Warming Up Winter


Inclement winter weather is nothing to mess around with if you own a kennel. Snowstorms, subzero temperatures and chilling winds can threaten dogs’ safety and comfort. Here, four kennel owners tell how they winterize their kennels. Though some of their practices are inherent to their kennel design, others can be applied no matter what kind of kennel or how many dogs you have.

Preparing for the Expected

The fluctuating weather of the upper Mid­west just miles off Lake Michigan, where professional all-breed handlers Bryan and Nancy Martin live in Libertyville, Ill., requires a kennel that can keep dogs comfortable despite weather extremes. In winter, temperatures can languish below zero and, in summer, peak near triple digits. 

Add to the equation that the Martins handle from 35 to 50 show dogs, which include a variety of breeds with a variety of coats. A comfortable kennel environment is essential to the success of the dogs and the Martins.  

Bryan and Nancy Martin began showing dogs in the 1960s as Junior Handlers. Bryan specializes in Basset Hounds. One famous Basset he handled in 1997 and 1998 was BIS/BISS CH Deer Hills Great Gatsby, the top-winning Basset Hound of all time with 52 Bests in Show. He currently handles the No. 1 Basset Hound, GCH Topsfield-Sanchu American Express, and the No. 2 Tibetan Terrier, GCH Ri Lee’s Stellar Performance. 

Nancy Martin, who specializes in Japanese Chins and Samoyeds, handled BIS/BISS CH Chindale’s Outback Jack in 2008, the top-winning Japanese Chin of all time with 13 Bests in Show. She now handles the No. 1 Samoyed, GCH Polar Mist Admiral.

The Martins’ 400-square-foot kennel, which they had built in 1983, is attached to their home on five acres. A privacy fence behind the kennel blocks the wind along three sides of an exercise paddock. When necessary, a 5-by-25-foot tarp is used to close the fourth side.

There are 14 indoor-outdoor kennel runs that are 4 by 5 feet indoors and 4 by 25 feet outdoors. Guillotine-style doors are closed at night to reduce drafts. A corrugated tin roof completely covers the outside runs to protect dogs and kennel workers from rain and snow and to provide shade in the summer.

The outdoor runs have a pea gravel base, which the Martins prefer over concrete. Snow and ice accumulate more easily in the winter on concrete surfaces. The flexible gravel flooring also protects the dogs’ pads. The gravel runs are frequently cleaned and raked smooth from debris, and the gravel is replaced regularly to help maintain sanitary conditions.

“Gravel is excellent for drainage,” Nancy Martin says. “Temperatures often warm up enough during the day to melt the snow, but everything refreezes at night. With gravel, the chance of standing water turning to ice is minimized, so we don’t worry about the dogs getting hurt running or slipping.”

Outside the kennel are nine covered paddocks of various sizes to accommodate the smallest toy to the largest working dog. “Double-coated breeds like Samoyeds, Newfoundlands and Great Pyrenees can spend more time outside enjoying the cold air,” says Nancy Martin. “However, our shorter-coated breeds, like Italian Greyhounds and Whippets, need to wear protective coats and can be out for only a short while. If it gets colder than 10 degrees, we will not even let their feet touch the ground.”

“It is a lot of work to accommodate so many breeds with varied needs, but we wouldn’t do it any other way,” Bryan Martin says. “We don’t cut corners.”

The kennel is heated with natural gas, which produces a drier heat. The temperature is kept at 60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. “It’s better to maintain a constant temperature, especially when working with so many different breeds,” Nancy Martin explains. 

In the basement of their home is a grooming and utility space. Since the kennel is attached to the house, the Martins can take the dogs for grooming without exposing them to the cold. Large sinks are used for cleaning the rubber mats used in some of the kennels, and a treadmill is available when it is too cold for exercise in the paddocks.

During the cold season, the dogs’ diets need to be adjusted. The Martins feed Purina Pro Plan Performance Formula year-round, but in the winter they increase the amount of food given to the double-coated breeds that spend more time outdoors. These breeds receive as much as an extra cup of food a day to sustain their increased caloric needs.

The Martins stock extra dog food so they are ready for severe snowstorms. If bad weather is expected, they prepare a power generator for use and snow plows and tractors for clearing the paddocks. The Martins know winter conditions are a certainty, and they’re always ready.

“I have clients from Texas who shudder to think their dog is in the middle of a Chicago winter,” Bryan Martin says. “There is nothing you can do about the temperature, but you can make sure everything is covered and the dogs are protected. Those are the keys to our operation.”

Keeping Out the Cold

The winter wind and cold climate of Cedar Grove, Wis., used to plague Al Harmeyer of Krystal Creek Kennels — until he eventually built a new kennel with in-floor heating. It took well over a decade of experience with dog training and kenneling to reach that point, however.

When Harmeyer started training dogs more than 30 years ago, he’d affix tarps to the chain-link enclosures of his four outdoor runs to keep winter weather at bay. Heavily insulated dog boxes were fortified by marsh hay bedding that required frequent cleaning and replacement. Keeping fresh water available and unfrozen and increasing the dogs’ caloric intake as much as 50 percent was crucial. 

