Shelters are a Must for all Seasons
Saskatchewan is a cold weather climate in which conditions can change quickly. It is less than responsible for animal owners not to consider weather as a major factor in the care and keeping of their animals. Therefore, suitable and adequate housing must be provided for the breed/age/condition of an animal that spends any length of time outside. The rule of thumb for shelter size is a structure large enough for the dog to walk into, turn around and lay down, BUT small enough for the dog to heat with its body. The structure must also be capable of maintaining the heat generated by the animal. This describes an insulated shelter in some form. The shelter should be constructed so that no gaps or spaces allow snow, wind, rain etc. to enter through or into the shelter. A covering should be placed over the opening to the shelter. The structure itself should be raised at least 3 – 5 inches off the ground and must contain a floor.
Shelter location is very important regardless of the season. The shelter opening should be faced away from the north or north/west winds, since these winds are far more prevalent and dangerous to the dog in winter. One must also remember the hot summer sun that makes its way across the sky in a southern path. So, the opening should be facing the east or, if facing the south, be turned to the east when the warmth of spring is noticeable. Shelter use is certainly diminished in summer if the hot mid-day sun is streaming into the shelter. Your main goal when building and locating a shelter is to provide the animal with an escape from the various weather conditions. A raised floor provides air flow under the shelter, helping to keep the floor drier and more heat efficient. The raised shelter in summer also deters water from entering and provides air ventilation under the structure thus keeping it cooler.
Shelter Entrance and Covering: The shelter entrance should be large enough to allow the dog access. A good rule of thumb is to make the entrance approximately 1 1/2 times the width of the dog. The height of the opening should also allow the dog easy access but care should be taken that the shelter opening is as small as possible. Too often, people make the mistake of cutting the opening the height of the dog or larger, which is the major point of heat loss. A dog can amazingly get in and out of a shelter opening that is much smaller then its body size. However, you do not want it so small that the dog must belly crawl and squeeze into its shelter. If this is the case, the dog will start to refuse the use of the shelter. Also, shelter builders tend to cut the front wall where the opening is located so that the entrance starts at the floor. This is not a desirable trait. Even if the shelter is raised off the ground, the opening will still allow the entrance of snow and rain. The entrance should have a 3 – 4 inch lip at the bottom to prevent this from occurring. If the opening has already been cut to the floor of the structure, a lip can be easily added by nailing a 3 – 4 inch piece of wood to the bottom of the opening.
Paint: Paint not only adds to the beauty of the shelter, but also protects the wood, extending the shelter’s life. It also deters moisture which would diminish the effectiveness of the insulation held between the double walls. Many people coordinate their dog’s shelter with their own house paint. Some people go as far as metal siding. Regardless whether the shelter is newly built or an existing one, painting can always be done. You should not only paint the outside of the shelter, but also the inside. Use a light colored paint for the inside of the shelter to brighten up the interior. A painted interior also makes it possible to take the garden hose into the shelter to give it a good spraying without damaging the wood and makes it easier to dry. If the cost of paint bothers you, leftover paint can easily be found at garage sales or damaged cans can be purchased from a local hardware store. Make sure the paint is non-toxic.
Bedding: Bedding inside the shelter is important in winter conditions as this provides the dog with insulation and comfort. Blankets inside the shelter for winter are not considered adequate and SHOULD NOT be used. Blankets or pieces of rug tend to wad up and more importantly, retain moisture. As a result, they go through a continuous cycle of wet to frozen and provide the animal with no comfort. The best bedding in winter is straw. Straw retains its insulating qualities even if the top layer becomes wet. A minimum of 5 – 6 inches should be placed on the shelter floor or in the case where a vestibule is used, in the sleeping area. This deep layer of straw should be maintained. Keep a good supply of straw on hand to change the bedding as needed. If the weather remains cold, the straw will not require changing as often as in warmer weather. Straw should be changed monthly when cold and usually every two weeks if its been subjected to moisture and water when the snow melts. Hay can also be used as bedding. An animal who sleeps in hay will have a pleasant odor due to the clover and alfalfa it contains. NOTE: Depending on where the hay has been grown, it may contain burrs. It also tends to break down quicker than straw due to its various components.
Auxiliary Heat Source: A standard light bulb can heat a reasonable sized shelter. The bigger the area, the less effective the bulb. For instance, a light bulb will not heat a garage. Caution should be taken to place the bulb away from the dog’s path into the shelter where the dog will not brush against it or break it. In a Gable style roof, a bulb can be placed in the rafters. If this is not possible, place a metal basket cover over the bulb. The dog’s wet fur may also be a problem as some bulbs will burst upon contact with water.
Shade is not part of the actual shelter, but during summer, it is important and should be considered in the placement and location of the structure. With the sun rising in the east many dog owners leave for work thinking their dog has shade and fail to consider that when the sun makes its way to the west, the dog will have no shade from mid-day onward. The shelter should be placed under a tree or in an area of the yard that is predominantly shaded through the hottest part of the day. Your house or shed will provide the dog with shade if the animal’s chain can reach to these areas.
Ensure your animal has access to its shelter at all times. Prevent chains from tangling and raveling. A convenient location for you, may prove to be inadequate or dangerous for your pet. Bear in mind, when the snow melts, the animal’s shelter may be in the middle of a slough and require moving until the yard dries.
AN INACCESSIBLE SHELTER IS THE SAME AS NO SHELTER!
The Animal Protection Act of Saskatchewan requires owners to provide proper food, water, care and shelter, as well as medical attention if their pet is injured or ill.
For Your Consideration:
- Animals which spend any degree of time outside (all day) or that spend their entire keeping outdoors will expend more energy during winter/cold temperatures in an effort to keep warm. Twenty to thirty percent of their energy is spent producing body heat THEREFORE ensure the animal’s feeding is increased to compensate for increased energy needs.
- Check the animal’s paws and ears regularly for signs of frostbite.
- Watch the outdoor dogs’ behaviour when he is not aware of your presence for signs such as shivering or almost always staying inside the shelter. Such traits can indicate the animal’s need for increased warmth/care or lack of wintering ability. ( Your animal will usually be excited to see you and therefore will not show signs of being cold.)
- Young puppies should not be put outside at an early age as their ability to tolerate cold (regardless of breed) is far less than an adult. Sheltering younger animals often poses a problem due to their smaller body size in relation to their shelter and ability to produce heat. Also young animals are still growing and adding inadequate cold weather care and keeping while their body is growing and changing often can cause hardship for the animals. Ensure your dog’s first winter is closely watched and extra precautions and care are given.
- Give your dog the proper amounts of nourishing food, and make sure his water does not freeze over in the cold. Do not use aluminum or tin bowls for food or water. Plastic or ceramic would be better.
- Your dog will be healthier and happier if you allow him to live in your home. The Regina Humane Society strongly believes a pet should be a part of your life. Companionship is as important as food, water and shelter.
If you have any questions concerning shelters, your dog and winter, or concerns for animals not receiving proper care, please contact Regina Humane Society Animal Protection Services at 777-7700.