For dogs that are not considered strictly housedogs, there is a always the option to keep them outdoors, even in the cold winter months, providing the dog has someplace warm and dry to access. Many people prefer leaving their dogs outdoors during the day or perhaps even overnight if the dogs have been raised as outdoor animals. Far from cruel, this is more typical of what a dog would experience naturally, however you do have to be careful to select an appropriate breed if this is how you plan to keep the pet.
While size isn't always the determining factor, there are some dogs that simply should not be considered as outside dogs in the winter months, regardless of the type of outdoor kennel you build. These include the toy breeds and the hairless breeds, as well as the cold sensitive large breeds. Dogs with very short coats or single coats of any length are not good cold weather dogs and are best kept inside a home or within a fully heated kennel or run. These dogs not only cannot tolerate cold, but dampness or snow and cold can really cause serious health problems.
There are options for keeping these types of dogs over the winter months. Dog day boarding kennels, doggy daycares or even dog sitters and walkers can all be used to keep the dog active and out of trouble when you are away at work. Most of these dogs are true companion pets and need constant interactions with humans to be happy and content, so relegating them to the kennel or outdoors is not an acceptable option.
Outdoor kennels for the medium to larger types of dogs that are suitable to staying outdoors in the cold are often fairly simple to build if you want to do it yourself. There are lots of free plans on the internet on various dog care or do it yourself building websites that have all of the features you need to consider. Of course if you aren't a carpenter or don't have the time, there are options for buying prefabricated dog kennels and houses that are both attractive in your yard as well as relatively low cost.
One of the first considerations for the outdoor kennel or dog house is the interior size of the design. A good general rule is that the dog should be able to stand up, turn around, lie down flat and stretch out within the kennel. If the space is too large it won't warm up with the dog's body heat and may not feel enough like a den for the dog to continue to use the building. If it is too small the dog simply won't be comfortable and will find some other place to try to get warm, often with much less effective results for the poor cold dog.
Since it is often difficult to take measurements of your dog when he or she is stretched out or trying to turn around, there are some rough approximations you can make. The ideal height of the dog house can be determined by measuring your dog's head height from the ground when he or she is sitting. Add two to four inches for the interior ceiling or roof height. For the actual floor area measure the dog's height at the shoulders when standing and add 18 inches to get the width and the length of the living floor area. For example, if your dog is 16 inches from the ground to the top of his head when sitting, the height of the interior part of the ceiling should be (16 +4) 20 inches. If the dog is 12 inches in height from the paws to the shoulder when standing, the floor area needs to be at least 30 inches by 30 inches (12 +18). Another formula used is to measure the height of your dog at the shoulders when standing, then multiple this number by 36. This will give you the total number of square inches needed in floor space. A dog that is 10 inches in height at the shoulder will therefore require 10 X 36 or 360 square inches of floor space.
The floor space should be covered by a material that is washable or disposable, self-drying as well as comfortable for the dog. Avoid using materials that may contain mold, especially hay and straw, as this can cause an allergic reaction in many dogs. If you are using those types of materials change frequently and only use fresh, mold and dust free bedding. Beds that contain cedar chips and herbal products can be used to help fight fleas and other types of skin insects that can infest outdoor or indoor bedding.
Generally the doorway should be on a slant or angle from the sleeping area, separated by a short hall. This prevents snow or rain from being blown into the sleeping area, keeping both the bedding and the dog dry and cozy. Placing the kennel so the doorway is out of the prevailing wind direction is also very important to help retain the dog's body heat inside the kennel. A dog door, vinyl flap or even a cloth or canvas type of covering over the door can also help keep out the cold and help to retain heat. You will need to teach the dog to use this device but most dogs catch on very quickly.
Insulation in the walls, floor and roof of the kennel or dog house can be a great heat saving idea and can also help keep the kennel cooler in the hot summer months. If you are using insulation be very sure it is secured within the walls and the dog cannot access it as some dogs will chew and eat fiberglass and other materials. These can be very dangerous for the dog.
Heating the kennel using specialized types of kennel heaters is a possibility, but you do need to ensure this is safe for the dog. Avoid having the heater where the dog can push bedding against the heater or where the dog's hair may come in contact with the heat source. Heated beds and mats are a great idea and generally safe for most dogs unless they are prone to chewing. Roof mounted heaters in metal boxes may be a better option if this is the case.