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Winter is Coming: What to Consider with Inclement Weather Legislation
October 12, 2021 by AKC Government Relations

Winter is coming, and with it, a drop in temperatures. No dog should be left in conditions where its health and safety are in danger. 

In response to a tragic situation, it’s not uncommon for some lawmakers to introduce laws aimed at protecting dogs outside in extreme weather situations. Unfortunately, in an effort to simplify the enforcement, some proposals define “extreme weather” by using a specific temperature range, and/or an active weather warning issued by the National Weather Service. These arbitrary definitions, though well-intentioned, can have serious unintended negative consequences for dogs and responsible dog owners. 

Diversity in Dog Breeds

When developing legislation protecting dogs in inclement weather, it is important to remember that there is no species of mammal more diverse than the canine, and different breeds thrive in a wide variety of weather conditions. What is ideal for a Chihuahua is very different than the needs and tolerances of a Saint Bernard. A number of factors impact a dog’s ability to handle weather conditions including breed, age and general health of the dog.  Additionally, normal body temperatures vary according to individual characteristics. Some dogs will begin to show signs of overheating when the air temperature may feel moderate; others may thrive in much higher temperatures.

Although specific temperature language is easy to enforce, it is a disservice to dogs overall because the guidelines can inadvertently put some dogs at risk. Declaring that dogs may be outside only in certain weather conditions or temperatures can actually legalize the placing a dog in a temperature that it may not be able to tolerate even for a short period of time. 

Why do responsible owners leave their dogs outside?

Sometimes it is necessary for dogs to be outside briefly regardless of weather conditions. Many times, an owner may be in close proximity but not in visual range at all times. Similarly, if an owner does not have a fenced yard or the dog is an escape artist, the most responsible approach may be to tether the dog to ensure own safety. 

Many dog owners participate in activities with their dogs such as hunting, search and rescue, sledding, herding, companion events (obedience and agility), and other activities that can require significant training and acclimatization.  Laws prohibiting activities within broad temperature variations may prevent dogs from being trained or acclimatized properly and from participating safely in these activities.

A Better Solution

Instead of arbitrary requirements, laws that state that “no dog shall be left in conditions where the health and safety of the dog is at risk” do a better job of protecting dogs. This encourages owners to think about their dogs as individuals and enables animal control to protect all dogs – including those that cannot handle the outer limits an absolute temperature standard due to their breed, age or general health. Avoiding one-size-fits all requirements also reduces the need for exemptions for dogs that are with their owner, or training or working in conditions that are suitable for the breed, age, and general health of the dog.

AKC strongly believes no dog should ever be left in a dangerous situation. Taking the time to consider all the implications of proposed laws will result in a more comprehensive, effective policy that better protects the lives of all dogs.

Additional Resources:
Keeping Dogs Safe in Inclement Weather 
What You Need To Know About Dogs & the Weather

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