Instructables: Dog Leash

I have a secret: I don’t think dog leashes should have a loop handle. That might sound weird, but I don’t use them and I inwardly cringe when I see folks with the loop wrapped around their wrist (and the leash wrapped around their hand five times), because that’s an accident waiting to happen. So, outside of a Schweikert leash I got as a present, most of my leashes are homemade. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to easily make your own leash using nylon or polyester webbing. Whether you add a handle is up to you.

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My no-sew leash in action.

My no-sew leash in action at the Water Obstacle of Nope, Not Gonna Happen.

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Skill Level: Easy / Beginner

Prerequisite Skills

  • No-Sew version: none
  • Sewn version: Knowing how to use your sewing machine.
    Basic skills you’ll need to complete this project include changing your sewing machine needle, loading the bobbin and spool, threading the machine, selecting the type of stitch, sewing straight lines, and back stitching. Need help with the basics? Check your sewing machine manual (try online if you don’t have one), or YouTube.

Equipment: What do you need?

No-Sew Version

  • Webbing: cotton, nylon, or polyester. Flat or tubular.
  • Bolt snap: ideally a heavy-duty one. Metal.
  • Scissors
  • Lighter

Sewn Version

  • All of the above
  • Sewing machine: install denim needle.
  • Thread: nylon or polyester.
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How to Make Your Leash

Step 1: Measure and cut your webbing.

Before you can start making your dog leash, you need to first measure and cut your material. You can either use a tape measure to cut a specific length or you can use your intuition to create a length that feels just right for you. The most common lengths are 4ft or 6ft for leashes and 15ft or 30ft for long lines.

Step 2: Melt the ends of your webbing.

When you work with nylon or polyester webbing, it’s important that you melt the ends after cutting, which prevents fraying. Use your lighter and pass it over the end of the webbing until it has melted. Do not do this if you use cotton – cotton doesn’t melt, it burns!

Step 3: Install the bolt-snap.

In the most complicated step, you’ll attach the bolt-snap to the leash. To do this, pull one end of your leash through the loop on the bolt snap as shown in the photo below, so you have an end of about 5″ to 7″. Bring this end around to the front, over the loose end of the leash, around to the back, then pull it through the loop and down, just like tying a tie. (Confusing? Check the step-by-step pictures!) Pull tight.

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How to install the bolt snap on your dog leash.

How to install the bolt snap on your dog leash.

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Voilà, you just finished a no-sew dog leash. Even though this leash isn’t sewn, it’s extremely strong and durable: we’ve competed with this leash and even used it for agitation work. It’s finished with a simple knot on the opposite end, so it can also serve as a drag leash if needed.

Step 5: Sewing down the loose end.

This is your next step if you want to add the extra security of sewing down the loose end. Get your machine ready with a denim needle (that’s the best choice for sewing webbing) and your thread and bobbin thread, then sew the loose end down as shown in the photo.

NOTE: Collars, harnesses, and leashes should be able to withstand a lot of use. Because a seam will always be the weakest point in the construction (meaning the seam will fail before the webbing does), using a bar tack or close-set zigzag stitch is the best and strongest way of securing the webbing. If using a zigzag stitch, I recommend going back and forth several times.

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Finish by stitching down the loose end.

Finish by stitching down the loose end.

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If you absolutely must have a loop handle on the opposite end of the leash, fold down the end to create a loop and sew it down the same way as above. Alternatively, a simple knot in the end makes for a good hand-hold when using the leash for tracking or agitation work.

Now that you know how it’s done, you can create many different designs using colored or patterned webbing, sewing ribbon or fabric to your leash, or add Velcro to attach a military-style name tag. Need some inspiration? Check out Etsy’s selection of nylon dog leashes for ideas.

Did you make a leash following our instructions? We’d love to see it! Send us a picture.

Q&A: Boarding

Caption

Photo credit: Fort Stewart MWR

 

Question

Sabrina writes: “What should I ask about before I leave my dog with a boarding place?”

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Answer

Even though I prefer to leave my dogs with a knowledgeable friend while I’m gone, that doesn’t always work out and I’ve had to board several dogs over the years. So here’s what I do when I’m looking for a new boarding place, which is a good way to find one that works for you, too:

 

(1) Google is your friend! 

A quick Google search will get you started with a list of boarding kennels in your area. Since most businesses now have websites or Facebook pages, you can check out several kennels from the comfort of your home. A good kennel website should give you information about their facilities, hours, services, and rates.

Based on the website, you can already rule out some facilities – for example, I look for a place that provides kennel runs (ideally with access to an outside run), rather than “kennel-free” boarding where groups of dogs are together in one open area.

