State laws in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia require only that pets have access to shelter.
But veterinarians and pet advocates recommend stronger action when weather forecasts call for winds, snow or temperatures below freezing.
Use common sense when deciding when to bring your dog inside, they said.
If you aren't sure, ask your vet or call the local shelter.
Contrary to popular opinion, dogs that are used to being outside all the time should not be brought in the house, because the extreme change in temperature could be traumatic, the experts say.
Instead, take them into an unheated room like a garage or basement, said Dr. Virginia Scrivener, veterinarian at the Animal Health Clinic of Funkstown.
Often, necessary action depends on the animal.
A poodle or other small dog has little tolerance for harsh weather.
A larger dog can get used to the cold over time. If you intend to keep an animal outside, start in the spring or fall to give the pet time to adjust, according to experts.
When Scrivener was growing up, her collie had a dog house, barn, shed and house from which to choose.
But when it snowed, he sometimes chose to sleep in the snow, she said.
"There's no hard and fast rule," she said.
When animal control officers get complaints about lack of shelter, most of the time the problem can be fixed with a little education.
"Most people who neglect their pet don't have common sense," Martin said.
If a problem isn't corrected, Martin fines them. In Pennsylvania, the minimum fine is $50 and the maximum is $750 and/or 90 days in jail.
Washington County residents can be fined $10 under the county civil code. A criminal violation, which is very rare, carries a penalty of up to $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail, Moore said.
Other things to remember are:
- Check paws for ice and salt buildup, which can irritate.
- Check the water dish often to make sure it hasn't frozen over.
Sometimes, dogs that are outside simply get forgotten by their owners, Martin said.
She said there is no law against that as long as the dog has proper shelter.
According to experts, a good dog shelter should be:
- Large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around, but not so large that it can't be warmed by body heat.
- Off the ground to prevent moisture.
- Weatherproof, with four sides. Either a door flap or L-shaped entrance to block the wind are acceptable.
- Filled with bedding such as straw or wood chips that dries quickly. Rugs or blankets will stay wet and cold.
- Facing in a direction so the entrance is protected from wind.