Should You Allow Your Dog To Sleep Outside?

If you want to tick off an animal lover, ask them if it’s ever okay for dogs to sleep outside.

Animal people are dogmatic (forgive the pun).

A pet is forever. Always scoop your poop. Spay and neuter. Dogs belong indoors.

I’m not complaining. When it comes to protecting those who can’t speak up for themselves, it’s good to have strong principles.

But are those “rules” about caring for animals always right? Or are there exceptions?

Dogs Who Sleep Outside

You probably get the same image that I do when you think of dogs sleeping outside: a dog chained to their house suffering from lack of attention or worse.

But does that mean dogs should never sleep outdoors? Or is it fine for sled dogs, farm dogs who want to watch their charges, and even companion dogs to sleep outside under the right conditions? And what are the right conditions?

Outside Dogs Need Company

Dogs are social animals. Like humans, they don’t thrive if they spend too much time alone. Even introverts need company sometimes.

That said, not all dogs need the same kind of companionship. Some dogs are independent. They take companionship on their own terms. Others are happy with other species, like  guard dogs raised with the sheep they’ll spend their lives with.

A Great Pyrenees who guards a flock of sheep might be okay sleeping outside.

So a dog living outside in isolation? That’s cruel. But maybe a dog living outdoors with company of one sort or another is fine.

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Outside Dogs Need Protection

Humans live indoors for protection. Walls and roofs keep us safe from predators (here in the developed world, I guess that would be cable companies and hedge fund operators?). They protect us from extreme heat and chilling cold. And they shelter us from the sun and wind.

Sure, some dogs have insulating, double-fur coats and teeth that serve as weapons. But they need to be safe.

The minimum is a sturdy barrier that keeps wild animals away and a well insulated house they can always reach.

Outside Dogs Need Food and Water

Change that. Fresh food and water. Every day. With someone checking often to make sure water bowls haven’t spilled, frozen, or evaporated.

Outside Dogs Need A Clean Living Area

The reason dogs are so easy to house train is because they don’t like living in their own filth.

If bad weather keeps us from cleaning Honey’s favorite potty spot in the back yard for a couple of days, she gets unhappy. Can you imagine how a dog must feel confined to a place where he can’t get away from his own waste?

So yes, even in your own backyard find an easy way to scoop that poop.

Honey the golden retriever puppy would be okay to sleep outside with her favorite dog playmate.

I’d sleep outside with you, big boy.

Outside Dogs Need Stimulation

This is the big one.

Since I work with home buyers every day, I hear lots of people tell me they’re looking for a big yard for their dog to play in.

Do they really think their dog will amuse himself and they won’t need to train, walk, or play with him?

Some dogs will entertain themselves in the yard. My golden retriever Honey likes to roll in the snow and run zoomies in the yard. Beagles and other hounds are great at sniffing up critters. And some dogs love to dig.

But most dogs, if left outside on their own, will eventually find themselves standing outside your door begging to be let back inside.

All dogs (like humans) must work their brains. Just because they’re outside, doesn’t mean they’re doing that.

Feeding your dog from a food dispensing toy will slow him down and stimulate his brain.

Dogs Sleeping Outside – Done Right

When I was a child, my dog slept outdoors. Chained to a dog house so he didn’t escape.

My family did a lot of things wrong when it came to dogs. But my first dog, Duchess, was warm, well fed, and had lots of company and stimulation because I played with him every day.

He was my best friend.

Today, many of us think dogs sleeping outdoors is backwards. It doesn’t fit what we know about dogs as companions.

But it works for some dogs.

My friend lived with Alaskan malamutes for two decades. When the humans were at work, the dogs lived outside in an area protected by a very secure and tall fence.

An Alaskan malamute sleeps outdoors.

After work, the dogs kept the people company while they did their evening chores. If sunlight and weather permitted, everyone took a long, off-leash walk across acres of woods and open fields. And in the evening, dogs and humans gathered in the living room to relax.

By bed time, the dogs were panting. The small wood stove made the living room uncomfortably hot for two dogs with such thick coats. So the dogs returned to their outdoor areas to sleep.

The two dogs had each other for company. They had a protected area with shade in the summer and cozy straw (or snow) to insulate them in the winter. They had high quality food and fresh water. Their person cleaned up after them every day. And they found each other, their humans, and their surroundings very stimulating.