An upgrade to a building with 11 indoor-outdoor runs in 1996 still left Harmeyer and the dogs, mostly German Shorthaired Pointers, in the cold for several months a year. The outdoor runs, if not covered, would accumulate ice and snow. The dogs often would be relegated to the indoor kennel runs, which had guillotine doors that seemed never to fully seal against the frigid subzero air, allowing in drafts.

Krystal Creek Kennels grew into a family business in the 1990s, focusing on dog training, boarding and grooming. Harmeyer and his wife, Kris, son, Steve, and daughter-in-law, Tracy, are equally integral to the kennel’s success. Kris oversees bookkeeping, advertising and kennel management. Tracy and Al are professional trainers. Al, Tracy and Steve are senior judges in the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association. In 1998, the Harmeyers moved the business into their current building with heated floors and 40 indoor runs that are 4 by 5 feet or 4 by 8 feet in size.

“We built the kennel in part to avoid the extra effort that winter creates,” Harmeyer says. “The dogs are much better off. Like people, they are susceptible to frostbite and illness if kept too long in the cold or a constant draft of cold air.”

Two water heaters supply the in-floor heating system. The thermostat is set between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. “The nice thing about the heating system is that the warmth starts at ground level, where the dogs are,” he says. “For the older dogs, it’s like a heating pad. They often lay on the floor instead of their beds. The heated floor also produces a more consistent temperature throughout the building.”

Specializing in training dogs for hunting and field tests, the Harmeyers mainly train during the warmer months. Typically around 30 dogs, counting the Harmeyers’ 23 German Shorthaired Pointers, are at the kennel during the cold months.

The dogs get daily exercise in the yard, where they are shielded from the elements as much as possible. A corrugated tin roof covers the patio that extends 12 feet from the building, and a wall deters gusts of wind and snow. Beyond the paved exercise area is a pea gravel yard that requires the most effort these days. 

“A snowblower is necessary,” he says. “Last year, we got around 50 inches of snow, but we’ve got to start clearing off the gravel as soon as we get our first few inches. If we don’t, the dogs will run around on it and pack it down. Then it turns to ice that will be there all winter.”

It’s not uncommon for temperatures to reach 20 degrees below zero. Worsening the cold bite, wind sails off nearby Lake Michigan. Drifting snow coats the yard, requiring additional rounds with the snowblower. It’s a dilemma that Harmeyer is brainstorming solutions to resolve.

“If I could cover the whole yard and heat it to keep the snow away, I would,” he says with a laugh. “I’m hoping to figure out how to heat the gravel to avoid ice and the accumulation of snow. We built the kennel 14 years ago, but there are always additions and improvements that can be made.”

Heating by Wood Stove

More than seven years after Hurricane Isabel swept along the Atlantic Coast, unexpected benefits linger for Kathy Shorter of Wynot Pointers in Gloucester, Va. The kennel’s seven indoor-outdoor runs are heated by logs split from trees the hurricane stressed on the 400-acre farm.

“The hurricane damaged so many trees, it seems as if we have an endless supply of wood for the stove,” says Shorter. “My husband, Andy, is a forester, and he cuts wood on our farm year-round.”

The kennel structure began as a pole building 10 years ago. Shorter and her husband closed it in and added insulation in 2002, creating a hobby workshop and building two of the indoor-outdoor dog runs. The indoor runs are 6 by 7 feet, and the outdoor runs are 7 by 14 feet. The other five slots were added in 2005.

The wood stove is in the workshop, which is separated from the kennel by a wall. Heat is piped from one side to the other. “Thermostatic fans help transfer the warm air from the workshop to the kennel,” Shorter explains. “The dogs also are comforted by thick carpet pads, blankets and dog beds.”

The Shorters used an inefficient electric greenhouse heater prior to their 2008 installation of the wood stove. It made the kennel more expensive to heat per square foot than their house. In exchange for more efficient heating, Andy Shorter dedicates the time and energy needed to cut and haul wood from around the farm. The stove requires three doses of wood daily from November through March to keep the heat flowing to the kennel. Depending on the severity of the winter, it requires as many as 15 trees a season to maintain the comfort level in the kennel.

“Using the wood stove has reduced our electricity bill by around $100 per month,” Shorter says. “It also emits a drier heat than the electric heater, making the kennel more comfortable and keeping the concrete floor dry and warm.”

Shorter is a breeder-owner-handler of Pointers, with seven in her kennel. She also has four Black & Tan Coonhounds, two Border Terriers and one Jack Russell Terrier.

Shorter feeds her dogs Purina ONE and Purina Pro Plan Performance Formula. The protein and fat in the dogs’ diets helps them maintain muscle tone and energy. The dogs also receive 50 to 75 percent more food during the cold season.

Like the family farm Shorter lives on, the coonhounds are a legacy from her parents. She started competing with the breed in 1982 and has won all major United Kennel Club (UKC) events at least once. Shorter won the UKC World Bench Show three times between 1991 and 2007. She has won the UKC Autumn Oaks National Bench Show Championship three times, most recently in 2006. Pointers, however, are her primary focus these days.

