Q&A: You Ask, We Answer

 

Question

Jamie writes: “Why do dogs howl at sirens? We live near a firehouse and whenever the trucks pull out with lights and sirens, my dog howls along. My friend said that the sirens hurt his ears and that’s why he howls. Is that true?”


Answer

Dogs don’t howl along with sirens because the sound is painful to them. Let’s think about this logically: If pain were the cause dogs howl at sirens, then all dogs would react to the sound of sirens unless they are deaf. However, most dogs aren’t bothered by sirens at all and very few dogs howl at sirens or other sounds.

Additionally, consider that howling is not usually a sign of pain in dogs. Dogs don’t howl if they are injured or experiencing pain, such as an ear infection for example. Dogs usually show pain by yelping, whining, and pawing or biting at the painful body part. The dogs I’ve seen howl at sirens, however, do none of those things: their ears are most commonly pricked forward in attention before they begin to howl.

Lastly, remember that dogs have the ability to “block out” some loud noises by folding back their ears to protect their hearing. Police dogs going to the pistol range, for example, usually fold their ears back to guard against the repeat gun fire but they don’t howl.

Howling at sirens goes back to your dog’s ancestor, the wolves, and the natural instinct to howl for communication. Howling helps a pack communicate and coordinate when they are spread over large distances while hunting or traveling. It helps them find a lost pup or pack member. It communicates being lonely. It can even be a group activity which many canids engage in – think coyotes or wolves howling in harmony. Lastly, it can be a warning.

Dogs who still have this instinct howl when they hear a sound that is similar to the howling of another dog, such as sirens, flutes, singing, or hearing another dog on TV. The response howl is an instinctual behavior and your dog probably doesn’t even understand it – he just knows it’s “the thing to do.”

Check out the pup below responding to a siren.

Posted in health. 1 Comment »

Q&A: Finding the Right Dog

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Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Question

Anna writes: “My husband and I would love to add a dog to our family. He wants a big dog, but I’m worried about having a big dog around our two boys, ages 4 and 2. My friend who has small dogs, however, told me small dogs aren’t a good choice around young children because the dog could get hurt. There’s so much conflicting information out there. How do we find the right dog?”

 


Answer

This is one of those questions that keep coming up in different incarnations: “Which dog is right for someone in a small house / apartment?” “Which dog should I get for my children who are scared of dogs?”, “Which dog should I get if I don’t have a yard?” and so on.

My biggest problem with these questions, and the many answers that are posted on blogs all over the internet, listing one or two specific breeds, is that none of them address what the dog will be used for, what the person’s schedule looks like, and what the person’s experience with dogs is.

I know a lot of people assume that you cannot own a large dog unless you have a fenced in yard, and many people assume that any small dog will do great in an apartment. Both of those are not really true. Many people have large dogs without having a fenced yard. And many small dog breeds, such as Jack Russell Terriers, have a lot of energy and need a lot of exercise.

What I always try to tell people is to consider what they want to get out of the dog and what they are willing to put into the dog. Having a fenced yard does not make you a suitable home – it just means you’ll have an easier time finding a place for off-leash exercise and training. However, it doesn’t mean you can just open the door and your dog will exercise himself. Dogs need structured exercise, and I think that’s one of the things a lot of people overlook. Even if you have a yard, you either need to come up with a way to exercise your dog – mind and body – in the yard, and you still need to go on leashed walks.

Most people underestimate the importance of leashed walks. Leashed walks help you bond with your dog.  They help the dog focus. They help exercise the dog in a controlled way and also build routines if you plan to set up an exercise program where you can work different parts of the dog – for example, walks with lots of uphill portions help build muscle in a dog’s hindquarters. But all of this doesn’t work if your walk consists of the dog running willy-nilly from left to right, stopping every five feet to sniff, or dragging you down the road.

In addition to structured walks, dogs also need off-leash exercise – fetching balls, playing with their toys, anything that engages them and gives them something to do. And they need to do things that stimulate their minds. The easiest way to stimulate a dog’s brain is to work on obedience (and tricks). Short sessions throughout the day – five minutes here, ten minutes there – are perfectly sufficient and help you work on behaviors you want while also exercising your dog’s noodle. It can be simple stuff like sit and down (basic behaviors), or more difficult stuff like fancy tricks and useful actions.

My dog, Abby, carries out the trash … and you should see her! She prances! But to get there required a lot of small tasks that had to be taught – Picking an item up or taking it from my hand. Holding on to it with a good grip, but not hard enough to get her teeth stuck in it. Heeling next to me to the dumpster. Handing the item to me on command. It’s an impressive trick to people, but more importantly, it’s a way to build my dog’s confidence and train her mind.

