How Do You Keep Dogs Cool in the Summer?

With summer comes record temperatures across the states. How do you keep dogs cool in the summer while keeping them stimulated? Here's what we're doing.

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It’s officially HOT in the northern Sacramento Valley where I live. These are more or less normal temperatures for July in this part of California; it’s even hotter another 60 miles or so farther north in Redding, a town that often makes the news for the day’s record high temperatures in July and August.

Up until just a day or two ago, my dogs have been pretty comfortable. The low 90s are not so bad. This tips over into not-very-fun territory at about 95 degrees. That’s when we head for the water.

Despite the drought, we are fortunate to live close to several bodies of water to cool off in. We don’t much go to Lake Oroville, though we live right below it (yes, close enough to have had to evacuate when “that dam thing” happened some years back). We tend to go to the river that fills the lake, but downstream of the dam, where the water is quite cold (coming, as it does, out of the bottom of the lake), or to the “Lake Oroville Afterbay,” a very large, shallow reservoir that warms a portion of that river water so that it can better be used for agriculture.

Thank goodness, all of my dogs love to swim, even Boone, the newest member of our pack. As I write this, we’ve had our hottest day of the summer – and we’ve made the five-mile trek (in my air-conditioned car) to the Afterbay twice today.

dog laying in sandbox to cool down
Every morning I shovel and rake the sand in Otto’s box so that it’s fluffy and level, and then wet it down thoroughly. I also adjust the angle of the sun umbrella to shade the box from the morning sun. The trees overhead keep it in deep shade throughout the middle of the day, and then I adjust the umbrella for the late afternoon sun. Otto heads out to the box after breakfast and digs his first damp hole of the day to snooze in. © Nancy Kerns | Whole Dog Journal

In this weather, I make sure all the water bowls in my house and office are full of fresh, cool water, and provide buckets, not bowls of water for the dogs to drink outdoors. (The water in even very large bowls gets too warm outdoors in heat like this, even in the shade.)

It’s cooler in the house and cooler yet in my office, but until the thermometer hits 95° F., my senior dog Otto prefers to snooze in his shaded and properly dampened sandbox. Every morning, I shovel and rake it smooth, fluffy, and level, then wet the sand thoroughly. Then Otto gets in and digs the first of his napping holes. As the sun changes its angle over the course of the day, he’ll change positions and dig another hole, and I’ll adjust the umbrella to keep the box in full shade. Today, we hit 95° by 1 pm, and he reluctantly joined me, Boone, and Woody in my office.

When I went into the house at about 2 pm to make myself an iced coffee, I saw our young chickens had taken over Otto’s damp sandbox. Well, that’s fair. They aren’t joining us in my office, I swear!

Though the young dogs will romp and play chase games at the lake or river, I discourage any exercise at home in this heat until the sun sets. Then I’ll throw fetch items and let Woody and Boone play keep-away on our front “lawn” (a pretty motley lawn, kept barely alive with water restrictions due to the drought) – and occasionally spray them with water from the hose. Why dogs who love to swim hate being hosed so much, I don’t know, but when they are wet, they play much more raucously and without getting overheated, so I tell them to tough it out (and give them treats for coming to me, even with the hose in my hand).

dogs on paddleboard
I took my grandson to the Afterbay to freshen up his paddleboarding skills while cooling the dogs down. We never went out farther than waist-deep water so we could also introduce Boone to balancing on the paddleboards. Woody loves paddleboarding, but you have to thoroughly beach your boards when you are taking a break, or he will jump on boards that are “parked” and accidentally go sailing off into the water.
© Nancy Kerns | Whole Dog Journal

All of these water-based solutions work so well for cooling here because it’s a DRY heat. I don’t know how you folks in humid parts of the country survive when it’s so hot.

How are you keeping cool?

23 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this blog post, Nancy. We live in Reno and make sure to take our rescue fur baby out to hike early in the morning and when the sun is setting. We think the heat brings on seizures if she overheats too much. I have a question off topic but thought I’d ask you since my son lives in Sacramento. Could you recommend a good cat/dog boarding facility in Sacramento? I am grateful for any suggestions.

