If your dog enjoys spending time outdoors, a proper dog house is a must for his happiness, health, and well-being. Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and dry at all times, selecting the perfect dwelling takes the right amount of thought and planning.
So what do you look for in a dog house? Do you want a simple one or would you prefer an insulated dog house to help shield your pet from cooler temperatures. To start, size is the most important factor. Big dogs need bigger dog houses. Your pet must be able to comfortably fit inside. All the features in the world will do him no good if he or she canít fit in Your dog should be able to stand, turn around, and lie down easily.
Wood, Plastic, or Metal?
A basic decision to be made up front is whether to get a plastic, a wood, or a metal dog house. (Yes, there are metal dog houses). First, the scoop on plastic. Dog houses made from plastic are generally lighter and less expensive than wood ones. They're easy to transport, don't have splinters, don't rot, and don't require refinishing. They are also easy to clean and don't have pores for fleas and tics to build nests.
Wood dog houses tend to be more substantial than plastic ones, they offer more design add-on possibilities, and they will provide your dog better protection against the elements. Wood is a much better insulator than plastic so your dog is less likely to overheat inside a wood house. And, wood is well... "wood". It tends to conjure up warmer, fuzzier feelings than plastic ever will. And many people prefer the natural look of wood to plastic. Tics and fleas can be a problem with wood houses but this can be mitigated by buying a cedar wood house and using cedar shavings for bedding.
Metal is also used for dog houses. Such structures are typically known as dog "boxes" and are often used to transport dogs and provide temporary housing for shows and sporting events. However, some owners undoubtedly use them as year-round houses. Metal dog boxes are made from aluminum or stainless steel and are often insulated because metal by itself is a poor insulator. Most dog boxes don't come cheap but they tend to be very solidly built and will likely outlive your dog (and probably you).
Choosing the proper house size for your pet can be one of the more confusing aspects of dog house shopping. That's probably because there are all kinds of formulas and guidelines floating around out there. Without getting overly technical, here are a few guidelines to help you wade through the muck:
The doghouse should be big enough so that your dog can turn around in it and lie down completely stretched out inside.
Bigger is not better. Dogs feel more secure in small spaces. Also, an oversized dog house is harder to keep warm during cold weather.
If your dog is still a puppy, research what her average adult size and weight will be and choose a house accordingly.
Before spending big $$ on a dog house, consider making a cardboard mock-up that has the same dimensions as the house. Coax your dog inside and see if he can easily turn around and lie down comfortably.
If you really want to get the low down on sizing a dog house including learning about the various sizing formulas out there, check out this article:
How to size a dog house
Doorway and Door
Perhaps the first consideration for a proper sized doghouse is the doorway. It has to be big enough for your dog to easily get in and out of the house but not so big that it results in excessive heat loss and over-exposure to the elements. Remember that, unlike people, dogs require smaller doors than what their total height is. They have no issues with having to duck to enter a house.
Exactly how big should a doorway be? Well, there are least two rules of thumb used to determine this. The first one says that the door height opening should be no less than 3/4 of the dog's shoulder to ground height. The second rule says that the opening should be at least 1" greater than the distance from the top of the dog's shoulder to the bottom of his chest. Regardless of formula used, these are minimum doorway heights; you can get a house with a taller doorway, just keep in mind that heat retention and coziness could suffer.
The width of a dog house doorway needs to be just slightly larger than the girth of your pet. You might want to measure him after a full meal :)
The location of the doorway can also be important. The classic style dog house has the doorway centered in the middle of the house. This looks fine but may not be optimal depending on the severity of your weather and your dog's need for privacy.
A dog house doorway that is located off center minimizes direct exposure to the outdoor elements and provides extra privacy space inside the house for your dog to hang out. An off center doorway also provides extra space to insert an interior wind deflection panel which further improves the warmth and coziness of the house.
Look for a dog house that comes with a door. This will provide an extra level of protection against the sun, cold, and rain (especially in a house with a centered doorway). The big thing in dog house doors these days seems to be a flap of vinyl with vertical slits cut into it. This enables the dog to see what's going on outside but still stay warm and dry inside. And the slits allow him to easily push through the "door".
Some doors are designed to be removable. This is good as far as improving air flow during the hot summer as long as you don't mind a little rain getting in now and then.
If you find a house that you like but it doesn't come with a door, don't sweat it. You can pick up some vinyl from Home Depot and make your own. Or you could simply order a vinyl door flap online. Other materials used for doors include tractor tire inner tubes, mud flaps, canvas, and even old carpet. Just keep in mind that your dog may chew apart certain materials...