 

(2) Read the reviews and ask around.

Did I mention what a great tool the Internet is? Read the reviews on kennels you found to learn about good and bad experiences other customers have had. It’s important to take reviews, especially on pages like Google and Yelp, with a grain of salt: people are more likely to leave bad reviews after an unpleasant experience than they are to leave good reviews if the service was up to snuff. At the same time, consider this: if a business has 50 reviews and they’re all negative, maybe it’s best to avoid them.

Aside from reviews, ask others for recommendations and opinions. Good sources for this are members of the local dog club, staff at your vet clinic, and local discussion boards of Facebook groups about dogs.

 

(3) Drop by for a visit.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, it’s time to go see the kennels. You can get a hundred recommendations and look at a lot of beautiful websites, but that doesn’t compare to getting a first-hand look.

When I visit a kennel, I drop by unannounced during normal business hours. “Hi, I was in the neighborhood and I’m looking for a place to board my dog …” is always a good way to introduce yourself to the person behind the front counter. Ask them about the facility and services. Ask them what they need from you to board your dog. Ask them how far out you need to make reservations. Get their business card, a copy of their price list, and a brochure if they’re available. Then ask if you might see the boarding area.

NOTE: Unless the kennel is extremely busy with customers when you visit, I would always be weary of a facility that won’t give tours at all or that will only give tours by appointment. There’s no reason why a clean, safe facility wouldn’t let you have a look! (After all, you’ll put a member of your family into their care!)

 

Things to Look For or Ask About

What are their vaccine requirements?

Boarding kennels should ask for a copy of your dog’s shot record to ensure that they up-to-date. Most boarding kennels will (and should) require dogs to be current on rabies, DHPP, and bordetella (kennel cough) vaccines in order to be boarded.

Do they take unaltered males and females?

Many boarding kennels won’t take unaltered dogs, particularly unaltered females. If your dogs aren’t spayed or neutered due to medical reasons, because you’re showing in conformation, or because they are not yet fully grown, you’ll need to make sure the kennel will take them.

Will they feed your food (and supplements, if applicable)?

A good boarding facility should allow you to provide your dog’s own food. For most dogs, being boarded is a stressful experience without the added stress of being switched to a completely different food. You may be required to package individual mealsto make feeding easier on the kennel staff. Ziploc bags are great for this purpose – make sure to label them with the dog’s name!

Is there someone on site overnight or outside of “business hours”?

Fortunately, a lot of boarding kennels nowadays are family businesses located alongside the family home on their property, but even a commercial facility should have some other sort of supervision at the kennels at night and over the weekend to ensure dogs’ safety and well-being. (Ideally, staff should be trained in canine first aid, too, and have emergency numbers for local vet clinics in an easily accessible place.)

Do they provide exercise?

If a boarding kennel does not have indoor/outdoor runs for your pet, the fee should include at least two daily walks. Additional walks and one-on-one playtime should also be available for an additional fee. Remember, you’re paying the kennel to take care of your family member, not rent out a storage space.

Will they give medication / care for a special needs pet?

If you have a young puppy, a senior, or any pet that has special needs, you need to ensure that the kennel is able to provide appropriate care. Not all boarding facilities have staff trained to administer a daily pill or injection and many have little or no experience with pets that are deaf, blind, or otherwise disabled.

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Do you have a dog question? Contact us!

K-9 Veterans Day

I made these two wallpapers for K-9 Veterans Day some time ago and I’m not sure I’ve ever shared both of them in a blog post. Click the images for nice large versions that you can use as computer wallpaper or share on Facebook. Please check our copyright page for any questions on how you can use or edit them.

Both wallpapers were created using military press-release photos that are in the public domain, and edited using Photoshop.

The group of dogs pictured in the background of both photos represent some of the breeds that have been used as military working dogs by the US armed forces. From left to right, they’re the Belgian Malinois, Doberman, mixed-breeds, Labrador Retriever, and Husky. The dog silhouette with the handler in both photos is a German Shepherd.

Both Dobermans and Huskies were used in World War II. Dobermans were used by the Marine Corps, where they worked as sentry and messenger dogs. Huskies were used by the Army to pull dog sleds and carry packs with equipment. The Army was planning to use sled dog teams to evacuate wounded soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge, but before they were able to deploy the dogs from airfields in France, the weather started to warm up and a lot of the snow melted.

Labrador Retrievers are commonly used as detection dogs trained to find explosives and IEDs. German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois make up the majority of the canine workforce in the military.

