Dog in the snow

Q. My neighbors have a big dog who stays outside, even in winter. I have one of those "igloo" doghouses left in my yard by a previous tenant and I was thinking of taking it over to them. How should I handle it?

A. Up here where I live, in extreme northern Idaho, we see plenty of outdoor dogs who survive winter with no difficulty when their owners provide for them properly. Leaving aside the issue of whether dogs should be left outdoors full-time at all — this isn’t your dog to decide for, after all — many dogs can adapt to the physical challenges of life outdoors. The exceptions, in general, are small dogs, old or chronically ill dogs, and dogs with a naturally lean build, such as Greyhounds.

Many larger dogs such as Huskies, but even those with less fur, generally have no problem dealing with winter, as long as they have a few key things:

  • Protection from the elements. Most important is for any animal (people, too!) to be able to stay dry and out of the wind.
  • An adequate supply of nutritious food. Food fuels the furnace, and animals who spend time outside need more to eat than similar pets with indoor lifestyles. (But that doesn’t mean any pet should be fat. A healthy weight — neither too thin nor too fat — is best, indoor or out.)
  • A constant supply of clean, unfrozen water. The water source should be protected from the elements or heated to prevent freezing.
I’m not sure what kind of setup your neighbors’ dog has, but letting them know what the pet needs to stay warm is a great start, as is your offer of an Igloo-style shelter. For a dog to get the most out of a shelter, it needs to be the proper size (not much bigger than the dog, so the animal’s body heat isn’t wasted but large enough that the dog can turn around inside it comfortably) and set up so it’s out of the wind and not in a place likley to flood. It needs insulation inside as well, and that doesn’t need to be expensive: Hay has long been used to help animals stay warm.

I’m hoping for the sake of both the dog and your future relationship with your neighbors that they accept your gift and suggestions in the spirit of helping their pet. If it’s not well-received or is refused, and you believe the dog is being deprived of adequate care, I encourage you to contact your local humane authorities for help getting the dog the care he needs to survive.