If you’re considering a new dog, the question shouldn’t be, “What breed is right for me?” The questions should be:

1) How much time do I have to dedicate to exercise? Training? Walking? Playing?
2) How much hair do I want to pick up (or how much grooming do I want to do)?
3) How much money can I afford to spend on classes?
4) What do I want to do with the dog? Any dog sports? Conformation?
5) What are my *reasons* for getting a dog? Companionship? Sports?
6) What are the breed traits of the breeds I’m considering?
7) What type of temperament can I expect from the breeds I’m considering?
8) How can I find a breeder or rescue that can *match* me with the right dog?

Dog Food: So Many Choices

So many choices! Photo credit: Tractor Supply Company (food bags)

So many choices! Photo credit: Tractor Supply Company (food bags)

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A couple of months ago, I asked people on a general dog forum the kind of question that usually starts arguments: “What do you feed your dog?” People, and in particular dog people, often have strong opinions on what should go into their four-legged friends’ stomachs: some swear by commercial foods they can pick up at the supermarket, others follow their veterinarian’s recommendation, yet others rely on homemade or raw diets.

I specifically asked my question on a general dog forum that has participants from all walks of life. On this forum, some have rescue dogs and others have purebreds. Some are active in dog sports, conformation shows, or other types of dog events, some never do anything with their dogs but go for a leisurely stroll. In short: the forum has a good cross-section of average dog owners.

I quickly learned that opinions on feeding fall on a sliding scale. On one end of the scale are hardcore dog owners who keep up with the latest scientific research regarding health and nutrition. They often disagree with their veterinarians (or go for second and third opinions), are heavily involved in dog activities, and have some pretty strong opinions about what everyone else should be feeding and doing with their dogs, too. On the opposite end of the scale are dog owners who love their pets but don’t really spend much energy differentiating between food. It’s all good to them. They dutifully follow their veterinarians’ advice, don’t get involved with any dog activities other than walking, and bring home whatever bag of food was on sale at the grocery store. Between these two polar opposites, you’ve got the vast majority of dog owners.

The results of my poll were as follows:

What do you feed your dog?

35% – Commercial brands (like Beneful, Purina, Iams, Pedigree)
19% – Any kind of food, as long as it’s on sale
12% – I feed raw, without vegetables
12% – I frequently change brands. Dogs need variety.
08% – I feed mostly table scraps.
08% – Holistic brands (like Evo, Canidae, TimberWolf)
04% – Premium brands (like Blue Buffalo)
04% – I’m not sure / don’t know
00% – Home-made food using human-grade ingredients
00% – I feed raw, with vegetables

The people who feed commercial brands (35%), any brand that’s on sale (19%) and those who frequently change brands (12%) are all people who purchase their dog foods at the local grocery store. This means that 66% of people polled feed “grocery store” brands: Beneful, Purina, Iams, Pedigree, and so on.

Additionally, I also asked them how they selected their dog’s food and most answered that they followed recommendations from their veterinarian, a family member, a friend, or the price and availability of the food. I also asked them whether they had ever researched the food they’ve chosen, and most said they read the front of the bag, but hadn’t read the ingredient label and hadn’t looked up or compared foods online.

Even though most dog owners have never done any research into their dog food, most people I know have their pet’s best interest at heart and want to do what’s best for their dog (or cat, or horse, or really any pet). One way to meet your pet’s needs is to know what they are, understand why they are what they are, and try to make the best choices you can. When it comes to food, those choices are often limited by availability and cost, but they are still choices.

One way to make good food choices for your pet is to make sure the food you’ve got currently in your home has not been recalled or withdrawn. You can go to the FDA’s Recalls & Withdrawals website for a list of current problem foods. A great website for learning about dog foods in general, such as how to read food labels, what the ingredients actually are, and which ones you might want to avoid (and why) is the Dog Food Project. If you just want a list of good dog foods to take with you on your next shopping trip, the Dog Food Advisor is worth a look. And if you feel very brave and want to get started with raw feeding, the Raw Dog Ranch is a great place to begin.

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.”

Effects of Heat on Dogs, Part I

I originally wrote this article while living in southern Virginia where summer temperatures routinely went above 100°F (38°C), accompanied by high humidity. I decided to study the impact this weather had on our dog, a plush-coated German Shepherd, as well as test and review some cooling products made for dogs.

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Disclaimer

I am not a veterinarian, medical doctor, or scientist. Although I tried to follow the scientific method, this is only a simple study done by an experienced dog owner and handler. It is designed to help pet owners make smart decisions when it comes to exercising and working their dogs in summer. No dogs were harmed in the process.

