Summertime is full of fun, freedom and hot dogs, and we don’t mean the kind you get at the ballpark. Although an exact number is difficult to find it is estimated that thousands of dogs die every year from heat-related causes. A little information and common sense can save lives.
Your dogs average body temperature ranges between 100 to 102.5 degrees. We have sweat glands all over our body, which help to keep us cool, our dogs have very small sweat glands only on the bottom of their feet and on their noses. Try walking around in a wetsuit and a fur coat on a 100-plus degree day and it may give you some insight on how your dog feels. Oh, by the way don’t forget to be barefoot. If you’re taking your dog out, be sure to put your bare foot or hand on the surface that they’ll be walking on and hold it there for five seconds. If you can’t do it they can’t walk on it.
Creativity is how to get our dogs enough mental and physical stimulation during these hot summer months. Here are a few ideas that may be of some help for you and your pups:
• Swimming is a great and super fun way to get your dog plenty of exercise in the summer. Some dogs will naturally swim, but we’re not fans of the old “toss your dog in the water and they’ll figure it out” adage. One of the best ways to teach dogs to swim is to take them to a nearby lake where they can walk in and slowly get used to the water. Play in the shallow water with their favorite toy and slowly take them to deeper water, when they can get chest deep and are still enjoying it, gently put your arms around their body and ease them in a little deeper where their feet can’t touch the bottom. Slowly take your arms away and have them swim back to the shallower area. Let them get comfortable at their own pace. If you’re teaching them in a pool use the steps to ease your dog in. If your dog is too scared to swim or is too small to reach the steps but they’ll still have access to a pool unattended, we recommend a Skamper Ramp. It’s a great piece of safety equipment for any home with a dog and a pool.
• Another game that we have taught and used for many years with our own dogs is the “Find It” game. If your dog is toy, ball or food motivated you can give them great mental stimulation that will wear them out. Start by asking your dog to sit or down and hold. Once they’re sitting or laying down and holding, slowly walk a few feet away, place their motivator (toy, ball, treat) on the floor and walk back to them. In an excited voice say, “Find it, find it” and celebrate like crazy. Repeat that a few times then take the motivator further away, but still in sight. As they get better at the game start to hide the motivator behind a chair or sofa, but be sure they see where you put it. Always walk back to them to release them. If they get up before you release them calmly take them back to the starting point. They always need to wait for you to say, “Find it”! Make the game harder and harder and watch them wear themselves out after a few tough searches.
• To shave or not to shave? For those of you that have long or thick coated dogs, the question of shaving them down in the hot summer heat usually is pondered. From our point of view, it would make total sense to shave them down so that they’ll feel much cooler. We took that approach many years ago with my Golden Retriever, Courtney. She loved to go out and bask in the hot sun so I figured that a shave down would help her enjoy it even more. How wrong I was! She had the worst summer of her life and spent much of it indoors. What I didn’t know at the time was that her longer coat protected her skin from the hot rays of the sun.
The best way to keep your thick/long coated pup cooler in the summer is to remove the undercoat, leaving the outer coat to protect the skin from the direct rays of the sun. Removing the undercoat will allow air to flow freely over their skin while the longer outer coat deflects the sun’s rays. You can purchase certain grooming tools that are specifically designed to help pull out the undercoat.
• How about them booties? Many of us ponder the idea that if the surface is too hot for their feet let’s just put a pair of booties on their feet and they’ll be ready to roll. The flawed premise here is that if we protect their feet, the problem is solved. However, burning their feet is not the only potential danger for them.
Your dog’s very small sweat glands are only on the bottom of their feet and on their noses. Try walking around in a wetsuit and a fur coat on a 100-plus degree day and it may give you some insight on how your dog feels. Panting is the primary heat releaser for your dogs body. If the air temperature is higher than their body temperature they can’t cool down. The most valid use for booties in the summer is to get them from Point A to Point B like from the car to the vets office, or anywhere else they may have to walk across a very hot surface.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Brad Jaffe founded Team Canine in 1999, using non-violent training and modern day psychology to train dogs. Contact him at (602) 954-8353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.