The typical Ohio winter is upon us. The joke is if you don’t like the weather wait a day and it will change. We’ve had a lot of mild weather and with at least one Arctic blast. Rest assured there will be more cold weather. During the winter cold there are the heartbreaking reports of neglected animals outside. It is something of a debate among sporting dog owners whether to keep them indoors with the family or provide kennels outdoors. Some of the more affluent owners or hunting preserves maintain heated kennel facilities for their dogs. I prefer to keep my beagles in the outdoor kennels year round. However, many others keep their dogs indoors. I really see no difference in the performance or health of the dogs.
Tiffany Atley, spokesperson for Docton Animal Clinic in Xenia, comments, “”In recent years, we have seen a trend from the ‘backyard to the bedroom; from the kennel to the couch,’ but pets can certainly be kept outdoors if precautions are taken. Quality housing is a must. The thin, plastic structures are not sufficient. Quality double-walled, insulated houses are strongly recommended and should have fresh, dry bedding material. Heated water bowls and buckets are inexpensive and ensure the pet has water available at all times. Nutrition is another important factor since outdoor pets will exert more energy maintaining body temperature. Ask your veterinarian to recommend food or stick with familiar brands such as Purina ProPlan, Hill’s Science Diet, Royal Canin or Iams. “
I’ve raised and kept beagles in outdoor kennels for nearly fifty years now. My dogs are conditioned to the outdoors. I need them to be in peak condition during hunting season. The location of my kennels and the housing requirements are a primary concern. The kennel location was selected for the availability of shade during the summer and protection from the weather be it rain or snow. The kennels face roughly north to avoid the prevailing southwest winds and windbreaks help protect the kennels.
As Atley appropriately noted, housing is a primary concern. I build my dog houses using the double wall construction methods with an exterior and interior wall using plywood. The wall is filled with 1 1/2 inches of insulation and the walls total 2 1/2 inches thick. The roof, which lifts off for easy cleaning and maintenance, also has 3 inches of insulation. The entrance, which is offset, faces roughly north. However Ohio winters can include pretty strong northern winds and snow, so there is another board to provide an interior wind break. This allows the dogs to have a comfortable bedding area without direct wind. The houses also set on a base that provides a four-inch dead air space beneath the floor. This keeps some of the cold from the ground away from the floor. The houses are built to normally handle two to three beagles. Keeping the dogs together provides additional body warmth. The construction of the houses has worked very well for many years keeping my dogs safe and comfortable.
Nutrition is always important but especially so for the sporting dogs to be in peak condition. Selecting the proper dog food requires some knowledge and research. There is a huge debate, especially online, about various dog foods using corn, meat, all-natural and non-GMO products. I feed one of the quality dog foods that Atley recommended. I feed in both the morning and the evening to ensure the dog’s ability to produce body energy throughout the day.
Atley continued, “Regardless of whether indoors or outdoors, we recommend year-round parasite protection. Most people stop flea prevention too soon in the fall and don’t start early enough in the spring. Fleas can quickly go from a nuisance to an infestation and can transmit tapeworms. We often have several warm days in the middle of winter, which can trick insects into hatching or emerging. Intestinal parasites and heartworms , which are spread by mosquitoes, are a year-round concern, but are easy to prevent with monthly medication. All these topics can be discussed with your veterinarian at your pet’s annual visit.”
Keeping dogs outdoors requires some additional attention in keep them safe and healthy. They enjoy doing what they were bred to do as much as I enjoy watching them. They cover a lot more ground than I do so their health and fitness is critical. Whether kept in the house or in the kennels, the dogs make our trips so much more exciting. I simply can’t imagine hunting without them!
Larry S. Moore is a local resident and longtime outdoor columnist.