Why Does My Dog Want to Stay Outside in the Cold? 4 Reasons & What to Do About It

Do you ever find it difficult to get your dog to come inside, even when it’s cold outside? Perhaps the behavior is new and you’re worried about leaving your pet out in the cold.

This article will go over some different reasons why your dog might prefer it out in the cold and what you can do about it, but first, let’s discuss whether or not it’s actually good for your dog to spend a lot of time outside in cold weather.

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How Cold is Too Cold for My Dog?

The answer to this question varies depending on several factors: your dog’s breed, coat type and color, size, and age all impact the type of weather they can tolerate.

Broadly speaking, your dog should be fine at a temperature of about 45°F and higher. Temperatures cooler than 45°F could be uncomfortable for some dogs, especially small dogs, very young or very old dogs, or sick dogs. If your dog is in one of these categories, it may not be able to regulate its body temperature as well as other dogs can. Conditioning also plays a role. Do you live in a cooler climate? Your pet may be more accustomed to the cold weather than a dog that lives in an area where it’s warm year-round.

When temperatures fall below 20°F, your dog could be at risk for developing hypothermia or frostbite. It’s important to be mindful of the temperature when you let your dog outside. Monitor your dog for signs of discomfort such as shivering, whining, or otherwise showing signs of anxiety. If the temperature is below freezing, it’s probably a good idea to make sure your dog doesn’t spend too much time outdoors–15 to 20 minutes at most to let them go to the bathroom and get some exercise.

Now that we’ve discussed safe winter temperatures, let’s explore some of the reasons your dog may be reluctant to come inside when it’s cold out.

Pyrenean Mastiff laying down in the snow_AnjavdR_shutterstock
Image Credit: AnjavdR, Shutterstock

Four Reasons Why Your Dog Might Want to Stay in the Cold

1. Your dog doesn’t get enough exercise or stimulation.

If your dog refuses to come inside when called, it could be that he isn’t getting enough exercise. Your dog’s exercise needs vary by breed and age, but all dogs need some exercise each day. Dogs who are getting enough exercise will be happier and more well-behaved than sedentary dogs.

It could also be that your dog is simply bored. In addition to exercise, dogs need mental stimulation. If your dog is bored in the house, he could be looking for stimulation from the sights and smells on offer in the backyard.

2. There is something about your house that makes your dog uncomfortable or anxious.

Ask yourself: is this behavior normal, or has your dog started refusing to come inside all of a sudden? If the behavior change is recent, think about whether anything has changed within your home that would make your dog want to stay outside. Perhaps you recently cranked up the heat and your dog now finds it too warm in the house. Maybe it only happens when a certain friend or family member is over. It could be that your dog is trying to get some peace and quiet and doesn’t like to be in the house when you’ve got your favorite tv show on.

The next time the dog won’t come inside, try to notice what’s happening in your home that could be triggering the behavior.

dog in the snow
Image Credit: Pixabay

3. Your dog enjoys cold weather.

Certain breeds are built to withstand cooler weather. Siberian Huskies, for example, have a thick double coat that can protect them from extreme cold. Of course, there are some major differences between your pet Husky and a pack member trained to pull sleds in harsh conditions; even a dog like a Husky can get cold if you leave them outside for too long in below-freezing weather. If you think it feels a little cool but your dog seems happy as can be, he’s probably okay to stay outside.

4. Your dog has an underlying health issue.

If the behavior has come on suddenly and there doesn’t appear to be another reason for it, the culprit could be an underlying health issue. Other signs of health problems in your dog include unexpected weight loss, respiratory symptoms such as wheezing or coughing, changes in your dog’s bathroom routine such as difficulty defecating or urinating, and loss of appetite. If you notice any of these symptoms in addition to sudden changes in behavior, it’s time to take your dog to the vet.

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What to Do When Your Dog Won’t Come Inside

Whether you have determined that it’s too cold for your pet, or you simply don’t feel comfortable leaving your dog outside for long periods of time, we’ve compiled a few tips to try when Fido just doesn’t want to come inside.

Acclimate Your Dog to the Indoors Using Counterconditioning

If you are a new dog owner and your dog seems to be having a hard time getting adjusted to your home, consider his history. Maybe your dog doesn’t want to come inside because he is used to spending most of his time outdoors, or perhaps he had a bad experience with a previous owner. As mentioned above, maybe he just isn’t used to the various noises in your home: your TV, your kids at play, or even various appliances.

You may need to set some boundaries or ensure your dog has a quiet place to rest if your kids or the TV are bothering him. But if you can identify a particular stimulus that is making your dog reluctant to come inside, you could try counterconditioning and/or desensitization. Essentially, counterconditioning and desensitization are strategies for changing your dog’s behavior. The idea behind these strategies is that you can slowly and safely expose your pet to the stimulus that is making him anxious and, over time, change his emotional and behavioral response to the stimulus. In order to achieve the outcome you want, you need to be extremely observant and patient with your dog. Of course, you’ll want to positively reinforce the behavior change by giving him plenty of love and treats along the way!

siberian husky puppy lying indoor
Image Credit: Tran Mau Tri Tam, Pixabay

Ensure Fido is Getting the Exercise & Stimulation He Needs

Some pet owners assume letting their dogs out into the yard can be a stand-in for taking them on walks, but the fact is, your dog still needs his daily walks. A walk not only provides your dog with the exercise he needs, but it can also give them the stimulation he craves. Dogs love to explore and discover new places, people, and other animals. Try adding at least one additional 15-20 minute walk to your current routine and see if the additional stimulation satisfies your dog’s desire to be outside.

Provide a Comfortable Environment for Your Dog

If you think your dog is too warm indoors now that you’ve turned on the heat for the winter, you may need to make some adjustments to make him feel more comfortable. If you have multiple thermostats in your home, try turning the temperature down a few degrees in the places where your dog typically likes to hang out.

Of course, some dogs prefer to stay outside. If that’s the case for your dog, the best thing you can do (other than keeping your dog inside when cold temperatures are extreme) is to ensure that your dog has a warm, dry, and comfortable place to sleep. When looking for backyard dog kennels, make sure to purchase an option that provides your dog with ventilation and shelter from the elements. If the kennel is made of wood, it should be raised off the ground by a few inches in order to prevent wood rot. Consider adding a cover that will keep the ground dry so that your dog has a place to run around in the winter months.

One last element you should consider is your dog’s bedding. He will appreciate a few blankets or towels to help him keep warm, but you may also want to purchase wood shavings for your dog’s house. Not only are they comfortable for Fido to lie down on, but they also provide an extra layer of insulation, absorb moisture, and can help control unwanted odor.

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Final Thoughts

If the weather is mild enough, there is no reason to be concerned that your dog is spending too much time outside. However, temperatures below freezing can be dangerous if your pet likes to be outside for extended periods. Try paying attention to your dog’s behavior to see if you can determine why he is reluctant to come inside. If the behavior is accompanied by other changes, take your dog to the vet for an examination so that you can address any potential health issues.

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Featured Image Credit: Michael 1123, Shutterstock