Commentary - Never Leave Your Dog Outside Alone In very Cold Weather

by Placerville Newswire / Feb 10, 2020 / comments

[Cris Alarcon. Image, Left Working Mals in Alaska on a cold night. Right, my sister with our Franch import circa 1972, curently a Supervising AHT/RVT at UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital "Emergency and Critical Care Service - Emergency Room" and the second youngest Charter Member of the Hangtown Kennle Club.]

A friend posted a warning about the cold weather and dogs only to get "Flamed" by dog owners that have outside dogs.  So here are my two cents...

In Lake Tahoe I grew up with a kennel of dogs bred for life in the Pyrenees Mountains of France. Our foundation stud dog was a Franch Import from the Pyrenees mountains that we named Knur de Bergerac imported in 1969. So I know a bit about dogs in cold conditions.

Even dogs developed in Siberia and Alaska cannot survive alone in extreme conditions. Like any Fighter or Runner, practice makes you hardened to the conditions. Dogs living in Alaska are conditioned to the extremes and adapt. One way they manage is they Never Sleep Alone in extreme cold (or they may die!)

This concept is familiar to us as a band from when I was young, "Three Dog Night."

In extreme Alaskan conditions Mushers [Human behind a train of dogs pulling a sled] have to sleep in the same conditions of the sled dogs. When it get very cold you have to bring a dog into your bed [the inner shell of the winter sleeping gear] so the body heat of each body works together to create a higher temp inside the sleeping shell so they can survive the cold temperatures, The colder the temperature, the more dogs that must be brought into the shell with the person to survive the cold temps - Ergo, "Three Dog Night."

This is for survival of the Mushers - but the same is true of the dogs. If they don't have a nice sleeping tent with a Human heater in it, they bunch together in what we might call a "Dog Pile." The combined heat of the pack, and the limiting degree of exposed area to the cold air/wind, helps them survive colder temps (extreme temps) They will even shift the pile often so dog most exposed, and those most weak shift to the bottom of the pile for the greatest protection for the elements.

For Us, or the Dogs to survive, we have to get up close and work together.

A PACK of dogs [4+] can do alright on their own as they work together. A single dog or two is completely dependent on Humans to survive.  Even wild cyote and wolf cut off from the protections of the Pack do not live long.

A sheltered dog adjusted to the weather and naturally equipped for the elements can do OK, but we do need to make sure the weather protection is sufficient. That means dog with "Double Coats", but not dogs like chihuahuas.

That shelter - goal - The protect from wet, wind, cold, or sun. Pretty basic but it Matters. I think we have all had the experience of decent winter shoes getting wet, and suddenly become a Cold Trap for your feet. Nice wool coat, and it rains heavy on us, that wool coat is now a cold blanket and we might as well peel it off. A good dog coat has lots of oils to repel the water, but that makes for a stinky dog and we wash our stinky dogs with good oil removing shampoos...

Many dog owners will argue that their dogs do fine outside and by and large they are, Provided we give them the tools to survive living outdoors:

That is high-energy food (high calories because running the heater at high take lots of fuel.);
Water that is Not frozen;
Protection from wet and wind. 

Not hard, but essential.

Thank you for bringing the subject up Beverly Williams.


Q & A

Q] Please keep in mind that some breeds can handle the cold weather in CA. Our Great Pyrenees, even though they have access to a warm barn, often prefer to be out in the cold, even snow. They have a dual coat that helps them regulate their body heat and keeps them dry. Don’t panic if you see a large white dog outside and it is cold.

Dry cold is not bad with a double coated breed in a [not so clean] condition.  It is Wet, and cold.  Especially wet cold and windy.  Even on a Pyr, a wet dog with a heavy coat in a  strong cold wind will lose several degrees of core body temperature very quickly.  That kind of Core drop causes imbolitation and soon organ failure.

Protection fro the wind is a huge factor.  Without wind-chill the outer coat can freeze without the undercoat freezing making the coat very effective against cold, even under a pile of snow... Snow is a great insulator from the cold so it is much warmer under a pile off "dry" snow that most would think. 

