Here it was, midwinter, dang cold, snow blowing. It was just not all that nice out — unless you were a dog named Seven. Outside in the cold and snow.
Here’s the thing, Seven was NOT cold.
In her younger days she lived for the fall, winter and early spring. Seven hated the warmer weather. Why? Well, Seven was a Great Pyrenees.
This breed was developed over centuries to guard flocks in the Pyrenean Mountains. All my dogs back then enjoyed the winter: Australian shepherd, Newfoundland, two Shetland sheepdogs and yes, my Pyr.
Unless it was in the 20s and windy, Hunter, Ryker, D’Argo and Seven would drive me crazy during the winter, demanding to be outside — even if I thought it was too cold.
Currently, I have two senior shelties who are not as fond of the cold anymore. I have an adult who is not as winter-loving as my past dogs. My daughter’s standard Schnauzer likes the winter but is not as suited for some of the temperatures my past dogs were fine in.
The schnauzer and the oldest sheltie often go to cold weather and even winter dog events —outside.
We decided after last year that this is the year the two who go to outside events would get jackets.
So why are some dogs better suited for the cold weather and others not?
Simple; there is not a “one size fits all” approach for dogs in the winter. Let’s look at a few factors.
Dogs developed for colder weather life and work have a thick, double coat. This means a harsher, weather-resistant outer coat with a softer, insulating undercoat.
However, even within a breed you may have individuals that do not coat up as well. I have met various shelties lacking an undercoat, even in winter.
Larger dogs have a lower surface-to-body ratio compared to small dogs. That double-coated Pomeranian may chill sooner than a Newfoundland.
Dogs that are too thin will not handle the cold as well. This does not mean you should allow your dog to become fat over the winter. It means you should know what is healthy for your dog and adjust your winter care for it.
Some breeds are naturally lean and may benefit from a coat in cold temps. Even within breeds bred for colder weather, if they are not properly conditioned, they will not handle colder weather as well. That northern breed who has been a house pet with limited outside time in the winter will not handle it the same way as other dogs may.
However, those working livestock guard dogs or working sled dogs are not your typical house pet. They are conditioned. That toasty fire you build on cold winter nights may be too warm for these dogs, thought just right for yours.
Now we have to think age and health. Puppies and younger dogs, older dogs and those with medical issues may not handle the cold as well as a younger dog in good health. Brachycephalic breeds, especially smaller ones, have a harder time maintaining body temperature in cold weather.
If it is drizzly, foggy, otherwise damp, overcast and/or windy along with being cold outside, your dog will chill faster.
So, how cold it too cold? It varies dog to dog. You have to know your dog, his type, what he can handle and the signs of a dog being cold.
Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.