Yes, baby, it’s cold outside.
OK, perhaps it’s not cold everywhere—naturally, it depends on what region of the country you’re in right now. But the point is that winter is almost here, and dogs around the country will soon feel the chill. These days, pets are more often than not beloved members of the household, meaning they spend most of their existence in the comfy confines of their masters’ homes. Still, many spend a great deal of time outdoors—and some may even reside in the doghouse, literally.
Yet, whether a dog is spending a mere hour a day romping around in the snow in 30 degree temps or entire nights nestled in a wooden shed in the backyard, there are some things that every pet owner should know and understand about leaving their pets outside.
With this in mind, Pet Business reached out to animal behavior consultant Darlene Arden to hear her thoughts on the subject of leaving dogs outdoors and what guidance retailers should be prepared to offer.
Pet Business: Is there a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how long a pet dog should be left outside the home?
Darlene Arden: No, there isn’t; although ideally, all dogs should be spending time indoors with their owners and family. For some dogs, it’s dangerous to be left out for any length of time. Small dogs, 21 lbs. and under, should only be out for short periods of time. Since they lose body heat more quickly than larger dogs, they need a warm coat or sweater, or raincoat in inclement weather. The same is true for any dog with a short hair coat, and definitely, for those with no body fat like the Whippet, Greyhound, Saluki, etc.
It’s just as dangerous to leave a dog in the cold as it is to leave a dog out on a very hot day—and that goes for any dog. Some dogs like Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies have coats that are made for very cold weather, but they still need to be with their people. The only dogs that can do fairly well on their own for extended periods of time are bred and raised to watch flocks, such as the Akbash Dog or the Maremma. Those are true working dogs, and are raised and trained very differently—but they, too, need human interaction. I think some people forget that dogs are living, breathing sentient beings. We must never lose sight of that.
PB: How should people determine what the right amount of time is?
DA: Think about how cold you would be if you had to stay outside with no protection. Dogs that are outside for any period of time should have a heated doghouse or some other safe structure. Depending upon the weather, dogs can get frostbite or heatstroke and sunburn. They need access to fresh water, and that means a dish that won’t freeze in the winter, and cold water in hot weather. Also, leaving a dog on a chain is animal cruelty. It also causes behavior problems. Dogs need toys and human interaction. It’s best if someone can get home during the day, check on the dog, and make sure he’s OK and has food, water, a snack and definitely some human interaction.
PB: What should retailers convey to customers who allow their dogs to stay outside for long periods of time?
DA: They need to explain that for the dog’s safety and comfort, as well as for his mental health. the dog will need certain things to help him cope with the elements, and he will definitely need time with his owner. Also, he should not be outside 24/7 and should spend time indoors with the family.
PB: How can retailers help pet owners protect their dogs when they are outdoors?
DA: They can ensure that the dog has a properly fitting warm coat or sweater—T-shirt in the summer—or raincoat, depending upon the weather. Boots may be helpful, as can Doggles in the summer to protect the eye from the sun’s ray; a heated water bowl in winter; and a safe, warm structure where the dog can get out of the elements.
They also need some input from the owner, so I would encourage a clicker training kit like Karen Pryor’s Getting Started Clicker Training for Dogs. All dogs need training and a positive association with the owner. In summer, the dog will need a water bowl that stays cold as long as possible. Dogs need toys, no chains. Do not tie the dog up. Have a safe, real fence around the backyard, so the dog can’t escape.
PB: Are there any types of products on the market that might be useful in this regard?
DA: There are some nice coats that go on all four feet and close with Velcro on the top. [Other things to keep handy include] Doggles, special water dishes, sturdy toys, an interactive puzzle toy or two to keep the dog’s mind active and keep him busy. A food dispenser toy will also keep the dog active.
Dogs moved into the home from the farms a long time ago. They are part of the family and need to be treated like the family members they are. Pet business owners can make this point while providing some of the newer positive toys and equipment, helping owners move forward into a kinder, gentler world and a better human-animal bond. This should always be our goal.
Darlene Arden, an award-winning writer, lecturer and author of The Irrepressible Toy Dog and The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventive Care for Dogs, is an internationally recognized authority on toy dogs and their care, and a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant.
Darlene has written hundreds of articles and columns for all of the major dog and cat publications, as well as newspapers and general interest publications.
A former member of Dog Writers’ Association of America, Inc., and former director of the Cat Writers’ Association and a member of Boston Authors, Darlene is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Maxwell Award, the Muse Medallion, and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals/American Humane Education Society’s Media Award for veterinary writing and animal welfare.
She also writes celebrity profiles and travel features, is a frequent guest on radio and television, and she produces and hosts her own cable television show, Creatively Speaking.