Being a Service Dog is a tough job, one that often encompasses odd hours, long work weeks, technical or specialized knowledge and few breaks. A Service Dog’s job doesn’t end, though, just because it’s hot. Use these tips to keep your Service Dog cool this summer, and still able to work comfortably.
Throughout much of the continental United States, from late June through early September, temperatures can soar into the high 90s and in some areas, well past the 100 degree mark. When it’s hot outside, it’s impossible to perform at maximum capacity. Some sports physiologists have even suggested that people’s efficiency slows as much as 25% for every 20 degree jump in temperature. While dogs work better in heat than most people, it’s important to allow your Service Dog or working K-9 some leeway in performance. Not only does heat make every task seem harder, it also tends to make everyone a little waspish and irritable. Keep in mind that dogs don’t sweat (except on the pads of their paws), so panting and direct heat exchange with the environment are the only ways they’re able to cool themselves.
Give your partner extra time to complete tasks outdoors, and don’t be surprised if his obedience is a little less snappy or polished than it is when it’s cooler.
Acclimate Your Partner
Believe it or not, it’s not at all beneficial to keep your Service Dog in the air conditioning or in a cool environment all the time, and then expect him to perform outdoors when the mercury soars. Starting in late spring, begin spending a few minutes a day working outside with your partner. Carefully and systematically exposing him to rising temperatures over the course of several weeks means his body will adapt to the heat naturally, and it won’t be nearly as shocking. As an added bonus, you’ll get used to the steadily rising temperatures, too!
If you know you’re going to be working outside for an extended period of time or attending an outdoor function, when you hop in the car to head that way, simply roll the windows down. The air movement will keep both of you cool, but will help you adjust to the heat while you’re on the way.
Stay Out of Direct Sunlight
This one may seem like a given, but try to stay out of direct sunlight and off dark-colored surfaces, like asphalt or blacktop. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, asphalt is hot enough to cause burns from 9 AM until 7 PM during the summer months. From 10 AM to 5 PM, it’s hot enough to cause second-degree burns in 35 seconds! When approaching stores, try to heel your Service Dog along a grassy median in the parking lot or only on the sidewalk. If all else fails, walk along the white line.
Consider utilizing boots for Service Dogs who do a significant amount of walking. Keep in mind, though, that to keep your Service Dog cool and safe, the boots need to provide proper ventilation. Remember, dogs sweat via their paw pads, and if the boots don’t provide ventilation and wicking, not only will your Service Dog be in danger of bacterial infestation on his feet, but he won’t cool down. The Ruffwear Skyliner boots are an excellent option for urban dwellers who need a summer walking boot. Ruffwear offers a pro-purchase program for Service Dog handlers and trainers. Qualified members receive 50% off all working dog gear.
Change Up Your Gear
Would you ever waltz out on a summer errand wearing a parka and snow pants? I didn’t think so. Why, then, should your Service Dog wear the same gear year-round? Consider obtaining a mesh vest for your partner, or a vest with built-in cooling pockets. Alternatively, your partner could wear a backpack with gel ice packs in the pouches.
Keep in mind differences between materials, too — leather is significantly hotter and heavier than neoprene, and fleece is more uncomfortable in the heat than nylon.
Utilize Cooling Products
There’s a plethora of cooling products available in everything from bandanas to full-on cooling coats to collars to beds. Most Dollar Stores and Dollar Generals carry $2-$3 cooling bandanas made for people, and they work beautifully for dogs, too. Simply soak them in cool water, tie them around your Service Dog’s neck, and away you go. When it dries, soak it again, wring it out, and re-tie. Cooling products typically work on the heat exchange basis and evaporation, which is the same mechanism your Service Dog uses to keep cool day to day. The Ruffwear Swamp Cooler is light enough and sleek enough to be worn under most Service Dog’s day to day gear, and cooling bandanas and collars come in a variety of styles and sizes to fit any working dog.
Signs of Heat Stroke
- Fast Breathing
- Heavy salivation
- Dry, pale gums
- Rapid pulse
- Erratic gait
Consider Creative Grooming
While the jury is out on whether or not shaving a dog helps keep him cool, it’s generally thought that shaving a double-coated or thick furred dog does more harm than good. However, we’ve all seen how dogs gravitate towards cooler surfaces and how they enjoy lying on cool concrete, tile or stone. Consider shaving a thin strip down your Service Dog’s belly so he can directly contact cooler surfaces. Since his belly is rarely exposed to the sun, there’s no worry about the harm that can come from shaving all of him, and he’ll be better able to cool himself off once he comes inside and is able to lay down.
Keep Safety First
Above all else, keep safety first. There are some days that are so hot no one should be out and about. If it’s too hot to be reasonably comfortable in the shade with a cool towel close at hand, it’s probably too hot to be doing anything extensive outdoors. Know the signs of canine heatstroke, and be prepared to act quickly if your Service Dog begins displaying dangerous symptoms. Get your Service Dog to a cool, shady area, douse him in cool, but not cold, water, and don’t let your Service Dog simply lay down. It’s important that he keep moving so the cooler blood at his skin’s surface quickly circulates through his body.