    • Try the Wag Hotel. There is one locally and I am very impressed with them. But check Yelp for the Sacramento location or any other location you might consider.

      If you’re traveling with you dog, check Bring Fido dot com for accommodations that allow dogs to stay with you. Also reviews rate the accommodations.

  2. Ugh. Minnesota. We are supposed to be in the triple-digit heat indices starting today due to high humidity and high temps. Blech. When I could walk better (bad knee now), I would take my dogs for early morning walks if it wasn’t too humid. Now it’s just our 13-1/2 year-old girl and she’s just as happy to stay inside. She’ll go outside to potty, but she comes right back in. She’s not the kind of dog to play with toys. We adopted her when she was 6 and doesn’t show interest in toys.

    Our 18 year-old indoor/outdoor cat still prefers to be outside when there isn’t snow. I have the patio umbrella open and she has a raised cot in the shade. She can come inside whenever she wants but either I or the dog have to let her in. We keep the garage door cracked so that she can drink water from the sump pump discharge (that runs several times a day when it isn’t winter). We don’t want standing water outside because the mosquitos will lay eggs, yuck. When it gets REALLY hot, I’ll make her come inside, but I can’t really control when she goes out with the dog.

    • Have you tried your old girl with treat puzzles? She might have grown out of or never learned to play with toys but most dogs are just fine with food. There are plenty of food toys and puzzles and with some introduction you can keep them occupied for a while. There are bone shaped ice cube trays for making frozen treats with plain water or broth.

  3. I think it’s worth mentioning not to shave your dog in the summer. So many people shave their dogs which kind of defeats the purpose of the long hair which keeps them cool.

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you! A major pet peeve. It breaks my heart to see shaved, long-haired dogs walking in the summer heat, quite apart from the fact that they look so much better/cuter with their natural coats. A shaved Goldendoodle? Seriously? It doesn’t do any good to try to explain to people why shaving is a bad idea. Maybe they don’t want to hear it, or more likely, they don’t want to have to worry about brushing their dogs, which is sad. There’s a Pom in my neighborhood, totally shaved except for head and tail. Poor thing looks ridiculous. The long hair is there for a reason, folks!!

      • Nacho, my dearly departed VERY long haired GSD was plagued by foxtails. He’d get them in his ears, between his toes, in his side, everywhere. After a couple of surgeries to remove these buggers, our vet suggested we shave him. He loved it! No more mats around his ears and I could find the foxtails easily and he never needed to have one removed by the vet again. For some dogs like Nacho, shaving was a good idea…

  4. Northern Italy here, HUMID HOT: my dog 1) goes out to walk in the park only in early morning (8 am) and very late afternoon (8 pm) 2) the dog has chosen 2 or 3 particular areas of the house where it’s more fresh such as under the kitchen table or a particular angle of the staircase. It’s a really genius dog who knows what to do.

  5. So love the pic of Otto and Boone side by side enjoying a cool summer “stand in” (for dogs who like water but not waves)

  6. I keep a stack of wet wash rags in the refrigerator. Our dogs live to be outside and they love to romp, so it’s short sessions every couple of hours (90-95° temp), followed with the very cool rags. They don’t shake them off. In the house, we play ‘find it’ games and do short training sessions.

  7. One thing I do is have 2 gel cool mats. One lives in the fridge while 1 is being used. A dedicated fan that he can move away from, if he wants, also.
    Have to disagree on long hair keeping dogs cool. My double coated dog used to get grumpy and reluctant to walk if I didn’t cut back her coat when the heat came. After clipping, she would be exuberant.

    • Double-coated dogs are supposed to be stripped, not clipped. The stripped undercoat leaves space for air to circulate. When the dog is shaved, the topcoat and undercoat are all clumped together, preventing air from reaching the skin.

