When does the dog need to come inside?
November 30, 2020 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Back in March, we ended up keeping this dog. We're now approaching our first winter. I am having a bit of trouble figuring out when she *really* needs to be let inside and out of the cold.

The dog in question is a 7 year old beauçercon, a working dog who has spent her entire life outside. She has a thick winter coat. She has a solid doghouse, with a bed, in a dry protected area so she is not exposed to wind or rain/snow when she's in her house. As far as I know she has never spent a night inside, but I don't know if that's really fine?

I did ask the vet about this when I first took her back in the spring, he said she was "generally" fine outside in all weather. He said to avoid bathing her (to let her natural oils act as a waterproof barrier) and to not brush too intensely in the fall/winter so she has as much insulation as possible. I think I didn't properly question what "generally" meant, and is there temperature below which it is dangerous? What should we keep an eye out for? I could go back to the vet, but I'd like to avoid the fee and a visit just for this unless y'all think it's really necessary.

As a general note, this is a very happy outside dog. She gets lots of walks and play with the kids, and plenty of food. She likes to come inside to say hi, but is not happy being inside for long periods -- she gets anxious and wants to go back out. She was trained as a guard dog and I think she is uneasy if she's not out guarding.

Thanks for your help, and for guiding this relatively new dog-owing family.
posted by ohio to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, I forgot to mention that we live in France. So it gets cold, but not, like, Canada cold. Thanks!
posted by ohio at 1:20 PM on November 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Regardless of what the best answer is for the dog today, it will change as she gets older. Joints get stiffer, fur thins, etc. My dog loved being chest deep in the snow when he was younger, these days not so much. He's got a knee that looks pretty creaky on cold mornings. And he's only 8 years old, middle aged for a small dog. Just to say, I don't think there's one hard and fast rule.

I think for now when it's what you would consider "quite cold," invite her inside. Make sure she knows she has a place indoors that is only hers--smells like her things, doesn't have humans bothering her--so she feels comfortable and safe in her little hotel. As time goes on, just keep inviting her. Dogs are pretty good at their own survival. As long as she knows she has a warm place to be, you two will figure out a balance that works best for her what she needs.
posted by phunniemee at 1:31 PM on November 30, 2020 [15 favorites]

Best answer: We live in the US Midwest with a dog that has a similar temperament, though we make him come in at night & he got used to it as we tied coming in to dinner time. Our vet said to bring them in when it get's down to 30-25F So about -2 or -3 C when allowing for wind chill. Wet & windy weather I bring them in regardless because wind chill is not a joke.

I'd focus on making sure the shelter is well sealed for drafts & rain. If the dog area is well protected you might want to look at a heated mat or straw bedding it is also great insulation & what we use for wild cat shelters around here. (don't use both together due to fire risk). Unlike a blanket it keeps insulating even when wet so making a nice deep bed of straw for her to snuggle down in would help too, just keep an eye on it & change it when if it gets compacted or smelly. Also look at feeding more as they'll burn more calories keeping warm.

Things to look out for. Having trouble standing with all four paws on the ground keeps lifting them up, means the ground is so cold it hurts. Staying huddled in it's kennel & not coming out & doing normal daily activities. Sleepiness can also be a sign of hypothermia. Dogs will also shake & shiver like humans do when cold & generally look miserable. Muscle & joint stiffness might indicated things like age related arthritis being aggravated by cold or signs of hypothermia. Their extremities like will feel cold to touch & if you can get close enough to watch them sleep are they curled up super tightly to try to save heat or relaxed.
posted by wwax at 1:52 PM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For a working dog like that, I'd add heat to the doghouse before forcing them inside. You should be able to find outdoor-safe heated kennel pads, which are probably the most efficient solution, from a livestock or veterinary supply. (US example) Really modern ones like the one I linked only turn on when something is laying on it.

If you can't find something like that, an alternate option would be a chicken coop heater like this, which can be mounted up on the wall if you need to.

Given you have a good relationship with her and she knows where "inside" is, I suspect she'd come tell you when it's excruciatingly uncomfortable, but she'll probably bear a good bit of discomfort before doing so, so I wouldn't wait until it got that bad.

It would personally keep me up at night if she didn't have anything at all out there, and then it would keep me up all night bringing her in and dealing with her anxiety. This seems like a relatively cheap insurance policy. If there's room, lay the pad out so she has the choice of using it or not and see what she prefers.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:52 PM on November 30, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I've got a Great Pyrenees (very similar type dog who is also a working dog). Our dog insists on being outside as much as possible, but we bring him in at night to avoid having him sprayed by skunks. If you do bring your dog inside on some nights, you should have a place for her to sleep that isn't overwarm. Her winter coat will be so thick that any temperature over about 60°F will be too uncomfortable for her and she will be stressed and anxious. If you give her a dog bed inside I recommend one that is quite simple with no extra fluff or fuzziness that will trap heat up next to her. Our dog sleeps downstairs at night with the house heat turned off. He likes to lay on the freezing cold kitchen tiles. He has a bed he uses occasionally, but by morning he's always chillin' on the cold tile floor. If you bring your dog inside, which I think wouldn't hurt when temperatures go below freezing, just make sure to give her the option of a relatively cold-ish place to sleep.

I remember your original question, and I'm SO glad your sweet dog has a good home with kind people who love her. Thank you for being there for her!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:12 PM on November 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

Folks here have first-hand experience and lots of good advice to respond to your question. I wanted to say: I don't think an appointment would be necessary. Calling or emailing your vet's office to clarify that "generally" from your conversation back in the spring is a follow-up to their original instructions, and most vets provide that minor support without charge.

[I also remember your previous question, and I'm happy for you, your family, and your dog that things are going well!]
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:57 PM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’m just gonna say that in the Alaskan Arctic, where folks are have kept working dogs for, oh, probably a few thousand years, working dogs live outside with an unheated doghouse shelter when it’s well below zero.
posted by spitbull at 3:04 PM on November 30, 2020

If it gets colder than -7 (@ 20F), is there an indoor hallway or area she could be in? In winter, with her thick coat and winter acclimatization, a warm house would feel bad. Keep in mind that her water will freeze over, so make sure she has water, you may have to offer it a couple times a day. Hot water bottles are a big help staying warm. And a bed that's not right on the ground, if you can build something and put insulation underneath, or some foam mat would be a barrier against cold cement or earth, and provide some insulation. I have no real expertise here, but 20F and below is when I feel especially miserable.
posted by theora55 at 5:33 PM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

There are electric heated beds for outdoor dogs. You can put it in her doghouse and run an extension cord to it.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:51 PM on November 30, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I really like the idea of insulating the doghouse a bit, and I'll look into an outdoor-safe heating mat for nights when it gets really cold. Also a very good point that this will change as she gets older, and that we need to keep an eye on it.
posted by ohio at 12:37 AM on December 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm sure you've thought about this, but make sure she has an accessible water source. Small water bowls freeze over quickly when temperatures dip. Farm supply stores sell heated bowls intended for livestock use.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 4:47 PM on December 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

As a child, we had a Labrador Retriever who spent most nights outside. As a concession to Minnesota winters, my dad wired a bare lightbulb inside the dog house, and tacked a piece of carpet across the door.

She slept out there pretty much every night, though as she got older we let her spend winter nights in the house.

I would have expected some sleep deprivation from spending the night in full light, but she made up for it with daytime naps. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 5:27 PM on December 1, 2020

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