The dog shown in the center above is Sergeant Stubby. Stubby was a mixed-breed dog, often identified as a pit bull (though period publications refer to him as a “Boston terrier mix”), who served as a mascot during World War I. Adopted by a soldier and smuggled overseas on a troop ship, Stubby spent time in the trenches with his unit and learned to alert them of gas attacks. He’s even credited with catching a German spy behind the lines. Stubby is often called “the only war dog to be promoted through combat”, although Stubby was never actually a war dog and all his promotions were honorary. After the war, his owner brought him back to the US and he served as the mascot of the Georgetown Hoyas.

PX Pet Show

While getting my shopping done on base in early June, I noticed a banner and some signs for the annual PX Pet Show that was to be held on the morning of Saturday, 23 June. This is an annual event that has been running for nearly a decade now, and Ronja and I previously attended two years ago, along with our friend Jess and her pup, Max.

Sadly, even though the event has been going on for nearly a decade, there is no website and no place to information about it online. The first year we competed, we just showed up and went to see what the event was all about. Even completely unprepared, we had a blast. A couple of vendors offered treats and toys, and the military police K-9 unit did two demonstrations, one on locating explosives scent and one on bite work. Competition included largest and smallest dog, best trick, dog-owner look-alike, and best costume. Back then, Ronja and I competed in best trick because we weren’t prepared to do anything else (like best costume), and wound up taking first place.

This year, I tried to find out more information prior to the event – I figure if we’re going to compete, we’ll go all in, regardless of whether we’ll do well in a category or whether we’ll just make fools of ourselves. After unsuccessfully trying to find information online, I resigned myself to calling Customer Service at the PX. Let me tell you, that was an experience. It went something like this:

“Hi, I’m trying to find out some information about the Pet Show.”
“Sure, hang on – I’ll transfer you.”
*transfer music*
“Hello?”
“Hi, I’m trying to get some information about the Pet event?”
“Uh … yeah … hang on, I need to transfer you.”
*transfer music*
“Hello?”
“Yeah, hi, I’m just calling to get some information about the Pet Show.”
“Can you hang on one sec? I’m at the front register, but I’ll transfer you to someone who knows.”
etc. etc.

I eventually got a voice mail where I left a message and, after not getting a response for a few days, went through the whole phone tree again until I spoke to a real live person who actually had some information. For reference, if anyone finds this post while trying to find information for an upcoming PX Pet Show, the number at the PX to call is customer service at (315) 773-0061, and it’s a good idea to call about a week out since you may get a voice mail or may need to keep trying.

At any rate, I learned that the competition would include “Doggie Field Days”, which are basically different stations you can try out with your dog, such as a hoop jump, ball toss, or slalom run. There’d also be a “Guess How Many Treats In the Jar” contest and a Spin-the-Wheel to win prizes furnished by the event sponsors, which included the local SPCA Shelter, the PX, and various dog food manufacturers. And, lastly, the judged competition where pets and owners would compete in the categories Most Obedient, Best Trick, Best/Funniest Costume, Dog-Owner Look-Alike, and Most Unusual Pet, the latter of which also included two sub-categories, Largest and Smallest Pet.

Armed with this new knowledge, I decided I would enter each category because, well, it’s free and what the heck – might as well go all out. Since this event was held on base, I decided that our costume would be dressing Ronja up in a set of Army PT’s, complete with reflective belt and running shoes. This was easy enough – $5 got me a pair of extra small PT shorts and a small PT T-shirt at the local thrift store, and I took the spare reflective belt I’ve been carrying in my Jeep and made it fit Ronja. It’s a very cute costume for her, especially with her dog boots which do look a lot like “running shoes”. Since I was already being creative, I figured we’d also enter dog-owner look-alike and instead of having the dog look like me, I’d try to look like her – so I wore my PT’s along with my set of ears and my tail. :D

On Saturday morning, we loaded into the car and headed out to the PX. I’d been told that registration starts at nine and that competition would start at ten, so we made an effort to get there early. It’s generally a good idea to get to any dog events early since that gives the dog a chance to get settled and be less stressed, rather than getting there late just throwing them right into the chaos. (A good idea for all kinds of dog events, by the way!) That would’ve been a good plan had it not been for a rain delay.

Eventually, the sky cleared, the sun came up, and things got going.

People and dogs checked out the activities.

After signing up to compete twice – once because I was second in line and then again because there were separate sign-up sheets for each category that the girl doing the sign-up hadn’t been aware of – I went around to see everything offered. Ronja and I tried out the different games offered in “Doggie Field Days”. She slalomed through parking cones and chased after a yellow squeaky tennis ball. She resolutely refused to jump through a hula hoop. Actually, she kind of looked at me like I’d lost my mind when I asked her to jump through the hoop.