The coonhounds stay in 10-by-14-foot outdoor runs with insulated dog houses. Hay bedding adds warmth and comfort, and door flaps hold back the wind and weather. The terriers and dogs being campaigned for shows stay in the house or the two-car garage that has been converted into a supplemental kennel with space for crates and grooming equipment.

Shorter started competing in American Kennel Club events in 2001, initially succeeding in the conformation ring, where she has had as many as three Top 20 owner-handled Pointers at once. The past couple of years she also has titled dogs in agility, field trial, obedience, rally and hunt test events. Her goal is to promote the versatility of the breed.

“Pointers like to have a job,” Shorter says. “The sports create an opportunity to build positive relationships with dogs. Rally, obedience and hunt test events are held in the winter, so that is an especially great time of year for me and my dogs.”

Dealing with Harsh Conditions

Temperatures at Huntwood Kennel in Union Grove, Wis., hover in the mid-teens during the winter months. Subzero days and three feet of snow are not uncommon. With these harsh conditions, keeping dogs comfortable and outdoor runs dry is paramount. 

To meet that challenge, professional all-breed handlers Scott and Susan Kipp renovated a four-car garage to create their kennel, where 20 to 40 show dogs are kenneled at any time. Susan Kipp also breeds Brussels Griffons and Norfolk and Norwich Terriers.

The Kipps, who have handled dogs for 25 years, were the first winners of the Best in Show Bred-By-Exhibitor class at the AKC National Championship, which they won in 2003 with the Norwich Terrier, CH Huntwoods First Knight. They also campaigned the Smooth Fox Terrier, CH Torquay Demetrio, to more than 70 Bests in Show. Until this year, the dog was the top-winning Smooth Fox Terrier of all time.

In their current string of dogs are the No. 1 American Foxhound, GCH Kiarrys Foolish Pride, and the No. 2 Norfolk Terrier, GCH Max-Well’s Violet. Susan Kipp, who breeds with Barbara Miller of Max-Well’s Norfolk and Norwich Terriers, was nominated for Breeder of the Year in 2009 by Dogs in Review magazine. Together, they have bred 125 champions. 

Keeping Huntwood comfortable and safe for a variety of breeds is a constant challenge. The 1,200-square-foot kennel also has rooms for grooming, laundry, whelping and an office. The building is maintained at 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. A large garage door can be opened to let in fresh air when weather permits.

The kennel has 12 indoor-outdoor runs with guillotine doors. The indoor runs are 5 by 15 feet, and the outdoor runs are 6 by 20 feet. An overhang roof completely covers the outdoor runs. “We use wood shavings to line the indoor runs and change them once a week,” Susan Kipp says. “Our outdoor runs are concrete with patio block on top. The concrete patio block is porous. It’s great for winter, because it helps prevent freezing.”

The outdoor runs were built with a cement base and 16-by-16-inch patio block pavers that are elevated slightly above the cement, creating an effective drainage system. The Kipps chose patio block because gravel can damage the coat of smaller dogs and the feet of long-coated breeds.

“On cement runs, urine can freeze. If a dog’s pad sticks to the urine, it could tear,” Scott Kipp says. “The patio block allows water or urine to seep through to the concrete below. It does not prevent icing, but it does help as long as we maintain it.”

Despite the winter cold, most dogs still get a few hours of daily exercise in one of two spacious outdoor paddocks that are lined with gravel. “There are plenty of days in the winter where some of the dogs can play in the paddocks even if there’s snow on the ground,” Susan Kipp says. “They enjoy romping in the snow, and it’s great exercise for them. We just have to make sure we warm and dry them quickly.”

Susan Kipp puts coats on shorter-coated breeds like Whippets and Doberman Pinschers. They still stay out for less time than the long-haired and double-coated breeds. During severe weather, the dogs get their exercise taking turns on the treadmill in the grooming room.

 “Our daughters will even bike alongside the dogs in the winter,” Susan Kipp says. “Just like people get acclimated to the cold, so do dogs. Some of them need an extra jacket, but the movement keeps them warm, and they’re happy to be outside.” 

Though the outdoor runs and paddocks are covered, they are not impervious to some snow blowing in. Scott Kipp removes snow from the kennels on those days using either a shovel or a small snowblower that fits inside the runs. If a heavy snowstorm blows through, he shovels out the areas multiple times a day.

“We can’t let the snow build up and have the dogs running around on top of it. That packs it down, and it freezes,” Scott Kipp says. “Once that happens, it’s nearly impossible to remove.” 

The Kipps feed the dogs a mixture of Purina Pro Plan Performance Formula and Purina Pro Plan Sensitive Skin & Stomach Formula year-round. Pro Plan provides a proper balance of protein and fat. 

“The bottom line in caring for dogs at any kennel, especially so far north, is to use common sense,” Susan Kipp says. “If your area is prone to frigid winters, you have to invest in indoor runs and have a good heating element to keep the dogs comfortable.” 


Used with permission from Today's Breeder, Nestlé Purina PetCare

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