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Why are you doing this study?

We own a wonderful, plush-coated German Shepherd (Abby). We want her to be happy and stay safe, which includes being safe from heat-related injury. Additionally, I want other dog owners and handlers to be aware of the dangers heat and humidity can pose to their dogs. It is possible for a dog’s body temperature to quickly rise to dangerous levels, even if the dog is only getting moderate exercise. The goal of this study is to inform and educate – and hopefully prevent dogs from suffering heat-related injury.

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About the test subject

I studied the effects of summer heat on our own dog, Abby. She is a plush-coated German Shepherd Dog, measures 23.8″ at the withers, and weighs in at a lean 60lbs. She is in physically good condition.

NOTE: This dog is acclimatized to hot weather. We do not use the air conditioning at home unless outside temperatures rise above 100°F (38°C), allowing her and us to get used to the heat. (This is not a dog who is in a 72°F (22°C) environment year round, as many dogs are.)

This information is important because the way a dog handles the heat is not just dependent on external factors, such as temperature and humidity, but also on the individual dog. Adult dogs who are in good shape and acclimatized to the weather are less at risk of heat injury. Some dogs are more susceptible. They include:

  • short-muzzled breeds, such as Boxers and Pugs
  • young puppies
  • senior dogs
  • overweight dogs
  • dogs with medical conditions
  • dogs on some medications
  • dogs that are not acclimatized to the heat
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Establishing Base Line Temperature (BLT)

In order to establish how heat affects our dog and how well cooling products work, I first needed to establish Abby’s normal temperature or Base Line Temperature (BLT). Using a rectal thermometer, I took Abby’s temperature each morning (after letting her out of her crate) for 7 days. Her BLT fluctuated between 97.9°F (36.6°C) and 100.4°F (38°C), with the average being 99.5°F (37.5°C), just a little lower than most dogs’.

Normal body temperature of a health adult dog ranges between 100°F (37.7°C) and 102.5°F (39.1°C), depending on the time of day. As in humans, a dog’s body temperature is generally lower in the morning and higher in the evening. It also fluctuates based on outside temperature and physical factors, such as weight and health. Therefore, if you are planning to monitor your own dog’s temperature, you must establish the BLT for your individual dog.

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Measuring the effect of exercise

In order to measure the effect on exercise (movement) on Abby’s body temperature, I needed to set parameters. It’s not possible to measure the effects of exercise in different conditions if the exercise is not consistent: for example, if we play 30 minutes of fetch one day, go for an hour hike the next, and just walk around the block once the day after. I therefore set the following parameters:

Playtime: playtime consisted of 15 minute sessions playing soccer (dog chases ball). This was done in the field behind our house (grass, at a slight incline) and between 4 and 6pm. Abby’s temperature was taken immediately after coming inside, prior to giving water or rest.

Walking: walking was limited to a specific 1 mile course around the neighborhood. Walks were on a varied course including inclines and level ground, and took place between 4 and 6pm. Walking pace was fairly quick (3.2 miles per hour). Abby’s temperature was taken immediately after coming inside, prior to giving water or rest.

Because humidity plays a large role in how well cooling products work (more about that below), I tested each product on days with low humidity and on days with high humidity. This means each product was tested at least 4 times: 2 times on walks and 2 times during playtime. A control group of walks and playtime using no products at all was also done in low and high humidity.

Temperature and humidity information was obtained from The Weather Channel immediately prior to testing.

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The effect of humidity

Dogs do not sweat like humans. Human cooling takes place by evaporation: sweat on the surface of the skin evaporates, cooling us in the process. (Learn more about the science behind sweating.) Dogs, on the other hand, do not have sweat glands in their skin: they sweat only through their paw pads, and primarily cool themselves by panting, which also relies on evaporation. (Learn more about the science behind dogs cooling off.)

Humidity plays a role because of how evaporation works. (Learn more about the science of evaporation.) In simple terms, water molecules escape into the air, which cools the body. When it’s humid, the air is already heavy with water, so less evaporation (and less cooling) takes place. When it’s humid, it’s then more difficult for dogs and humans to stay cool.

This also matters when testing cooling products for dogs because many of these products also rely on evaporation. These products therefore work best in areas that are hot and dry, and work less in areas that are hot and humid. In extreme humidity, these products may even be dangerous to your dog as they add a layer that may absorb or trap heat.

