off the outdoor concrete because the water will freeze (if you have running water nearby during this time of the year). If it is possible to cover your outdoor portion of your run, you could minimize snow. The downside is that you may block sunlight, which helps breakdown some of the mess during peak daytime hours. Concrete should have a pitch to it for drainage “runoff”. If not, water will collect and freeze during the winter.

Gravel is another popular outdoor kennel floor. Gravel drains very well, and can be easily cleaned and raked smooth for optimal conditions. The worry about hurting your dog’s pads is reduced on gravel. Personally, while gravel does have its benefits, I have seen too many dogs dig through gravel and cause a mess or even get out. Choose a flooring system that works best for you and your dogs.

At the end of the day, giving your dog(s) the ability to escape from wind, cold temperatures and the overall elements of the outdoors is critical to keeping them healthy and content in a kennel setting. We all have our own circumstances that dictate how we can best care for our dogs. For me, I am fortunate enough to have a job close to home, so I am able to keep my dogs in the garage during the day (60 degrees) in extra-large crates. My schedule allows the dogs to be let outside 6-7 times per day with adequate exercise and they spend the evenings indoors with the family. For others, a kennel that allows both indoor and outdoor areas for dogs is best. Make sure no matter what you do, you minimize your dog’s exposure to extremely cold temperatures and wind, and have a surface that can be cleaned regularly and reduce hazards to your dog.