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.
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.
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.
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?
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