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 How products were rated

Instead of giving a thumbs up / thumbs down or stars, I’m giving each product a score based on the following criteria:

  • performance in hot, dry weather
  • performance in hot, humid weather
  • fit and ability to adjust
  • construction and durability

I’ve also included an overall verdict (liked / didn’t like), as well as an explanation of the features I liked and didn’t like with the results.

Click here to read the results of my study.

Keeping Cool in Summer

I really hate to talk about the summer heat, especially since all local news stations start talking about it as soon as the thermometer creeps to 80°F (27°C). You’d think our area may spontaneously combust should we hit temperatures above 90°F (32°C) if you believed the reporting. But since this is a dog blog, it’s important to talk about heat affects our four-legged friends and what we can do to keep them safe.

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Please don’t shave your dog!

I’ve seen posts on several websites claiming that “if you want to know how a dog feels in the heat, you need to put on a fur coat and stand outside for a while.” Unfortunately, that’s not actually true. A dog’s coat serves as an insulator that forms a barrier between the outside environment and the dog’s interior – very much like a thermos works to keep the liquid inside either hot or cold by providing insulation. In winter, therefore, the fur keeps the dog warm by preserving body heat and in summer, the fur helps keep the dog cool by acting as a barrier to the heat.

It’s therefore important to understand that shaving your dog to help him “cope with the heat” usually has the opposite effect: you’re taking your dog’s natural barrier to the elements, leaving them more susceptible to heat injury, including sunburn and heat stroke. Do, however, groom your dog regularly to make sure the fur is not matted, tangled, or dirty, so it can properly protect your dog. Trimming your dog’s fur – that is, shortening it – is also okay.

"I'm a shaved Border Collie and I'm embarrassed."

“I’m a shaved Border Collie and I’m embarrassed.”

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Keep your dog cool from the inside!

You don’t have to stop all outdoor activities just because it’s summer and temperatures are rising. Most dogs do fine in the heat, just as long as they’re given a chance to get used to it. (If you ever doubt this, look up the Philippine Siberian Husky Club.) It’s important, however, to monitor your dog’s exercise to ensure they’re not overdoing it, and to frequently provide them with fresh, cool water.

You should always have water available for your dog, but it’s especially important to offer it frequently when you’re outside in the heat. Doctors generally recommend that people drink a cup of water every 15 minutes to prevent dehydration, whether you’re thirsty or not. Offering your dog water every time you have a drink is a good rule of thumb. If you’re staying in one area, you can also leave a bowl of water out so your dog can rehydrate whenever he needs to.

Water should be cool, but not freezing cold. You can add ice cubes, which will keep it cool longer, but many dogs also enjoy them separately as a treat. Alternatively, freeze one bowl of water and put it outside next to a regular bowl of water to give your dog a choice.

If you are in a situation where your dog has to work or train in hot temperatures, such as being a police dog handler or a member of a SAR team, you may consider using a product like K-9 Bluelite, which helps replenish electrolytes and speeds rehydration. (Think of it as a sports drink for your canine partner.) In an emergency, you can also use children’s Pedialyte, but this shouldn’t be a regular solution because it contains sugars and color additives.

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When your dog needs to cool off NOW!

If you notice that your dog is overheating – some warning signs include rapid panting and drooling – it’s time to cool him off immediately before the situation gets worse. Heat stroke can kill your dog!

An overheated dog (or human!) should never be doused in ice cold water because this may lead to heart failure. Instead, move the patient to the shade and start cooling him down using room temperature or cool water. Don’t pour the water over the dog’s back or side: pour it over the belly and inside of the hind legs first. These areas have the least amount of fur, as well as some major blood vessels (like the femoral arteries), making this the fastest way to cool your dog (short of a cold water enema).

You can also use this method to keep your dog cool during training: use a wash cloth, sponge, squirt bottle, or water hose to wet his belly and inside of the hind leg. It’s much more effective than pouring water over his head or back.

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Set your dog up for success!

Have you heard the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” It means that it’s better to prevent disease or injury than deal with it after it’s happened. The best way to keep your dog safe in the heat is to get them used to it. Also, consider your individual dog’s needs: young puppies, seniors, overweight dogs or those with medical problems, dogs on certain medications, and short-nosed breeds all find it more difficult to acclimatize.

If your dog needs extra help staying cool in summer, there are many products on the market that can help, too. Some of these rely on evaporation, while others use cold packs or polymer crystals to provide cooling. I’ve listed some of the products below. Please note that inclusion of these products does not mean we recommend the particular brand, manufacturer, or vendor! (This list was last updated on January 11, 2015.)

Cooling Bandanas

Cooling Mats & Beds

Cooling Vests

Crate & Vehicle Fans