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Selecting a Dog House and What You Should Know Before You Shop

Updated on November 12, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.

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How To Provide Proper Winter Housing For Your Outdoor Dog

Unless you live on the beach of Brazil, or some other warm clime, you need to be concerned about winter housing for your dog that spends a lot of time outdoors.

If your dog does spend a lot of time outdoors, you should provide a suitable shelter--perhaps not quite as elaborate as the digs in the above picture--but something to keep him warm, dry and comfortable.

First, a word about science vs. emotion. We tend to rationalize; “if it’s not right for me, it’s not right for my dog.”

That’s a nice thought and usually not a bad doctrine to guide you, but sometimes it just doesn’t apply to animal husbandry.

Through a phenomenon termed "the humanization of pets," we’ve elevated the status of pets to that of full family member, and that’s a good thing.

But we have to temper that with the reality that creature comforts aren’t always best for the creatures, no matter how much it goes against our sense of decency.

The needs of animals are primitive compared to our needs, and they're naturally adapted to their primitive needs. That's why laws regarding minimum standards of husbandry always seem to be inadequate to us.

Sometimes the things we impose upon our dogs, out of concern for their comfort or safety, actually may compromise those very things.

With that in mind, let’s talk about dog houses.

Solid pine, off-center door, tongue-in-groove construction, asphalt shingles and a "squirrel eating corn" roof ornament.  Who could ask for anything more?
Solid pine, off-center door, tongue-in-groove construction, asphalt shingles and a "squirrel eating corn" roof ornament. Who could ask for anything more?

Select A Dog House With The Door Off Center

Rule #1 for dog houses in colder climates: the door should be off center. This enables the dog to get in and away from the wind and wind-blown precipitation.

The wind separates the dog's fur, exposing the skin and setting up the conditions for hypothermia and frostbite.

We owned a feed and grain store and partnered with a local woodworker who crafted solid pine dog houses (pictured above) for us to sell.

They featured off center door, tongue-in-groove construction (kept the structure nice and tight for years), and asphalt shingled roofs.

What's The Best Bedding?

Here’s an instance where my “science vs. emotion” comment comes into play. We’re inclined to cover the dog house floor with plush carpeting, huge pillows or dog beds to ensure a comfortable and warm substrate.

In cold weather, those “creature comforts” become frozen mattresses as your dog’s breath condenses and freezes on them.

Your dog also brings in moisture from the outside if precipitation is falling or the ground is covered with snow, and that soaks those surfaces and freezes, too.

In my opinion the best bedding is straw…not hay, straw.

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Why Hay Doesn't Make Good Bedding For Dog Houses

Hay is great for bunnies to eat, but not a good substrate for dog houses. It's dusty, doesn't insulate well and the seed heads (seen in the lower right corner of the picture below) create plant debris that can irritate allergies and get into the dogs' ears and noses.

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What Does Straw Have In Common With Polar Bears?

Adult male polar bears weigh up to 1,500 pounds and are covered with fur, yet they can float like a beach ball. That’s partly because their fur is hollow.

It’s also not white, but opaque, which reflects light, giving it a white appearance. But I digress.

Their hollow fur helps make them buoyant by trapping air, and that same trapped air also provides excellent insulation to help them maintain body temperature.

Straw, being hollow, works the same way. The dog’s body heat further warms that trapped air, providing a warmer layer between the dog and the floor.

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Should You Place A Flap Over The Entrance?

I’ve known people to hang a drape or plastic sheeting from the top of the doorway for the purpose of allowing the dog access while holding in the heat. I don’t believe it works that way and vote for no doorflap.

It can hold in the moisture generated by the dog’s condensed breath. Being less able to evaporate, his breath creates a damp environment. Not only is that more uncomfortable, but it can also accelerate the breakdown of the wood, taking a little off the life expectancy of the structure.