Extreme dry cold wind is secondary risk-wise.  In these conditions the core stays warm but the risk is to frostbite.  Dogs have natural protections like a hairy tail that is wrapped over the head and nose/toes placed in a group for combined heat retention in cold.  Nose/Toes and other outer body parts with limited circulation are those most prone to frostbite.

A dog (cold weather breed) can protect those areas for cold if they are dry... To a limit... Wind chill is a factor of speed of the wind and the amount of Humidity.  A dry wind is less dangerous that a damp wind.  

High Humidity with high wind situations are almost impossible for most living things... You can hardly change the humidity, so you must seek shelter from the wind.

One way we change humidity is to stay dry.  We use waterproof outer clothing whereas a dog wears their coat all the time, hot or cold.  A heavy coated breed is better able to handle the cold, and more at risk in the heat.

Our California conditions are mild, even in our Alpine conditions. Simple shelter from the rain and wind and most [coated] breeds are fine.  Prolonged exposure to both is life threatening to dogs, including Pyrs, Sammys, Mals, and Saints.  Dogs less naturally built for cold conditions, die sooner! 

Nature provides these shelters to dogs in the form of rocks, trees, and even snow drifts -- but a dog in a yard might not be afforded these natural protections and it is our duty to make sure they have such protections.

Protection from wind and wet for heavy coated breeds that and a heat source for breeds not adapted for the cold [the might mean only the house is warm enough...  Most often it means a good doghouse with dry bedding and something as simple as a very low voltage light inside - with adequate safety covering.


Q) Like labs [Re. "Please keep in mind that some breeds can handle the cold weather in CA."]

A) Not so much!  Labs and other Weather Retrieving Hunting dogs are built to take the icy cold waters.  Most have a natural oily coat and a think subdermal layer of fat.  These serve to handle the extremes of cold water, for short periods.  Like us, we can do the Polar Plunge into the icy waters of Lake Tahoe... But we get out fast and then dry off.  When you watch a working retriever you will see the traits of coat type and extra fat just under the skin.  Then there is behavior.  Each type of water retrieving dog has traits of behavior also. As soon as they get out of the water they shake off vigorously.  The oily coat and vidous shake is an effective way for water retrievers to "Dry Off."

This is effective protection for temporary plunges into cold water, but not for exposure to wet and wind in cold conditions.  The self-dry coat when standing and shaking is not much help when cold water is dripping on the dog.  They lack natural protection that a big hairy tail gives when moved over the head and tucked nose/toes.  A external visual of this difference is that you will often see Double-coated breeds appy and well with a layer of frost on their coat but you will seldom see the same thing on a hunting dog.  That is because there is a tremendously difference in the insulating factor between a double-coated breed and water retrieving dogs.  This is because they are breed to perform specific tasks.  For water retrieving dogs you DO NOT want a heavy or long coats as that is a liability to getting out of the water with 50 pounds of wet hair, or getting tangled in something.  Both of these put a water retrieving dog at great risk.  So for a short blast of really cold water they are made fore it.  For laying around in cold rain and wind, they suffer just like we would.


Cris Alaecon, Feb 10, 2020. [Youngest Charter member of the Hangtown Kennle Club and the youngest part of the Priceless Pyreness breeding Kennle in Lake Tahoe.]

# Alaskan Malamutes are the modern standardization of native Inuit (Inupiat or "Eskimos") freighting dogs. These dogs were named after the Mahlemut Inuit tribe (now usually referred to as Kobuk) of northwestern Alaska. Originally, "malamute" or "eskimo" dog was used to refer to any native Inuit large freighting type dog.

# Pyrenees Mountain Dogs "Great Pyreness Mountain Dogs" ​Pyrs were bred centuries ago to work with shepherds and herding dogs in the Pyrenees Mountains, the natural border between France and Spain [Not too far from Alarcon Spain.] The Pyr’s job was to watch the flock and deter predators, whether wolves, bears, or livestock rustlers. Their innate patience came in handy when sitting atop a freezing-cold mountain for days on end with nothing to do but look at sheep. Their courage when defending the flock is legendary.