May 25, 2012, 6:00 AM EDT
By Jerry Sather
Looks like we’ve got a long, hot summer ahead of us. When temps achieve the mid-90s with Florida-like humidity here in Minnesota in mid-May … yep, it’s going to be a scorcher. Those are not optimal conditions for training dogs. As a dog-owner, it’s critical that you understand how heat and humidity impact your dog and how to avoid problems – some potentially life-threatening – the heat can cause for your dog.
The first thing to understand is that dogs do not maintain their body heat (or cool, in this case) the same way humans do. We sweat. Evaporation of that sweat from our skin, helps to cool us and prevent core body temperature from becoming too high.
Dogs do not sweat. Dogs pant. They expel internal heat this way. And the large surface area of a dog’s tongue, mouth and gums exposed to the external air help cool them by evaporation of saliva. That’s why the hotter a dog gets and the harder it works, the longer its tongue hangs from its mouth. Although a dog’s body does have sweat glands located on the pads on a dog’s feet and ears, the dog’s body is cooled off mainly through its tongue. This cools the blood vessels in the dog’s head area. Because of this, a dog’s body needs lots of water so that its cooling system will run efficiently. The more water that a dog has available the better the dog can cool its body. By giving your dog enough water both internally and externally, you can help a dog’s cooling system to keep the dog cool.
It’s very important, year-round, to ensure that your dog has continual access to cool, fresh water to drink, but especially so in hot weather. That’s the most important step to protect your dog.
Giving your dog a place to “get wet” can also help a great deal. When pro trainers are working a bunch of dogs out of a truck or trailer, you’ll often see a kiddy swimming pool nearby. It’s filled with cool water and even a few ice cubes. When a dog comes of its run on the set up, it’s straight into the pool for a refreshing dip. Keeping the water just a few inches deep is the way to go so the dog can lay down in the pool, wetting just its chest, belly and genitals. Then instead of putting the dog back in its assigned kennel, it’s best to stake the dog in the shade to continue cooling – of course, with access to as much fresh water as it cares to drink.
Trainers will also modify the training schedule in extreme heat. It’s best to work dogs just before and after sunrise in this kind of weather. And if it’s just too stifling, cancel training that day to avoid any problems.
While it is better to do water work than land work in this kind of heat, the type and quality of the water needs to be considered. I’m fortunate to have spring fed ponds on my training grounds so the water is fresh and cool all the time. However, some ponds become stagnant and develop algae blooms that are actually toxic to dogs. So be careful about running your dog into just any old water during the hottest parts of the season.
Back at the kennel – or in your home – keep water available and ensure the dog is housed in an area with good circulation and in the shade. An occasional dip in that kiddy pool is likely to be considered a treat, too.
Water, water, water is the most critical. There are some formulas you can add to boost the recovery of your dog from work in the heat, but the jury’s still out on there effectiveness. What your dog needs most in the heat is cool, fresh, clean water.
Next week we’ll look at what to do if your dog becomes overheated despite your best efforts to keep him safe.
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