The event mascot, Pokey the Puppy, demonstrated proper technique for getting through the hoop. Right up to the point where he got stuck because his head didn’t fit. Despite Pokey’s hoop prowess, he wasn’t well-received by all of the dogs. Some barked at him. Some spent a lot of time sniffing him. But at least nobody bit him!

We’re gonna need a bigger hoop!

Around 10:30, the competition took off after the judges took their seats and a mat was laid out in the demonstration area. The judges consisted of the Exchange’s general manager and two 10th Mountain Division soldiers. I’m not sure how they got chosen for this detail, but I expect there are worse things you could be detailed for.

“Best Trick” was up first, and people tried to show off the best trick or tricks their pet had learned. One Poodle who was wearing a sports jersey danced on his hind legs and then spun in circles. A Boxer called Major knew how to crawl forward and bark on command. An Irish Wolfhound knew how to bark in his quiet inside voice. Some dogs suffered from a bit of performance anxiety and just refused to do anything at all once they hit the demo area, like this big Mastiff who later competed for Largest Dog (and won).

What’s this “shake” you speak of?

Ronja had her energy up pretty well when we headed up into the demo area and we did a couple of our tricks, like turning in a circle, going around me, going through my legs, rolling over, speaking on command, and playing dead. Our “play dead” needs a lot of work and while she laid down, she refused to flop onto her side, dead. She just went into her “platz” position and looked at me. We finished up with her biting the jute tug and me swinging her by it. That one’s always a hit, whether we do it with a tug or the bite sleeve, and everyone here liked it as well.

Now, remember how I keep saying Pet Show and not Dog Show? That’s because the PX Pet Show is actually open to any type and species of pet and not just dogs, although the majority of people bring dogs. The first year we competed, someone brought a cat that knew how to walk on a leash. This year, two little girls competed with two mice, one white and one black. The latter was named Truffles.

Truffles competed for Best Trick by balancing across a rope, made visually even more interesting by the patriotic props set up by his humans. It was very cute, especially when Truffles stopped halfway across the rope and sort of swung around, trying to regain his balance, his tail moving in big circles to propel him back upward and forward. (The mice also competed for Smallest Pet and Best Costume.)

Truffles’ balancing act.

Next up was the Best Costume category. A lot of dogs had store-bought costumes, such as the little Dachshund mix dressed as Spiderman or the dog below, dressed as a partially-peeled Banana. But a fair number of dogs had creative homemade costumes, too. (I like those better.) There was a black Labrador dressed as a soccer referee, a Husky dressed in a bright orange shirt and black shorts, a Golden Retriever in a white work shirt, and a black Dachshund who wore an Army jacket and beret. Ronja, as mentioned previously, wore Army PT’s. But the best costume, in my opinion, was a Beagle dressed as Underdog, in a properly homemade Underdog costume. (Unlike the movie photo, this Underdog wore a red long-sleeve shirt with an applique U on the front, not a knit shirt. But it was spot on and got lots of applause. From us, anyway!)

I’m not a wiener dog, I’m a banana dog!

Ronja even wore “running shoes”.

After the Best Costume category came the Dog-Owner Look-Alike category, which is a good thing because it meant that I didn’t have to undress Ronja right away (which would have meant re-dressing her again later). I clipped on my ears and tail, which got lots of snickers and applause, and we walked up and looked foolish when it was our turn. There were a lot of, “OMG! The dog even has shoes!” yells for Ronja and a lot of “She’s got a tail!” yells for me.

The last two categories were Most Obedient and Most Unusual, so after getting both Ronja and I changed back to our normal selves, we headed up to compete for Most Obedient. I had her heel up to the judges’ table, then turned in a small circle with her at the heel to the left, then to the right. Then I had her sit and down, and while in a down, I threw her ball up in the air and swung it around her head to demonstrate stay and self control. Then I walked around her in a circle and finished up by standing over her while she was in a down and then have her sit up. She did really well, not just in part because she’d already calmed down for the day and was no longer hyper-hyper for her ball.

This Irish Wolfhound is about to compete for Most Obedient.

The Most Unusual category included both actually unusual pets, as well as the Largest and Smallest Pet. Truffles the mouse competed for smallest and was, by default, the smallest pet there, closely followed by a tiny little Miniature Pinscher puppy whose head was smaller than a tennis ball. The Irish Wolfhounds, Mastiff, a Great Dane Puppy and a big, fluffy Great Pyrenees all competed for largest. The Wolfhounds were tallest, but the Mastiff won the category because he outweighed them by quite a few pounds. The title of Most Unusual went to a Chinese Crested who was the only Crested there and, let’s face it, you don’t often see them, so she was most definitely the most unusual (and possibly the most sunburnt, according to her owner).

