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Dogs get an unmistakable twinkle in their eyes the minute you reach for their leashes or open the back door. That’s because they know that they’ll be enjoying some fresh air and sunshine in no time. After all, when they’re outside, dogs have an endless supply of interesting smells to track down, squirrels to chase, patches of sunshine to lounge in, and, of course, stinky mud puddles to roll around in.
While dogs love spending time outdoors, it’s best to bring them in before bedtime to spend time with your family. But you might be wondering how long you can keep your dog outside safely during the day, especially in hot or cold weather. The answer is a little more complicated than you’d expect and varies according to your individual dog’s needs, health, and breed. Here we explore just how to determine when it’s time to call your pup back inside after a day of outdoor fun.
Smaller Breeds Have Different Needs
Dogs come in all sizes and breeds, which can affect how long it’s safe to leave them outside. While larger dogs with thick coats may enjoy outdoor romps for longer periods in chilly temperatures, their smaller, single-coated, and hairless counterparts, on the other hand, can spend more time outside on sunny days but not in the cold.
Smaller pups can quickly develop hypothermia and frostbite in cold weather, warns Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJ. This applies to small and hairless breeds like the Miniature Poodle, Maltese, Chihuahua, Xoloitzcuintli, and Chinese Crested.
While small pups can spend a few hours outdoors in temperatures between 60ºF and 90ºF, keep outings in temperatures below 32ºF and above 90ºF to short spans of no more than 10 to 15 minutes, recommends Dr. Wooten.
Larger Breeds Have Different Needs
Medium-to-large dog breeds, like the Siberian Husky, Samoyed, Malamute, Newfoundland, and Bernese Mountain Dog, have adapted to extremely cold temperatures because of their thick double coats. For this reason, they can stay outdoors longer in temperatures below 32ºF, usually for 30 minutes to an hour, says Dr. Wooten. Additionally, healthy arctic breeds can stay outside for an indefinite period of time during chilly days as long as they are acclimated.
“The long guard hairs that form the outer layer of fur protect against snow or ice and can even shed water. The soft undercoat lies close to the skin and keeps a dog warm and dry,” says Alexandra Bassett, CPDT-KA, Lead Trainer & Behavior Specialist for Dog Savvy Los Angeles. While these double-coated dogs shed their undercoats in the summer to stay cooler, don’t leave them out for long in very warm temperatures above 90ºF.
Livestock-guarding breeds who are typically medium to large in size can stay out for longer spans of time when the weather is temperate, between 60ºF and 90ºF, especially if they have a job to keep them busy, recommends dog trainer Danielle Mühlenberg of Pawleaks.
Your Dog’s Age and Health Matters
“There is no one-size-fits-all rule, and the decision to leave your dog outside has to be a personalized, individual choice,” says Dr. Wooten. She recommends that puppies under eight weeks of age and Toy breeds generally be kept out of extreme weather situations because they have a harder time regulating their body temperatures.
For hearty and active dogs who are regulars on the AKC Agility circuit or who are preparing for the Iditarod, spending time outdoors is an important part of training. But if your dog is elderly or dealing with a health condition, they should spend most of their time indoors and with short, supervised outings.
Brachycephalic Breed Considerations
When it comes to very cold and hot, humid temperatures, it’s important to keep brachycephalic breeds indoors, especially when exercising, recommends Dr. Wooten. That’s because these short-nosed pups—including French Bulldogs, Bulldogs, Boxers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shih Tzu, Boston Terriers, Mastiffs, and Pugs—are the most sensitive to extreme weather conditions.
“Because of the structure of their upper airways, dogs with short faces have decreased capacity for thermoregulation and lower oxygen saturation levels in the blood than non-brachycephalic dogs,” says Bassett. This means they can’t effectively cool themselves down by panting in the heat and they become extremely cold when temperatures drop. This can quickly lead to heatstroke or hypothermia in a short period of time, so always monitor these pups when outdoors.
What the Law Says
Well-meaning lawmakers have recently passed legislation in many municipalities that regulate the conditions in which you’re allowed to keep your dog outside. These laws are not based on your dog’s size, age, breed, or health and apply across the board to all dogs.
Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia have laws restricting the amount of time your can humanely tether your dog to a solid object in your own backyard, sometimes for as little as 30 minutes. Most laws mention that your dog cannot be confined or tethered for any period of time in temperatures below 32ºF, during extreme heat advisories, and when the National Weather Service issues a storm warning for the area. Many municipalities have laws regarding the amount of outdoor shelter your dog needs, sometimes requiring upwards of 200 square feet of space per dog.
Although these laws are meant to protect dogs, they don’t account for the outdoor training and activities of working dogs, hunting dogs, and those participating in outdoor sports. But, as an owner, you do need to monitor local laws to ensure you are following them or you could risk getting a fine and having your dog taken away.
Making Your Dog Comfortable Outdoors
Spending a little time outdoors is a great way for your dog to get some exercise. In your pup’s outdoor area, you’ll need to provide some fresh food, water, and appropriate shelter from the cold, heat, wind, and rain. Shady shelter is especially important for dogs with very short hair or white hair who can easily get sunburned, recommends Dr. Sara Ochoa.
Of course, when your dog is outdoors, try to spend as much time with them as possible. “Too much loneliness and they may become bored which could lead to digging, destructive behavior, or escape attempts,” says Mühlenberg.
Most importantly, never put your dog in outdoor conditions where the health and safety of the pup could be at risk. And always monitor your pooch for signs of discomfort, like panting, shivering, shaking, or extreme fatigue. Remember, your pup is part of your family and it’s up to you to ensure your furry friend stays safe both indoors and outdoors.