So is it okay for dogs to sleep outside?

I think so. But only if they have all five of the necessities I mentioned. Every day. Not just sometimes. Or even most of the time.

And only if your individual dog is suited to sleeping outside.

Maybe your dog comes from a long line of guard dogs. Or has litter mates who are mushing in the Yukon. But if she gets frightenend by weird noises or is especially attached to her people, her breed or heritage don’t matter. And neither does the beauty of the outside house you’ve built for her. She should be inside with you.

But if you decide it’s okay for your dog to sleep outside, you might even decide to join him yourself and enjoy sleeping under the stars with your very best friend.

Note: Almost every day someone comes to Something Wagging after searching for the answer to their question, “Is it okay for dogs to sleep outside?” Whether they’re asking for themselves or because they see dogs in their neighborhood sleeping outside, I hope my list of 5 necessities for a dog sleeping outdoors is helpful. If you found it helpful, please share this post to help it get to the people asking themselves if it’s okay for dogs to sleep outdoors. The icons below will let you share to Facebook, Twitter, etc. instantly. Post updated November 2017.

Your Turn: Do you ever think it’s acceptable for a dog to sleep outside? 

photo credits: (dog on house) Dan Harrelson via photopin cc, (Great Pyrenees with sheep) donjd2 via photopin cc, (Alaskan malamute) Jazzi*Beee via photopin cc

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  1. Obviously the princess Roxy NEVER would, nor Torrey for that matter. But I have a friend with two aussies who live outside. Mostly on their back deck. They have each other, and a nice fenced yard. She brings them in sometimes but they prefer outside. Works for them.

  2. I live in a semi-rural area and many people leave their dogs outside. I almost feel like we’re the oddballs because Bailey lives indoors for the most part. It generally breaks my heart to see these dogs outside all day, every day, especially because I live in a subdivision not on a farm where working dogs would make more sense. But I think I’d feel better about it if people did provide everything their dogs need. Bailey spent weeks 4-7 living outside with her mom and litter mates. She was warm and sheltered but it didn’t make me any less worried about her during those weeks. On nice days, she spends a good chunk of the day outside in our yard, sometimes napping in the sun. At night though, she’s nestled in our bed.

  3. I do believe the circumstances and the owner make all the difference in how that question is answered.

    My dogs would never be happy left outside over night. Nor would my neighbors, when Wilson (an OCD watchdog is ever there was one!) alert-barked at every snapping twig, owl hoot, and passing critter. But a daytime nap in the yard is something both boys delight in! On a cool day and a sunny spot, they are in heaven!

  4. I agree with you Pamela. I think some dogs like to sleep outside–thinking in particular of dogs bred for cooler climates, who enjoy feeling the fresh breeze and collecting their thoughts under starry sky. But only if they have the essentials you listed.

    And I also agree that us dog people can be a bit dog-matic!

  5. I think Taryn’s comment was dead on to my way of thinking.

    Before Sampson came home, his owner had the Mama and her 10 puppies outside in a shed that had a kennel attached to it. I’m pretty sure after the puppies were a certain age that’s where they lived. It was a large piece of land, the house was set back and they were safe from predators. I’m pretty sure that is what helped give Sampson his love of the outdoors. Neither one of my dogs have ever shown interest in sleeping outside, but if they did and I thought they were safe, I think it would be okay. Of course, I’d be a nervous wreck….

  6. I agree! As long as they’re set up well, and happy with it (I’m sure outside life is just a little too intense or anxiety ridden, or for destructive dogs, not a good idea), a dog could be fine outside. 2 Brown Dawgs (, for example, have an awesome set up for outdoor living!

    Alma’s travels with the Husband have afforded a location with a doggy door, and she spends a lot more time outside when able to come and go as she pleases, including long naps and sometimes sleeping at night – she’s comfortable out there and likes cooler weather. But she continues to come back inside regularly to check in, get a drink, get some love. She’s pretty social.

    When we let Moses and Alma outside, they might hang out, do some business, play, sniff around, but within half an hour they’re both on the deck sleeping or staring in the house wanting to hang out with us. I don’t think either of them would be happy as outdoor-only dogs, even though they’re physically prepared for it even in a blizzard. (Summer is absolutely out of the question – they need water and airconditioning, no exceptions!)

