How to Build a Doghouse and What You Should Know Before Starting
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.
Here in the great Northeast, the wooly caterpillars and the squirrels gathering their nuts signal that it's time for us inhabitants to batten down the hatches for another New England winter.
If your dog spends 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.
Increasingly, 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, which is 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 things.
With that in mind, let’s talk about dog houses.
THE DOOR SHOULD BE 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 fur, exposing the skin and setting up the conditions for frostbite and hypothermia.
When we owned our feed and grain store, we partnered with a local woodworker who crafted solid pine dog houses (pictured at right) 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 KIND OF BEDDING IS BEST?
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.
A LESSON FROM OUR FRIEND THE POLAR BEAR
Adult males 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.
The main problem with hay is that it’s dusty, which can cause respiratory consequences, and the plant debris it creates can end up in noses and ears. And since it's not hollow, it doesn’t provide the insulation and cushioning feature that straw does.
It’s also usually more expensive than straw, unless you use “cow hay” or “construction hay” each of which is exceedingly dusty and usually moldy.
Don't let the seductive low prices of those hays compromise your good judgement. Neither should be used as pet bedding under any circumstances.
DOORFLAP OR NO DOORFLAP, THAT IS THE QUESTION
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 holds 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.
HE COULD USE A LITTLE MORE CHOW, TOO
Dogs that spend a lot of time out of doors can require as much as 25% more calorie content to maintain body temperature…depending upon the harshness of the weather, of course. You can give him more food, or, for the winter months, switch him over to a high performance formulation of kibble.
They usually provide 30% protein/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.
Just 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.
Short-haired dogs would be an exception in locations that experience cold, snowy winters, of course.
All dogs benefit from wearing a blanket or sweater, and boots when walking on icy surfaces, but not all dogs will readily accept clothing. If your dog does, he’s all the better off.
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.
By the same token your dog may not necessarily be aware of cars coming from either direction.
Also, the sheer novelty of the snow may keep your dog distracted enough that he could be injured or lose his way.