The Crested was very uncomfortable in the heat.

After the last competition, the judges tallied the scores and awarded the prizes.

First, Second, and Third place were awarded in the categories Most Obedient, Best Trick, Best Costume, and Dog-Owner Look-Alike, and First places were awarded for Most Unusual, Largest, and Smallest. Ronja and I took First for Most Obedient and Best Trick, and second for Best Costume. We won three PX gift cards that can be used at any AAFES locations – two for $25 each for the First place wins and one for $10 for the Second place win. We also won two large bags of dog food with our First Place awards, which I donated to the SPCA because I know they can always, always use those at the shelter.

Obviously, we had an absolute blast again and with the nice weather, it made the day all the more awesome. I even got Ronja to cool herself off in a kiddie pool, which is unusual for her since she doesn’t like to get into water. She still won’t sit or lay in it, but at least she’ll put her paws into it now without a lot of coaxing. (One of these days, I’ll get her to swim, too!)

After the event wrapped up, we headed over to the dog park so Ronja could run around and relax since she’d been working so hard, and we even got a small order of French fries from Burger King before we headed home as her reward since she loves fries and doesn’t often get them. She certainly deserved them!

Hugs for the good puppeh!

Warning: Hartz & Sergeants

Cheaper isn't Better Image

Cheaper isn’t better – and in this case, it’s not even “as good” as other products.
Photo credit: left, Amazon.com; right: HartzVictims.org.

If you, like me, are one of the millions of animal owners in the United States, you’ve probably found yourself in the pet aisle at your local grocery store or Walmart, wondering what makes the flea and tick products sold there so different from the brands sold at much higher prices at your vet clinic. If the assortment sold at your local store included Hartz and Sergeant’s, two of the most prolific brands found on store shelves, the answer is easy: quality.

Although it’s possible for any topical flea and tick treatment, including the brands sold at your vet clinic, to cause an allergic reaction or sensitivity in some animals, we’re not talking about a little bit of redness and some missing fur when it comes to the issues that have been plaguing Hartz and Seargeant’s for over a decade: we’re talking chemical burns, seizures, and even death. That’s a high price to pay for a cheaper flea and tick preventive.

Hartz and Sergeant’s both share a long history of class action and individual lawsuits, recalls, and warnings from the EPA. What’s more, they share the stories of thousands of pet cats and dogs who were injured, requiring often expensive and extensive veterinary treatment, and even killed by these chemical products. And they share the stories of grieving, angry owners who wanted nothing more than to keep their animals safe from fleas and ticks and who thought that these products, so prolific on store shelves, would be safe to use on their pets.

But, don’t take my word for it:

Consumer complaints about Hartz
Consumer complaints about Sergeant’s
Hartz Victims

Please take the time to talk to your veterinarian about making good choices regarding flea and tick products and alternatives to these products. There are many natural options on the market, such as Springtime’s Bug Off Garlic, which has yielded fantastic results for our friends over at Cosgrove K9’s.

Effects of Heat on Dogs, Part II

Please click here to read the first part of this study to understand the reasons behind it and the details on which results are based, such as establishing Base Line Temperature (BLT) and understanding humidity.

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Study Results

Many different factors determine how well a dog handles hot weather: breed, age, weight, fitness level, and medical issues. Our German Shepherd (Abby), who served as the test subject, is an individual without obvious risk factors. She is long-muzzled, has a well-groomed double coat, is a young adult (4 years old), at a healthy weight, and in good physical condition. She has no known medical problems, takes no medications, and is acclimatized to the heat.

Even so, Abby’s temperature easily rose to 103.5ºF (39.7ºC) with just a 1-mile walk on a hot/humid day!

To put this temperature into perspective, let’s talk about heat stroke in dogs. Veterinarians generally consider dogs with body temperatures between 104ºF (40ºC) to 106ºF (41.1ºC) to be suffering from “moderate heatstroke.” Some signs of moderate heatstroke include:

  • bright red tongue
  • thick, sticky saliva
  • rapid panting

Even if you move the dog to the shade and begin cooling him down and giving water, the effects of moderate heat stroke may last as long as an hour. Temperatures above 106ºF (41.1ºC) are extremely dangerous and may lead to death. In other words, even moderate exercise in hot/humid weather can raise a dog’s temperature to dangerous levels within a short time.