    • Double coated dogs should never be shaved or clipped and Gift of Galway is correct. The undercoat should be stripped to allow for air circulation, but the top guard hairs should never be removed or you are destroying the temperature regulation . Clipping just removes the top guard hairs, and leaves the likely unstripped and progressively thickening undercoat.

    • I agree with GoG and Rachel. I would never shave a double coated dog, pure bred or mixed.

      That said, I had a Doberman/Labrador mix, Caesar, that had the worst of both worlds for a coat. He didn’t have the short hair of a Doberman or the long hair of a Lab but he did grow a bit of undercoat in the Winter. Just enough so that in the Spring he would lick it into a matted mess that pinched him and made him miserable and no amount of grooming could stop it. I finally resorted to having his body only shaved in the Spring when he started to mat up and he was ecstatic. He acted years younger. It eventually grew out to normal and then when Winter hit the cycle repeated. I did have to make sure I cut any mats from behind his years but other than that it worked. In hindsight I think the licking was a result of seasonal allergies and that’s why I could never get ahead of the matting.

      I would not shave any truly double coated dog. Diana pawPrints isn’t really double coated even though she is a third Golden and a third GSD. She loves to be brushed and matting has never been a problem, even with licking from allergies. Freyja is 55% Siberian sled dog and 12% Border Collie so I would never consider shaving her. Normal grooming seems to work fine for her although she is not a fan of brushing. When I got her it looked like there was a spot on her side that someone perhaps cut a mat off her but it has grown back. The tip of her tail was missing as well and the groomer thought she might be missing the actual tip, but all of the hair grew back so I think someone just cut the hair off and made it blunt or she may have pulled it out from chewing; boredom or anxiety.

      We owned a Keeshond mix when I as a child and in the days before the furminator my Mother would spend an hour brushing her and fill up a wastebasket with her soft undercoat when she blew it in the Spring. Then do it again the next day and the next. But we never had her shaved. Never seemed to need it. She didn’t mat up and the heat didn’t seem to distress her either. Her daughter did mat terribly though as she had hair like my Caesar.

      I think a good groomer will be able to advise on the best way to handle coats regarding the weather. I find it’s worth the cost if you can find a good groomer. They have all of the tools and the knowledge to correctly handle coats.

  8. Hmmmmm, maybe shave and clip are two different applications here? We live in Dewey AZ Kāla is an English lab I wouldn’t think of shaving or clipping her. I use the firminator to remove the loose hair when she’s blowing her coat but that’s it😏

  9. Southern California reporting to northern California! No lakes and rivers around here (the LA River is a joke), and my dogs (sporting dogs!) are afraid of pools. We go to doggie pool parties at a friend’s house and they hide in the bushes. So sad! Like yours, they don’t like hoses, but they do love guzzling the water as it comes out, so by the time they get done, they’re soaked. My job is done! They don’t like baths either, but the moment after being freed from the evil tub is party time. Yeeha! I have a 10×10 canopy for shade but I love your sandbox and umbrella idea. Definitely plan to try that.

    But basically, they’re spoiled. Hot outside? No worries. Indoors. Air conditioning. Couch. Problem solved. You can’t fight 105 degrees anyway.

  10. We live in Sacramento area which gets hot pretty early. We carry little squirt bottles of water when we walk our dog, and if he starts to pant, we squirt him with water and rub the water into his fur, creating the same effect as sweating. We repeat as often as necessary. We also purchased a cooling vest which he wears when it’s extra hot. We pour water on it, and it stays wet for longer than just wetting his fur.

  11. The wet sandbox idea is brilliant! I suspected that coolness was the appeal of digging those nesting holes in my back yard. Now that it’s verified, time to find a few bags of beach sand!

