Dear Dr. Simon,
I have a 3 year old German Shepherd named Sarge that we keep outside in our backyard most of the time. He has a good solid dog house. What temperature do you consider is too low for him to remain out all night and what other cold weather precautions should I take?
To begin with I recommend that your dog’s house be insulated and have blankets or hay on the floor. The house should be tightly built to keep out the wind and the door of the house should point away from the prevailing wind. The door should have a flap over it to further protect it and reduce the effects of the wind chill. The house should be just large enough for Sarge to fit in comfortably so that his body heat will more readily heat the small area. If possible I would recommend that you string an extension cord with a light bulb and insert it through the roof of the house. The heat from the electric light will make your dog more comfortable and make extreme temperatures more tolerable. With regard to your question of what temperature is too cold for you to keep Sarge out all night I would have to say that if the wind chill factor makes it seem like it is below 20 degrees outside I would bring him in. If your dog is extremely thick coated and the dog house is well designed then perhaps you could keep him outside until the wind chill factor made it seem like 10 degrees.
People who keep their dogs outside a good portion of the winter need to make sure they change their dog’s water dish frequently so that the water not become frozen. These same owners should check the underside of their dog’s paws for the build up of ice balls between the pads. These ice balls can make it painful for the dog to walk. If you find ice balls accumulating remove them with your fingers. You should also check between your dog’s toes to see if any rock salt has become stuck between the pads. Rock salt can act as a skin irritant if left there too long.