10 Top Dogs for Cold Weather
When you’re looking to add a furry friend to your family there are so many things to think about to ensure they will suit your lifestyle including their size, temperament, grooming requirements and exercise needs.
One often overlooked consideration is the climate. Not all dog breeds are built to tolerate cold, harsh weather, just as others don’t fair too well in hot weather.
For example, if you live in mountainous areas of the UK you'll be subject to harsh conditions on a regular basis, so you'd be best suited to a dog that has been bred to live work in these conditions.
You must also consider your own interests. If you’re a fan of cold weather and like nothing more than to take a winter walk in snow covered fields, you will want a dog who enjoys the same.
Whilst you obviously can’t change dogs for each season, you can make an educated choice on breed before initially purchasing a dog and go for one that has been bred specifically to survive in cold climates.
There are multiple breeds that have a higher tolerance for cold climates than others, but in this list, we’ve focused on 10 of the most popular dog breeds for cold weather:
- Siberian Husky
- Alaskan Malamute
- Saint Bernard
- Japanese Akita
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Chow Chow
- German Shepherd
- Tibetan Mastiff
Whilst these breeds are well suited for cold weather, they should still not be left outside in the winter as all dogs can suffer from cold induced conditions like hypothermia.
There are many factors that help dogs tolerate cold weather, the main characteristics being:
- Large body size
- Double coats
- Extra body fat
- Small ears
If your dog matches these characteristics, they should fair better than others in the cold, so they may not need as much protection as others, but you will still need to be careful.
If your dog doesn’t have any of these features, like a chihuahua, then you will need to take precautions before taking them out in cold weather.
If you think of a pack of dogs pulling a sleigh in the snow, it’s most likely the breed you’re picturing is the Siberian Husky who is undoubtedly one of the World’s favourite breeds.
Originating in Siberia, they were initially bred specifically for pulling sleds and helping humans travel great distances whilst carrying goods in very cold temperatures.
If you’re looking at a husky and wonder at just how similar they are to wolves, that’s because they are closer to their ancestors/cousins than any other dog breed. This closeness is even more recognisable thanks to their love of howling which they do loudly and often.
Their tolerance to the cold is helped largely by their double coat of fur which keeps them insulated whilst still being nimble, sleek and agile. Thanks to their sled pulling heritage they are also incredibly strong, have high endurance and huge amounts of energy.
It’s difficult to imagine, as they’re used as working dogs for sleds, but they’re actually one of the hardest breeds to train thanks to their mischievous, hard-headed nature. This difficulty to train means they require an experienced owner with lots of a patience and time to provide the proper training they need.
The Alaskan Malamute may look very similar to their closely related cousin, the Husky, but they are in fact the largest, and one of the oldest, of the arctic dogs with a heavy coat that guards them incredibly well against the harsh Alaskan weather.
Like their cousins, they were bred primarily to be sled dogs, but they are stronger and stouter, with the strength to pull a draw dropping 1,500kg if they receive the proper training.
To avoid injury, we strongly advise against using your Alaskan Malamute to pull any heavy loads without the proper training.
Despite their strength, they can be the perfect addition to any family, but their intelligence and independence can make training difficult, so they need experienced, focused and determined owners who can provide the training they need.
Along with their strength, they also have huge energy reserves that, if not dispensed, can lead to some negative, destructive behaviour, so they are better suited to an active owner who lives outside of a city with plenty of accessible land for regular exercise.
Their ability to withstand the harshest weather stems mostly from their dense, double fur coat which is one of the beefiest of all breeds and consists of a rough outer layer and a thick, oily undercoat which can be up to 2 inches thick.
Like other breeds that are closely related to wolves, the Alaskan Malamute is a big fan of howling which can prove to be annoying for neighbours, so if you think yours won’t be fans, or if they have young children, then you may want to consider another breed.
The Saint Bernard, who looks just like a big, cute and cuddly teddy bear is one of the largest breeds of dog. They’re one of those dogs you see in the street on a hot sunny day and think ‘Blimey, that dog looks hot’.
Before being knocked off their pedestal by the Siberian Husky, the Saint Bernard was long regarded the top winter dog in the World thanks to their size, strength, durability and intelligence.