On hot/humid days, Abby’s body temperature rose significantly more than on hot/dry days. This tells us that humidity, and not just temperature, play an important part in how well a dog handles hot weather.

Unlike humans, dogs only sweat through their paw pads and tongues. In dogs, the evaporation of saliva from the tongue helps dissipate heat. The rapid exchange of cool outside air with warm, humid air inside the lungs helps keep a dog’s temperature within normal limits. Problems start when outside temperatures are equal or higher than the dog’s body temperature, because evaporation then no longer brings in cooler air. In high humidity, temperatures don’t even need to be higher than the dog’s body temperature – more humidity means less cooling.

When I tested the impact of heat on Abby, our coolest day was 86ºF (30ºC), yet Abby’s temperature still rose two degrees when we went for a walk or played ball outside.

Now imagine a dog with additional risk factors: short-muzzled breeds such as pugs; very young puppies or older seniors; overweight dogs, or dogs with medical problems. It does not take long for the weather to become dangerous to them, even if it’s just a regular walk.

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How to prevent heat injury

As you have seen above, it’s easy for a dog to suffer heat injury, even with moderate exercise. Based on my study and experience with dogs, here are some tips to help you keep your pet safe in the heat. These are especially important for dogs that have risk factors, but are suitable for dogs of all breeds and sizes:

  • try to limit heavy exercise to cooler hours (mornings, evenings)
  • always provide fresh, cool water
  • cool your dog by wetting down the belly and inside of the hind legs
  • let your dog set the pace during hikes or runs
  • don’t leave dogs inside a vehicle
  • don’t leave dogs in an area without shade or shelter
  • limit exercise during the hottest part of the day, if possible
  • use cooling and rehydration products when needed
  • know the signs of heat injury and watch for them
  • don’t restrict your dog’s panting (for example, with an emergency muzzle)
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About cooling products

Although it’s best (and recommended by most veterinarians) to limit exercise to parts of the day that are less hot, such as early mornings and late evenings, I realize it isn’t always an option: service dogs, search & rescue dogs, police dogs, military working dogs, and many other working dogs don’t have the ability to just “stay indoors” when it’s hot. They’re needed. Their jobs are important. Additionally, elderly dogs, short-nosed breeds, and dogs with medical problems may benefit from cooling products even during times healthy adult individuals may not.

Veterinarians (and human doctors, as much of this translates to human use) suggest the most effective way of cooling is by means of the circulatory system. If you cool the core (the chest and stomach) and areas where major arteries are found (neck, armpits, and groin), you achieve the most efficient cooling results. Therefore, it makes sense to consider cooling vests and cooling wraps before most other types of products, especially for animals that are on the move, such as search and rescue dogs.

Unfortunately, the most common products on the market cool only the neck and shoulders: cooling neck bands and bandanas. These are usually filled with poly-carbonate crystals that hold large amounts of water and must be soaked in cold water before use. The first cooling effect is felt when the wet product is applied to the body, and additional cooling takes place through evaporation. These obviously don’t work well in high humidity and there’s some research that suggests cooling only the head and neck may actually tell the brain to stop or lower other cooling procedures (such as sweating), which is potentially dangerous.

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Reviews

Disclaimer: The opinions in these reviews are mine. I’m not a representative of these companies, nor do I have any interest (financial or otherwise) in their business. I have not received any monetary compensation to give a good (or bad) review of any of these products.

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Outward Hound Cool-It. Photo credit: Vitality Medical

Outward Hound Cool-It. Photo credit: Vitality Medical

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Product Name: Cool-It Bandanna
Manufacturer: Kyjen (Outward Hound)
Where to Buy: PetsMart
Price: under $10

What it Promises
Outward Hound’s Cool-It Bandanna promises to be “a stylish way to keep your pets cool” and that the cooling crystals will keep your pet “cool for hours.”

How it Works
The Cool-It Bandanna contains crystals that hold a large amount of water. You must soak the bandana in cool water to activate the crystals (allow them to soak up the water). For best results, the company suggests putting it into the refrigerator between wetting and use.

Design
The Cool-It Bandanna is a collar-type product that fits around the neck. The old version is solid blue, while the new version (shown above) is a two-tone design of light blue and gray. Both versions feature a reflective strip for visibility and hook-and-loop closure. It is available in 3 sizes – small, medium, and large.

Performance in this Study
I tested the Cool-It Bandanna on a hot/dry day and a hot/humid day. I noticed no significant difference in my dog’s body temperature with the bandana on.

