Editorial July 2016 Issue

Too Hot for Pups to Play

How do you keep your dogs and yourself cool in the summer months?

Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns

It’s just about the hottest part of the day as I write this. In my part of the country, at this time of year, that’s between 5 and 7 p.m. My husband I don’t have air-conditioning, which strikes everyone we know as an odd choice, but it is a choice. We could afford it, but we both grew up with budget-conscious parents and have environmental concerns about everyone burning fossil fuels in order to cool themselves down all summer. We manage it “old-school,” by positioning fans in every other window to bring in cool air and blow out hot air all night long, and then shutting the house down tight all day. It preserves a cool bubble of air in the house – but this bubble heats up a tiny bit every time someone opens a door to come in or go out, or, more often, to let a dog in or out.

Let me just add that there are currently nine dogs in the house at this moment – another odd choice – so it’s warmer than it ought to be. Before you call an animal control officer from the local shelter, asking for a welfare check on the excessive number of dogs, keep in mind that most of these dogs belong to the local animal shelter! Six of the nine are fosters: Mama Great Dane and five of her 11 puppies. (The other six puppies are being fostered across town by a good friend.)

All of the puppies, and most of the dogs, sleep outside at night, but come indoors during the day to escape the heat. The pups play hard in the early morning and late at night, when it’s cool. Right now, though, it looks like someone melted wax puppies in my kitchen – there are literal and figurative puppy puddles all over the vinyl floor. I’ll put them outside in the shade soon, and start opening windows and mopping the floor. Than I can take my dogs for a swim in the icy cold Feather River, which flows right through my town, just blocks away. Ah, I can’t wait. But first, I have to finish writing this. What was I writing about? I can’t think, it’s so hot!

Happily, it has developed that my newish adolescent dog, former foster puppy Woody, is an enthusiastic swimmer. Given his youth and naiveté, buckling him into a canine life jacket has proven to be prudent, as he has, several times, combined his love of swimming with his interest in ducks, even those that are swimming hundreds of yards away. Lucky for me, I had a couple of weeks’ head start to read over WDJ contributor/dog trainer Stephanie Colman’s review of personal flotation devices for dogs, which starts on page 6 of this issue, so I could buy the best one for my happy, neoprene-covered Woody duck. Even friends who don’t really care for pit bulls smile when they see Woody goofing, diving, and splashing in and out of the river in his bright yellow and blue PFD.

Speaking of ducks, maybe Woody comes by his combined interests honestly. In preparation for an upcoming article on mixed-breed identification tests, I sent a sample of Woody’s (and Otto’s) DNA to different companies to be tested. Woody’s first result came back indicating he’s an American Staffordshire Terrier/Labrador Retriever-mix, and I think that’s likely. His mom looked like a black Lab with a slightly blocky head, and all the pups looked very “pittie.” The result from the second company agreed about one of those breeds, not the other, and added three more. You can guess, what they were if you want, but I won’t reveal the results for Woody’s second test (or Otto’s first and second tests) until the article is done.

And speaking of DNA tests, suspected “pit bulls,” and people’s perceptions thereof, I think you’ll enjoy trainer Linda Case’s article on the facing page. She turns a cool, scientific gaze on a hot topic, and produces great food for thought. You will have to excuse me for that mixed metaphor – it’s really much too hot in here, and the river is calling. Stay cool!

Comments (3)

Shaving a German Shepherd? Yikes! Working dogs - not just the AKC labeled group, but ALL dog breeds that have been developed to do a specific job - actually need their coats to protect them from the weather, whether the extremes are bitter cold, or boiling heat. Since dogs only sweat via their toe pads, and lose heat by panting, part of their sun protection actually is their coat. The outer surface, furthest away from the skin, is supposed to be hotter than the actual skin surface; the temperature differential actually helps the dog cool down. Years ago, a physiologist Knut Schmidt-Nielsen, did extensive research trying to figure out exactly how camels manage their normal desert environments, with temperatures ranging from the low 40'sF at night, to over 120F in the daytime. Turns out there are several astonishing adaptations, but the biggest surprise was the camel's hair coat....nearly 6" thick, on an animal that most would imagine, should have a shorter, thinner, and certainly less dense coat. In one experiment, he shaved the thick hair off several camels - and compared their body temperatures, skin temperatures, and water needs, to camels without the make overs. The camels with the haircuts, lost close to 40% more water in sweat, than the normal ones - and, the shaved camels got sunburned, even with blisters (can you imagine how grumpy they must have been?).

I am not a vet. Nor am I a groomer. I am a trainer, with working Australian Shepherds, whose thick double coats shed quite a bit, and are noticeably thicker in cold weather than mid summer. The breeders of Aussies with whom I discuss matters of coat, have seriously warned me against ever shaving down an Aussie, unless it was for a health crisis - and then, that dog must get sunscreen applied to the shaved areas for the next 6 months til new hair grows in, to prevent skin cancers and other sun damage. Those who shave down an Aussie "to reduce the shedding," will just be dealing with the same shedding hair, only in much shorter lengths.

Rather than a shave down, consider wet cloths for your dog's paws, and a spray mist bottle for your dog's belly, "arm pits," and inner thighs. Make sure your dog gets thoroughly dry before bedtime, to prevent hot spots or other skin problems. Provide a cool resting spot indoors, or consider an elevated bed so air circulates underneath.

Posted by: ardea | July 7, 2016 1:03 PM    Report this comment

I was wondering if anyone shaves their German shepherds down some in the summer. Is it a good idea or is it unsafe?

Posted by: Maggs mom | July 2, 2016 12:40 PM    Report this comment

Dear, Nancy thankyou for a great article. You have good tips on keeping all dogs cool.
where can you get information on dna testing? have a nice day Arcelia plazola

Posted by: goldie98902 | June 24, 2016 12:05 PM    Report this comment

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