For decades they have been used as search and rescue animals in the Swiss Alps to rescue skiers, avalanche victims and stranded alpinists. They are the perfect breed for this job thanks to their muscular build and thick coat which means they can trek for miles through deep, fresh snow without too much difficulty.
Weighing up to 90kg, their huge size may be intimidating at first, especially for children, but they are truly a very soft dog that is often known as a ‘nanny dog’ with an affectionate, docile personality that makes them a perfect family pet.
These gentle giants can be difficult to manage without proper training and their excessive drooling and shedding makes them a nightmare for clean freaks, so you must consider that before taking one home.
The Newfoundland is a large Canadian breed that weighs up to 70kg and is distinguishable thanks to their thick black fur and heft body which allows them to handle the harshest of conditions.
Remarkably they have long been used for water rescues, even in ice cold waters and they are also regularly used for mountain rescues.
Newfoundland’s calm and patient temperament, friendliness and protectiveness make them a great companion and loveable addition to any family, even those with young children.
Their large size and strength mean they can easily knock a full-grown adult over with very little effort, so training them not to jump up at people is a must.
As with many of the larger dog breeds, the Newfoundland is a big drooler, so if you want a pristine clean home or don’t want to be regularly wet with slobber, they may not be the right breed for you.
The Akita, also known as the Akita Inu, Japanese Akita or Great Japanese Dog, was once the Japanese Imperial family’s chosen dog breed. They were so highly esteemed that statues were given to new parents to bring health, happiness and a long life.
They were traditionally used by winter hunters from northern Japan which makes them impeccable hunting dogs with a thick, short double coat with a harsh outer coat to keep them warm in the coldest of weather.
They’re a very handsome dog whose heavy bones gives them sturdiness and strength that outmatches almost all other breeds of similar size.
This very esteemed breed can be very stubborn at times and will quickly try to dominate you if you don’t make it clear that you are the leader of the pack.
They can be quite territorial so they make excellent guard dogs and can be quite intolerant of other dogs. They also perceive prolonged eye contact as a challenge and can react quite aggressively, so they are not the best fit for a family with other pets or young children.
Bernese Mountain Dog
As their name suggests, the Bernese Mountain Dog was bred for life in the mountains where they have been used for a long time as drafting and driving dogs in Switzerland.
They are a large dog breed who is strong and sturdy enough to carry their own gear and perhaps even some of yours. They’re also remarkably resilient, making them excellent hiking companions even in harsh, cold conditions.
Despite their size and strength, they’re also known for being very affectionate, gentle and totally devoted to their owner. They’re one of the most beautiful cold weather breeds and their kind disposition makes them the perfect addition to any family, especially one who likes to give their dog lots of petting.
If you have any doubt about taking them out in the snow, just see how much these pooches are loving it in the video below.
The Chow Chow is one of the most unique looking dogs on the planet and they are also one of the oldest as they were originally bred in China as palace guard dogs for Royalty.
They are perhaps best known for being one of the very few dog breeds who have black/blue tongues. There is no known reason behind this unique feature, only myths like they inherited their tongue from a bear, or when the World was created, they licked up all the blue sky that fell on earth.
It isn’t just their tongue that gives them a striking appearance, it is also their thick coats which can often make them look remarkably like lions. This woolly coat helps to make them extremely tolerant of extreme cold weather.
They may well look humorous, but their demeanour can be quite different as they are known to be quite stoic and/or aloof. They are a no-nonsense breed, but they are gifted with great focus and cleanliness and they very easy to train.
They may have a slightly scowling appearance and yes, they may be a little stand-offish, but they are also extremely loving and loyal when it comes to their family.
The German Shepherd is a popular breed that is perhaps most well known for their excellent ability as working dogs for services like the police, search and rescue services and security.
Although they can make a lovely companion and they are fiercely loyal, they can also be quite reserved and even defensive if they don’t know you, or they are protecting their territory.
They are strong, agile and hard workers with bundles of energy and high intelligence and they have a thick double coat which protects them against the cold better than most dogs, although perhaps not as well as some in this list.
Their double coat consists of a long, course outer layer which protects them against the harsh environments and an inner layer that insulates them both against cold and hot weather.