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Dogs That Are Outdoors Need More Food

Dogs that spend a lot of time out of doors in cold weather can require as much as 25% more calorie content to maintain body temperature, depending upon the harshness of the weather.

You can give him more food, or, for the winter months, switch him over to a high performance formulation of kibble.

They usually provide around 30% protein and 20% fat compared to a usual 26/14 or thereabouts.

They’re basically puppy food without the extra calcium and certain other nutrients that puppies need. If you did that you probably wouldn’t have to give him as much extra.

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Things To Consider About Dogs And Winter Weather

  • Remember that dogs are naturally adapted to live out of doors. Have you noticed that on a crisp November day, they’ll still jump in a lake or pool as if it’s summertime? And what dog doesn't love a romp through chest-deep snow?
  • Although they can tolerate the weather better than we mere humans can, they're not indestructible. The fact remains that under certain conditions they can suffer frostbite or hypothermia, too. In hot weather, they can likewise suffer heat exhaustion, heat stroke and sunburn.
  • All dogs benefit from wearing a blanket or sweater in cold weather, and boots when walking on icy surfaces, but not all dogs will readily accept clothing. If your dog does, all the better.
  • Snowbanks along the road present a special danger that pet owners should be aware of. If you let your dog roam the neighborhood for a few minutes while out for a nature call, just keep in mind that drivers won’t be able to see him if he enters the road from a side street or driveway. Because of that same reduced visibility, your dog may not be aware of cars approaching from either direction.
  • Be mindful of the ice melting products you use on walks and driveways. Some can be toxic if ingested or corrosive to pads, while others are formulated to be pet safe and environmentally friendly. If your dog walks through any ice melting product, be sure to wash his pads right after the walk.

© 2012 Bob Bamberg

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    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks for stopping by, Patty. That shepherd incident had to be a heartbreaker for everyone. Was the owner charged? Thanks for commenting and validating the points I was making. Regards, Bob

      Hey, DrMark, welcome back. I was beginning to wonder if there was another attack of mother board hypersalinity.

      Yeah, that was some cold snap you guys had! The Weather Channel sent Al Roker down there to cover it and he was all bundled up in a long-sleeved shirt. He reported that there was plenty of milk and bread in the stores, but that you couldn't beg, borrow or steal a pair of flannel pantyhose anywhere!

      I'll bet you weren't surprised that your Huskies declined to use the doghouses. That's sort of like asking a camper to use the Holiday Inn.

      Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comments. Regards, Bob

      Hi wetnosedogs, good to see you again. I'm with you...I can't stand the winters either. My wife loves 'em. She likes the sound of the snow crunching beneath her feet. I like the high-pitched buzzing sound of cicadas (or heat bugs, as we called them as kids) on a 95 degree day and not a cloud in the sky.

      I have to admit, though, the older I get, the faster the winters fly by. It will be spring before we know it. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 5 years ago from Alabama

      One thing I don't miss from Wisconsin is winter! A few times in Alabama we have had a rare snow day. Of course, never a lot and it doesn't last. But my dogs love romping in that snow.

      Interesting things I have learned about the dog house.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      You should know that it was down to the 70s last week. My poor dog was shivering after her swim.

      Your article reminded me of when I raised Siberian Huskies. I built them all nice dogs houses, followed all your recommendations, and the dogs would never use them. They especially loved to sleep outside when it was snowing and the wind was howling!

      Interesting hub, as always!

    • Pages-By-Patty profile image

      Pages-By-Patty 5 years ago from Midwest

      Perfect hub for this time of year, Bob! So glad to see you stress the importance of side entrances and straw. Nothing irks me more than a dog house with a big front door! Or a blanket for bedding!

      My first time volunteering for Habitat for Dogmanity, ACC brought in a shepherd who had frozen (and starved) to death in his own back yard. That's why my priorities are with Indy Feral and F.I.D.O. (Friends of Indy Dogs Outside) as animals simply cannot survive the great outdoors by themselves...unless they're Polar Bears! :)