  7. I believe I don’t have the right to tell another how their dog should live, provided the needs you mentioned are met. I know some dogs that live outdoors that (I think) are much better off than some dogs that live inside. Rumpy would probably love it, but it’s not safe for him to do so.

  8. As you said, it depends on the situation. We have a finished walk out basement, and that is where our doggy door is. I knew two of my dogs were not on the main level with me. I looked out back through my kitchen window, and they both were laying on their sides, in the snow, asleep. It was 13 degrees F outside. They are both northern breed mixes, and I knew they were comfortable. Like your friends’ dogs, they will pant inside during the winter. I have been accused by friends of “letting them freeze”, but they have a doggy door, and choose to be outside.

    Thank you for writing this.

  9. There are outside dogs everywhere around here, and as you pointed out, there are wrong ways and right ways of doing it! I think if someone adheres to your main principles, then by all means… an outside dog who is taken care of is probably in a lot better shape than if he were turned into the shelter (or, worse, not adopted OUT of the shelter because he may be an outside dog). The flip side, of course, is when people don’t care for their dogs. Honestly, if we would let him (and I won’t!) Lucas would sleep outside by choice most nights. When the weather is just right, it’s seriously pulling tail to get him to come inside for bed!

  10. Yes, I do, and I think some dogs prefer it. Even when the weather conditions are extreme, there are some dogs who want to be outside, but that doesn’t mean I would choose to let them do so. Heck, there are some times when I would prefer to sleep outside, so I can’t blame a dog for wanting that sometimes, too!

  11. In my opinion — and obviously most others’ opinion as well — it depends on the situation. When Callie and Shadow were young dogs (and both Sam and I were working), they spent their days out in the back yard. Before we had even brought Callie home, Sam had built her a nice, big dog house with a covered porch. And that house was big enough still for both girls even full-grown. Callie used to love napping on that porch. We had a big metal bucket that I filled every morning. And on hot days, I came home at lunchtime and refilled it. We also have a utility building in the back that sits on cement blocks on one side. They used to go under the building and curl up in the cool dirt if it got too hot in the shade of the trees. But, as soon as I got home from work, I brought the girls inside with me and except for potty breaks, they remained in the house with us until morning. I’ve already told you about our one neighbor’s dog, so I won’t go there. Anyway, I used to take the girls to daycare at the PetSmart near work one day a week, but it got expensive and it was a pain to get there in the morning. So, I found a pet sitter. Jennifer would come twice a day to play with the girls. And on rainy, cold, or exceptionally hot days, I would leave them in the house in between Jennifer’s visits. That way I didn’t worry about them being outside in miserable weather and I knew that Jennifer would call me if one of the girls needed medical treatment. (They never did, but I had that piece of mind.) She called and left me a message on my cellphone each time she arrived at the house. Sometimes she would send me picture messages of the dogs with “Hi Mom!” as the caption.

  12. My dog is definitely too social/clingy to sleep outside – I love having a yard for playing in, but if i’m not out there, he takes care of his business and demands re-entry.

    my neighbour’s hunting dogs always lived outside, though – for the same reasons as the malamutes your friend owns. Once they were old enough, they’d move to their dog-run with an indoor area that could be heated (but kept at a lower temperature than the house, which they found too hot) in winter, and cooled in summer.

    great post

  13. When we adopted our dalmatian, we had to sign a contract that said we would never leave her outside in temps below 40 degrees (F). Back in the day, our dal and yellow lab *would* stay outside during the day while we were at work, as weather allowed, but never at night. Where we live now, that would be too dangerous (predators), so our dogs are only outside if we are home — and in old age now, only outside if we are with them.

  14. I know a woman who has 6 or 7 Australian Shepherds and some of them prefer to sleep in the barn with her horses. Not technically outside, but not in the house. She lets them choose if they’re coming in or staying out. I think it’s the opposite of cruel, because she’s accepting them and not trying to turn them into something they’re not.

    Our dogs sleep in the house, but the house is too hot some days for Rodrigo so I put him outside for periods of time so that he can cool down. He prefers to stay inside with us and his siblings, but appreciates the breaks.