They are often seen in movies living outside, sometimes chained up as guard dogs, but this is not advisable for any dog breed. Even breeds that are ideally suited for cold weather should never be kept outside because there will still be temperatures and conditions which could overwhelm them, and most dogs are sociable and won’t respond well to being left outside away from their family.
You can expect their coat to grow thicker as winter starts to draw in, with the insulation of their coat, when fully grown, meaning they can run around in the snow unaffected by the cold for longer than most dogs.
So long as their coat is properly developed you may find they don’t need a coat in the winter months, but if you absolutely must put a coat on them, make sure it isn’t too thick as they could overheat.
The Tibetan Mastiff is a breed shrouded in mystery as no one knows their true history thanks to their isolation in the Himalayas. All we think we know is that they originated in Tibet as their name suggests.
They have an immense double coat which keeps them very well insulated, with an undercoat that changes in thickness depending on the season, so they are adaptable for both cold and hot weather.
Tibetan Mastiffs are generally either black or brown, but they can come in the much rarer red colour. A red Tibetan Mastiff actually holds the current record for the most expensive dog after it was purchased for $1.9 million as a puppy!
They are a large dog that can weigh up to 80kg and is said to be one of the oldest working breeds, with their endurance and size making them perfectly suited for hard tasks associated with harsh weather.
They can also make good guard dogs and have even been known to fend off large predators such as wolves and snow leopards.
They’re not all work and no play though as they can be quite loving and loyal to their family and will make excellent adventure buddies, but they are more independent than some other breeds.
The Samoyed is an ancient breed from Siberia that dates back to the very beginning of civilization when they were bred and raised by the Samoyed people. This heritage means they have evolved to live alongside humans and they are not only hard workers, but they are excellent learners and very compassionate companions.
They are a winter dog through and through as they were initially bred for herding reindeer, hunting and hauling sledges in freezing temperatures. They have a thick white coat that makes them almost disappear in snow, and they are compact and agile with a wolf like appearance.
As with most others breeds on this list, you'll need to provide plenty of physical and mental exercise.
A Samoyed is a good winter dog breed for someone who's fond of huskies but wants a companion who is less stubborn. Just be sure you don’t have neighbours who will be upset with having a very vocal Samoyed next door.
This super smiley, social breed is very fond of humans and loves to play with kids, so they are a perfect addition to the family.
Dog breeds that aren't suited to cold weather
As there are common characteristics that help a dog cope well in cold weather, so too are there some that are common amongst dogs that are better suited to warm conditions.
Some breeds that aren’t great in the cold are:
- Chinese Crested
- Miniature Pinscher
- Yorkshire Terrier
This is not an extensive list, but you only have to look at pictures of these breeds to notice the similarities between them that are the reason they’re not best suited to the cold.
Here are characteristics that may make your dog vulnerable in cold weather:
- Very little body fat, limiting their natural insulation which leaves vital organs vulnerable
- Small overall size
- Short coat
- Single coat
What can you do to help these pooches in the winter?
- Limit their time outside by reducing walks and only letting them in the garden for toilet breaks
- Take exercise indoors
- Wrap them up warm in coats and boots
- Check their paws after every outdoors adventure and groom when necessary
- Always keep an emergency kit with you/accessible
For more information on how you can winterise your pet, please read our blog 10 top tips for keeping your pets safe in winter.
Some dogs thrive in colder environments and those in this list are a very good example of breeds to choose from.
Always remember, although these breeds are better than others in cold conditions, they can still get hypothermia and frostbite, so do not over-expose them by leaving them outside or taking them on too long a walk in harsh conditions.
On one hand you should let your dog decide if it’s too cold for them, which they would usually make obvious by stubbornly trying anything they can to stay indoors. On the other hand, they cannot necessarily be trusted to know when they can’t handle the conditions, so you must analyse the weather and make the choice yourself. If for any reason you don’t think it is safe to take your dog out, then keep them indoors or wrap them up in a coat and boots.
If a breed isn’t on this list, it doesn’t necessarily mean they cannot go out in cold weather, just that they aren’t in the top 10 for popular breeds. Have a look at the breed in question and ask yourself if they have the characteristics mentioned earlier in the blog (large body size, double coats, extra body fat, stamina, small ears) etc.