What I Like
The Cool-It Bandanna is extremely easy to use: just soak and put it on. Putting it on is as simple as putting on a collar. The reflective stripe is helpful when walking at night.

What I don’t Like
The product didn’t perform as advertised: I noticed no significant cooling while my dog wore it. Perhaps it would work better on a dog with no coat (like a Chinese Crested) or a very short coat. Additionally, the bandana drips water before it begins evaporating the excess and it may be difficult for dogs wearing a wide collar or several collars to get any benefit from it at all since it would sit over the collar.

Verdict
Thumbs down. I don’t think the product does what it promises.

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Cool Vest. Photo credit: CoolVest4Dog

Cool Vest. Photo credit: CoolVest4Dog

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Product Name: Cool Vest
Manufacturer: Gramercy Distribution, Inc.
Where to Buy: Cool Vest 4 Dog
Price: $53 to $63

What It Promises
“Provides a protective layer from direct and indirect sunlight and heat. Its laminated lining keeps dogs dry! Perfect for a summer walk!”

How it Works
The Cool Vest is made from “a special fabric that absorbs and retains water” and laminated on the inside to “keep dogs dry.” Because the vest works by evaporation, you have to soak the product in cool water before use. For maximum efficiency, the company suggests soaking it in ice water and placing it in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes prior to use.

Design
The Cool Vest covers half the dog’s back and all of its chest and ribcage. It’s designed to fit over the dog’s neck, with the bottom portion going between the front legs and fastening to the top using hook-and-loop strips on the side. The neck hole itself is adjustable by a strap and toggle. Vests are available in high-visibility orange or light blue, and in various sizes, from “mini” to “large.” Extra large sizes to accommodate giant breeds are not available.

Performance in this Study
I tested the Cool Vest in hot/dry and hot/humid weather. On dry days, the Cool Vest kept my dog’s body temperature significantly lower than using no product. On humid days, the vest did not make a significant difference in my dog’s body temperature.

What I Like
The Cool Vest is very easy to put on and adjust. The vest I tested was blaze orange, making it great for visibility during hunting season or off-leash hikes. It performed well on hot/dry days.

What I don’t Like
The Cool Vest drips water before it starts evaporating the excess. Even though the product description claims “the laminated inside will keep dogs dry,” I found that when the vest is soaked following instructions, I would need to dry off the inside before putting it on. It’s not as adjustable as I would like: the hook-and-loop fasteners on the side are relatively short, giving little allowance for different girths. Additionally, the part of the vest that goes between the dog’s front legs was uncomfortable for my narrow-chested dog and rubbed on her legs.

Verdict
Thumbs up. This vest won’t work for every dog, but it will fit fine on wide-chested dogs (like Labradors). It will work best in a hot/dry climate.

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RPCM ChillyDog. Photo credit: CoolVest

RPCM ChillyDog. Photo credit: CoolVest

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Product Name: ChillyDog / ChillyPup
Manufacturer: GlacierTek
Where to Buy: RPCM Cool Vest
Price: $99 to $140

What it Promises
The ChillyDog vest “maintains a constant 59ºF (15ºC) for up to 2.5 hours in 100ºF (37.7ºC) temperatures and recharges in minutes.” It is “absolutely safe” and recharges in “10 to 15 minutes in ice water” or “30 to 45 minutes in the refrigerator.” It is adjustable to “fit a wide range of working dogs.” (A small dog version, the ChillyPup, is also available.)

How it Works
The ChillyDog uses rechargeable cooling packs to cool the dog’s core. The cooling packs are made from food-grade fats and oils which don’t create condensation as they thaw. The packs are dry on the outside and keep a constant, cool temperature.

Design
The ChillyDog vest fits similar to a dog harness. It’s easiest to put it on by laying the vest on the ground, walking the dog into place, and pulling the vest up to buckle it. The neck is fully adjustable with hook-and-loop closures, the girth is adjustable for a wide variety of sizes using buckles. Once the vest is on the dog, the cool packs cover the sides of the dog’s chest, providing cooling over the heart and lungs. Cool packs can be exchanged while the vest is worn: their compartments open with hook-and-loop closures. D-rings allow the vest to also function as a harness. It is available in two sizes, Chilly Dog (large working breeds, such as Malinois, Shepherds, and Labradors) and Chilly Pup (small working breeds, such as Springer Spaniels). The large size is available in black, desert camouflage, high visibility orange and high visibility yellow. The small size is available in black and desert camouflage.

Performance in this Study
I tested the ChillyDog on hot/dry and hot/humid days. It performed equally well in both tests because it does not rely on evaporation and is therefore not affected by humidity. The vest kept my dog’s body temperature significantly lower than wearing no product. On a 104ºF (40ºC) day with 60% humidity, her temperature remained below 103ºF (39.4ºC)!

