Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The Pet Expert: Ensuring the Health & Well-being of Outdoor Dogs

The Ministry of the Solicitor General’s office is proposing changes to the Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act in an attempt to improve the lives of outdoor dogs.

This act, which was put in place in January 2020, extensively changed animal welfare laws in Ontario by creating a modern, government-based enforcement system.

The proposal, known as the Proposal for Updated Standards of Care for Dogs Kept Outdoors, specifically identifies three key areas for improvement in the current legislation which include “…challenges with the existing standards, public concerns raised about the welfare of dogs outdoors, and ensuring the standards are reflective of the most recent evidence and practice.”

As they are currently written, these standards are quite vague. Since these standards only apply to dogs who are deemed to “live primarily outdoors”, they are subject to broad interpretation, and are insufficient in establishing clear and specific care requirements. While the current standards act requires outdoor dogs to have a structurally sound enclosure and provide some basic standards for tethering, they do not distinctly cover any other requirements for care.

This new proposal aims to clarify requirements, further provide terms, and to provide additional direction for both pet owners and enforcement officers. It also seeks clarification on what constitutes a dog that lives primarily outdoors. The proposed definition outlines any dog that is kept outdoors for any period exceeding 60 minutes without supervision.

The proposed new standards follow a model called the “Five Domains Mode” of animal welfare. This scientific model considers nutrition, physical environment, health, behaviour interactions, and mental state. In order to meet all of these needs, they aim to further define the following:

Outdoor Dog Houses

Currently, the standards for outdoor canine enclosures require that they are structurally sound, weather-proof, and insulated. They also indicate that the enclosure must be appropriately sized for the dog, however there is no guide for sizing. New changes to the Act would define minimum space requirements, which are imperative to provide comfort and proper ventilation. They would also go into further details about design and material requirements.


At present, a chain or rope used for tethering an outdoor dog must be a minimum of three meters in length. Additionally, a tether must allow a dog to move safely and to be able to access water and shelter. The proposal seeks to further define requirements for dogs in outdoor pens, design of collars and tethers, the maximum amount of time a dog can be tethered for at a time, access to shade, and also cleaning requirements for tethers and/or penned areas.

Food and Water

Due to lack of clarity, this proposal seeks to define nutrition requirements to ensure outdoor canines can maintain a healthy weight and lean muscle mass. It would also indicate that diets must be palatable, and meet daily caloric needs. Fresh water must also be available at all times. An interesting addition with this proposal is setting standards for food and water containers.

Grooming and Nail Care

The current standards do not provide grooming standards for dogs that live primarily outdoors. The new proposal seeks to change that, by providing guidance for basic grooming and hygienic requirements.

Health and Welfare Maintenance

Ensuring the health and well-being of outdoor animals should be a priority in any community, and the new standards ensure that measures are put in place to protect animals from injury and illness. Daily welfare checks would also be required by the dog’s owner, too.

This new proposal is a step in the right direction towards improving animal rights in Ontario. If the decision is made to move forward with the proposal, a consultation process will take place to firmly develop wording for new regulations to be put forward.

Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon is certified in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years’ experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit

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