Hot weather is not normally something we get to complain about in the UK but this year is the exception. A long period of hot dry weather has parched our parks and gardens and is making our dogs puffy, panty and lethargic. So is it still important to walk your dog every day? If not what can you do to keep your dog happy and healthy in this heatwave?
Take the cues from your dog
Animals have a remarkable ability to adapt to the environment around them. In fact, I believe it’s only humans and possibly also honey bees who try to control the environment to suit their needs. We like to crank up the heating in winter and switch on the air con in summer. (Honey bees in the hive beat their wings to warm or cool the hive).
Lions in the Serengeti, polar bears in the Artic, squirrels in the woods etc all change their activity levels to cope with conditions. In fact, in the UK, the only animals that are really active in the middle of a hot hot day are the ones that are working for humans.
If you watch your dog, and read his body language he’ll tell you what he needs.
Provide somewhere peaceful and cool
Left to make his own decisions, your dog will probably find a nice cool spot, lie flat on his side and snooze his way through the hot weather.
Not all modern homes have a cool spot. If you can, allow your dog to free range around the house, he’ll find the best place to be. For dogs that usually spend time in crates etc whilst you’re out of the house, consider moving the crate to somewhere that the temperature is more amenable. And maybe arrange for someone to visit them fairly frequently to check for signs of distress.
More than ever during a heatwave, it’s vital that children understand that the dog is not to be disturbed when he’s resting. These temperatures are enough to make anyone – including the dog – more irritable than usual. There’s no sense in tempting fate.
Helpful gadgets for hot dogs
Modern technology is amazing. My favourite doggy “gadgets” for hot weather is a cool mat. They somehow absorb the dog’s body heat and help to reduce his temperature.
For times when walking or training in hot weather outside is unavoidable, a cooling jacket for your dog is a must. I have them for my shelties and I have no doubt that they make a big difference to the dogs comfort. The manufacturers claim that cooling jackets vastly reduce the risk of heat stroke, which is a killer for dogs. Highly recommended.
Put the walking on hold for now
If your dog seems unenthusiastic about walkies – take note. He’s probably being very wise. And he could be looking out for your health as well as his own. Physical exercise in hot weather is something that needs to be managed very carefully – for any creature.
Unless your vet has advised differently, there’s no need to walk your dog every day. Dog walking is more about mental stimulation for the dog, than it is about physical exercise. It’s not the running around that wears him out, it’s sniffing hither and thither and discovering who’s been where. Loose lead walking, takes a lot of concentration for your dog, as does behaving well and responding to everyone he’s with. If he doesn’t get a run he’ll be OK – provided he has something else to occupy his brain.
Walking barefoot on hot paving or tarmac is a no-no for people and dogs alike. It can cause horrific burn injuries that take a long time to heal. If you feel it really is vital that you walk your dog here’s our checklist
- Does your dog really need a walk? Is there an alternative activity that could occupy his brain? (more on this later)
- Take plenty of water and something for him to drink from
- Aim to go out VERY early in the morning or quite late in the evening when temperatures are naturally cooler
- Swimming is OK but watch out for algal blooms on ponds and lakes – they can be fatal for dogs.
- Keep the walk short – 10 -15 minutes is plenty
- Avoid fast and furious games – stick to loose lead walking
- Find somewhere shaded for your walk – woodland is ideal
- Avoid hard surfaces like tarmac or paving – burnt paws are painful
- If you’re travelling there by car don’t even think about leaving the dog in the car – not even for a minute
- At the risk of repeating myself – consider very carefully whether a different activity that will use up your dog’s mental energy would be better than a walk in hot weather.
Alternatives to Walking
Some dogs just can’t switch off their brains, no matter what the weather is like. They need to be busy. Walking satisfies their curiosity. It allows them to use their nose, ears and eyes just as nature means them too. However, walking isn’t always practical. Here are some ideas that allow your dog to use his senses – but in a sensible way
Whenever you watch a TV programme about wild dogs, there’ll be at least on shot of them sitting around chewing on a bone. It’s a natural behaviour that scientists believe releases dopamine into the brain. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain which stimulates the nervous system and makes you feel good. For a dog, chewing is the equivalent of watching a film, reading a book, going out for coffee. (That feel good chemical also explains why dogs chew to relieve anxiety).
If you can’t take your dog for a walk, a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter or a tasty bone are an alternative way to keep him busy. NOTE. If your dog has problems with resource guarding, please talk to a dog behaviourist before you try this.
A great tool for dogs who like to be busy is a snuffle mat. It’s like an old fashioned rag rug, or maybe one of those play mats for babies where there are lots of flaps and pockets to explore.
Hide small treats in the mat and allow your dog to nose around and find them all. I like to use a small handful of their dried food ration that way I can keep an eye on their diet. For greedy dogs, a snuffle mat can be used to feed their whole meal – it slows them down and helps take the strain off their digestive system.
If you don’t have a snuffle mat, a cardboard box filled with scrunched up newspaper balls makes a good search and find game. As does a child’s ball pit. You could even use the whole of your living room and hide treats all around – but only if you trust the dog not to get over excited and rush around wrecking the place!
Spend quality quiet time together
Just spend quality time with your dog. Gently interacting together is great therapy for both of you, especially when it’s just too hot to move.
Steve Mann and Nancy from IMDT explain the importance of quality time.
Nothing occupies a dog’s brain – or yours – like learning new skills. Why not join in on one of our tricks training workshops and develop some new skills for both of you. It’s just for fun. You could teach your dog how to ride a skateboard, jump through your arms, or fetch the TV remote. Fabulous hot weather activities that will leave you both feeling relaxed.