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Can German Shepherds Handle Cold Weather?

My neighbor’s German Shepherd is already wearing in 40F-degree fall weather, which seems a little much over a double fur coat. Since GSDs originate from Germany, shouldn’t the breed be well-equipped for cold weather? I wanted to find out if German Shepherds in fact able to handle cold weather.

German Shepherds can handle cold weather thanks to their larger frame size and double coats. Their larger size keeps them elevated off the frozen ground and their thick coats keep them insulated longer. When it’s below freezing, it’s best to limit a German Shepherd’s time outside by providing access to a warm shelter.

Luckily with their bigger size, you never have to worry about their stomach or chest dragging on the ground or snow unless the snow has piled up. They are a highly active breed and will likely still enjoy running around the backyard, playing fetch, or going for a walk. Keeping them active outside will help their bodies stay warm.

German Shepherd playing in cold, snowy weather
German Shepherd playing in cold, snowy weather

Can a German Shepherd Live Outside During the Winter?

Although German Shepherds have the genetic makeup to enjoy winter weather, they should not live outside during extreme weather like rain and snow or in freezing temperatures.

If there are unavoidable reasons your GSD must be outside for extended periods during winter, consider their coat thickness, ensure they have access to a warm shelter, and if living outside fits their attachment needs.

German Shepherds generally have double coats to protect them from harsh weather conditions. The coarse outer layer is similar to a rain jacket and will wick away any snow or rain, keeping them dry. Their dense undercoat is an insulated baselayer that keeps their bodies warm and allows them to stay outside longer and enjoy winter activities.

Depending on how long your GSDs coat is, you may need to restrict their outside time during winter months. A short-haired shepherd will need extra warmth if they are not going to be spending as much time indoors. If they do not have an adequate double coat, add a fleece sweater, rain jacket, and even some booties to help keep your German Shepherd warm.

No matter the coat length, all GSDs should be provided with proper shelter and warmth. This could be an insulated dog house or outdoor kennel to protect them and provide insulation from the elements and be a secure, warm place for them to rest.

Providing fresh water and food will help with body heat regulation. If your shepherd is working too hard to stay warm, it will end up burning more calories and could eventually shed a little weight. Adding warm water to their meal and bucket can give them a little extra warmth. 

Older German shepherds should live indoors as they are more susceptible to illness. As dogs age, their fur grows thinner making it harder for them to stay comfortable living outdoors. A senior dog doesn’t tend to run around outside or play as much so it is vital they get more inside time since they won’t be able to generate as much heat.

In addition to the temperature, other things to consider are can my German Shepherd’s personality and attachment style, handle living outdoors during winter. If they are needy and attached to their humans, living outside with limited interactions can cause behavioral issues.

How Cold is too Cold for a German Shepherd?

Each dog’s weather tolerance will differ, but at 32 degrees Fahrenheit outdoor activity should be limited to 20-30 minutes. Once it hits freezing, your German Shepherd should have rotations of inside and outside time to ensure they are not getting too cold. 

Always take into account other weather factors such as dampness and windchill. Heavy snowfall or rainfall could prove too much for your shepherd’s double coat and leave them continuously damp. If they are wet and in freezing temps, they’re at higher risk for hypothermia or having frozen hair pieces. 

High winds can dramatically affect the weather. It can be 40 degrees with 20 mph wind and make the air feel more like 20 degrees for you and your German Shepherd. This is far too cold for them for more than just a quick walk to do their business.

If you have an active German shepherd or one who enjoys the chillier temperatures, you can still let them enjoy the outdoors through structured time. Pay close attention to sensitive areas such as the tip of their ears, paw pads, and tail. These areas tend to have the most exposure or contact with the balming cold, snow, and rain.

Signs a German Shepherd has Been Outside Too Long

Common signs that your German shepherd has been outside for too long are whining, shivering, slowing down, raising one or more paws, and teeth chattering.

If there is snow on the ground, a set of 4 dog boots or a dog jacket may help keep your German Shepherd’s warm. Boots can help your GSD from getting their paw pads too cold or frozen on any ice. They may also provide traction in icy areas when playing.

If there is fresh snow and they don’t have boots on, watch for them holding any paws up or running awkwardly. Sometimes little snowballs can compile between their paw pads and create sores if left unnoticed. 

An older or younger German Shepherd may need less time outside during cold weather since they can’t regulate their core body temperature as efficiently as an adult dog. If your dog isn’t as playful or active outside during winter, limit their outside time to prevent them from sitting or standing in one area for too long because they will get cold even faster. 

Final Thoughts

German Shepherd’s active personalities and warm double coats allow them to enjoy the winter months more than smaller breeds. They will likely still enjoy running around and exploring despite the cooler temperatures, but they still must enjoy inside time. Always take into account their age, coat characteristics,  and desire to be outside before giving them outdoor freedom or letting them live there.

When outside with your GSD during winter, keep an eye on them for any shivering, body changes, or mood shifts as these can be signs they are too cold. Catching their sometimes subtle gestures can be the difference between hypothermia and just needing an inside break.

While most German Shepherds enjoy romping outside no matter how cold it is, it is up to us owners to manage their play time outside during freezing months. Anything 40 degrees and below should be highly regulated, with more inside time than out. If your shepherd is outdoorsy try a fun enrichment game for them inside to let them burn off some energy if it is too cold.

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