If you're in the market for a wooden dog house, you'll have to decide what type of roof you prefer. This is both a style and function decision. Wooden dog houses generally come with either: 1) the classic pitched roof (aka, the Snoopy) made from two panels joined together to form a peak, or 2) the single panel roof, typically with a gentle slope from the front to the back of the house. A third type of roof is the loft or sun deck style roof, which is usually a single or double panel roof with an attached wooden platform on top.
You also need to decide on the type of protective covering on the roof. The main choices here are asphalt shingles, wood (shingles, plywood, boards), metal, or plain old tar paper. There are pros and cons to each.
Click here to learn more about dog house roofs.
ideally, a dog house should have an insulated floor that is elevated a few inches above the ground. This so called "dead air space" affords an extra measure of insulation, keeps moisture away from the house and your beloved pet, and provides extra protection against flea infestation from hatching eggs in the soil. A raised floor also prevents the wood from rotting thereby extending the life of the doghouse.
Some dog houses are made with skid plates or extended corner posts to elevate the house above the ground. The same effect can be achieved by placing the house atop bricks, stones, or 4x4 blocks of wood.
Even with a raised floor, the wood on the underside of the floor may be subject to rotting over time - especially wood in direct contact with the ground. To minimize rotting, look for a dog house that uses decay resistant woods such as cedar or redwood. Pressure-treated wood should be OK also as long as it is only used on the base frame of the floor so that your pet does not come in direct contact with it. Just be prepared to cover the pressure-treated wood with plywood strips if you find your dog chewing on it.
Not all types of dog house bedding are created equal. You'll often come across suggestions to use blankets, towels, carpet, hay, straw, old newspapers, pretty much whatever you can get your hands on. The problem with most of these materials is that they attract and retain fleas, tics, and other creatures. They are also susceptible to mold and mildew.
A better option is to use cedar shavings for bedding because the oils in the cedar will repel fleas and tics. However, be aware that the cedar oils cause contact allergies in a small percentage of dogs. To minimize this possibility - and also to keep the house neater - you could get a dog bed cover with a liner and stuff the liner with the wood chips.
A dense, moisture-proof foam pad also works well for dog bedding because it stays dry and fleas can't penetrate it. If your dog tries to chew the mat, you could cover it with a layer of cedar shavings.
Porch or Awning
Your dog will really be your buddy if you get him a house with a porch, an awning or some other type of protective overhang. Such a structure provides extra shade during the hot summer and helps to keep rain and snow away from the interior of the house (especially if you remove the door flap to improve air flow inside the house during the summer).
Some houses have a combination porch / sun deck in which the dog can climb topside to hang out and look around or lie underneath in the covered area to play it cool.
If a dog house lacks adequate ventilation, the air will become hot and stifling during the summer, creating an uncomfortable, and possibly dangerous environment for your pet. During the winter, poor ventilation may result in excessive moisture buildup from the dog's breathing. This moisture will condense on the interior surfaces creating a clammy environment and inviting bugs and mildew to take up residence. So, proper ventilation is essential.
The doorway opening obviously provides a certain degree of ventilation but if a door flap is used, the ventilation will be restricted. This is more of an issue during the winter when door flaps are used to keep the house warmer.
Just a few small quarter-sized holes near the top of a house will often suffice for venting. Remember, hot air rises. Some houses have slatted ventilation openings, often in the style of windows. These can work quite well at improving air flow while keeping out rain and snow. However, if the opening is too large, this can result in excessive heat loss during the winter. Be prepared to partially cover up the openings with something like vinyl door flap material.
To heat or not to heat. That is a question that dog house buyers sometimes grapple with. There are really two questions to answer: 1) Does your dog require additional heat to keep warm? 2) If so, what is the best way to heat the house? This topic is worthy of a separate write-up:
Heating a Dog House
In a nutshell, heating a dog house makes sense if you live in a cold environment, your dog is a warm-weather breed (i.e., short hair), your dog is used to be being indoors, or your dog is old and/or sickly. Heating options include a standalone heater/AC unit, metal light bulb heaters, and heated kennel mats.
Some luxury details are more practical than indulgent, such as an elevated floor, which will help control parasites and reduce the chances of flooding. Made from heavy-duty, water-resistant canvas, floor pads add extra insulation and comfort to the inside of the house. Also, weather flaps or doors help break the wind and blowing rain. A hinged roof makes clean-up a snap for the owner, and operable windows can add comfort and ventilation during summer months.
So when shopping for a dog house, remember that one size doesnít fit all, safety comes first, and itís okay to splurge for what really matters!