What I Like
The vest is made using the same types of webbing and buckles used on military equipment. It’s very adjustable for different neck and girth sizes. It was very easy to put on and the cool packs were easy to insert and remove. The D-rings on this vest help it function as a harness, not just a vest. Because there’s no condensation on the cold packs, the dog stays both cool and dry.

What I don’t Like
The rear girth strap, which sits about in the center of my dog’s back was much narrower than the front girth strap, which seemed uncomfortable. I had some problems with the strap adjustments “slipping” with movement – this could easily be fixed with a piece of hook-and-loop or elastic keeper to secure the strap once it’s sized. The metal D-rings that serve as a leash attachment point should be a thicker gauge – it didn’t seem like it might stand up to a larger working dog pulling into it.

Verdict
Thumbs up! I think this is an excellent product for working dogs that need to be outside in the heat: police K-9’s, military working dogs, search-and-rescue, Service Dogs, etc. It’s easy to keep the straps from slipping (make a knot, add a keeper, or tape them down).

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What I’ve Learned

The dangers of summer heat and especially hot/humid weather are very real. Even a young, healthy, and well-conditioned dog can easily suffer from heat stroke during moderate activity. Special care needs to be taken with dogs that have risk factors and dogs that must work in hot weather.

Many dogs need to work outside regardless of temperature, such as Service Animals, police dogs, military working dogs, and search-and-rescue dog teams. These dogs would benefit from using cooling vests on hot/humid and hot/dry days, which would extend the amount of time they can work and help prevent heat-related injury. The best type of product is one that cools the dog’s circulatory system (chest/core) and that is unaffected by humidity. Dogs with risk factors can also benefit from cooling products.

Pet owners and working dog handlers must be aware of the signs of heat injury and know how to give first aid for those injuries when necessary.

 

Posted in health. 3 Comments »

TWDTWD Editorial

The other day, I found myself flipping through the pages of Bark Magazine at my local bookstore when I came across an editorial about Take Your Dog to Work Day, an annual event by Pet Sitters International. I have a bit of a soft spot for this event: not only does it raise awareness of the benefits of dog ownership and dog adoption, but also because our dog was the event’s poster pup in 2007.

On one hand, I was excited to see the event covered in Bark, because they have a lot of readers and an article like this helps spread awareness of the event: which is awesome. Unfortunately, the author of the editorial didn’t have a good time at work with her dog, and therefore suggested to the readers: “let sleeping dogs lie – or, in this case, stay home.”

I always find it disappointing when when people suggest others should leave their dogs at home. In many parts of the United States, we really don’t have a lot of options for things to do with our dogs. We can’t bring them on errands: stores don’t allow them and leaving them in the car is dangerous (and usually illegal). We can’t take them for a romp on the beach and a swim they’re not welcome at most beaches. In many places, we can’t even enjoy the outdoors together because trails and parks no longer allow dogs. In some cities, it’s even illegal to bring a dog to an outdoor event or within 50 feet of a playground!

With these restrictions, it’s not surprising there are more and more dogs that have never been anywhere. The only time they go for a ride in the car is when it’s time for an annual vet checkup. The only time they see another dog is if one crosses their path on a walk around the block. They never get to experience different places, different people, different dogs. Their experience is limited mostly to the home in which they live, perhaps the yard, and a daily walking route (which may vary little).

I’m not saying that’s what happened in the case of this author and her dog, but it’s certainly possible. When dogs aren’t used to experiencing different environments, they won’t be comfortable and the experience will be stressful (or perhaps even scary) for both the dog and owner. And some dogs, too, are just shy, reserved, or nervous by nature – something their owners should be aware of before putting them into this type of situation.

What I’m trying to get at is this: instead of focusing on her uncomfortable experience on Take Your Dog to Work Day, the author may have used it as a starting point to talk about whether or not an individual dog may be better off staying home, how people might socialize and train their dogs so they can participate in this type of event, or even how you might make an anxious dog more comfortable. She could have talked about bringing the dog’s crate to give him a comfortable, safe place to go; or how to recognize calming signals (pdf), such as yawning and licking lips.

I guess what really disappointed me about the editorial wasn’t the author’s experience, but the fact that she would take it to generalize all dog owners should leave their dogs at home. That’s disappointing because you’d think a dog magazine would take a more pro-dog approach: teach people how their dog can participate in such an event, why socialization is important, and why it may not be for every dog. Don’t take one bad experience and say, “nobody should do this.”

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