  12. We at the end of So Cal on the coast so keeping cool isn’t as much of a problem. When it gets into the 80s or even tops the 90 mark I find my dogs snoozing on the north side of the house. There is a concrete walkway there that is always in the shade. The house faces east west so there is always a nice breeze coming from the ocean in the evening, even if there might be wind from the dessert on the hottest of days. They have also learned to lay on the concrete right next to the ventilation openings for the foundation crawlspace. The air under the house is always cool and so as it gently blows out it is almost like AC. I have been making them sleep outside at night when the temps have been dropping into the high 60s because it is much cooler than the bedroom, which even with the windows open might not get lower than 78 on the hot days. They have five gallon buckets I keep filled in the yard and I will use them to water the plants and then refill with cold water. There is also plenty of shade and they will dig holes in the dirt under the shade but mostly they nap on that cool concrete next to their “doggie AC”. I can also put them in the car and take them to the dog park which is very close to the ocean so even on hot days there is a cool breeze and plenty of shade. Freyja is half Siberian sled dog so I used to worry about her but she seems to be a bit insulated and the heat doesn’t seem to bother her. She was rescued from Hesperia and I know it gets up to three digits there so she may think the weather is perfect here.

  13. Hi Nancy, we are almost neighbors, I live in Roseville. And yes, it’s hot as blazes here! After buying kiddie pools that barely last a season I bought a HUGE plastic stock tank. This sucker holds about 700 gallons (not a typo). I fill about half full. My Lab and Lab Golden LOVE it. I put a cinder block in the pool and steps for a hot tub outside the pool so they can get in and out more easily.

  14. Howdy from north of Atlanta, where my pro weather station regularly records temps over 96F by 11am, humidity from 89-99% with no rain anywhere, and heat indices over 105 for weeks on end….going outdoors feels like getting into a steam room and slapped with a boiling, wet towel! We limit the outdoor activities to very early morning and a later evening poop walk, as our yard isn’t big enough for outdoor play and our street regularly fails the heat safety test of putting the back of your hand on the pavement and holding it there for 7 seconds ( if you can’t do this, the pavement is too hot for your dog’s feet). Yes, my two Australian Shepherds are VERY underexercised right now! But when they come in from those walks and head straight for the elevated mesh platform beds that sit over the floor vents and stay there for over an hour, it’s all we can safely do for exercise. No water buckets here – my 6year old would happily pick up the full bucket and then run laps around the living room, spraying water everyplace (just as he did when he was a puppy, which is why we use the heaviest large ceramic bowl I can find for their water, to prevent indoor swimming pools).

    We have 1 water play option we haven’t yet tried this summer – heading down to the Chattahoochee River and playing some swimming fetch on the boat ramps. The Hooch water is a balmy 54 degrees, as it comes from the bottom layers of the reservoir many miles upstream – cold enough to support Rainbow Trout! Unfortunately, there’s another factor besides the chilliness that has kept us away this summer – reported bacterial levels upstream. As the Hooch is the main source for Atlanta’s drinking water, these are monitored daily and unfortunately have deep elevated for most of the summer, thanks to the beginning of a drought. In past years, I’d keep a close watch on the color of my dogs’ gums and tongue (getting pale when too chilled), and condition of their paw pads and toenails (waterlogged feet running on rough concrete can injure paw pads or even quick their toenails). When conditions were ok in years past, this was THE BEST summertime outdoor play! I’d come home with wet, tired, and happy pups that dried off mostly before we got back home.

  15. I have a soon to be a year old service hearing dog, Mabel a Schoodle (Schnauzer Poodle mix). We live in CT where it has those hot, humid and hazy summer days. Mabel’ hair (not fur) is shaved and it does changes her activity level because it is cooler for her. Mabel is a walker and we go early in the morning on roads that are still shaded. Mabel wears a cooling vest (she is use to vests because it identifies her as a working dog). I wet it with cold water, squeeze out the excess water so it is just above damp. Mabel loves it and it helps keeps her cool as she walks. During the walk, I rewet it with the excess water from her special water bottle that you squeeze into the top which is a water well. She has her own water bottle that the bottom has an inch of solid iced (put in freezer at night (it is safe to freeze water in it) and then I filled with cold water. After the walk, we play ice hockey with ice cubes, she chases them and them licks and eats them. At the pool, Mabel is not a fan but it put her on the stairs to cool off her paws. We have cooling pad strategically placed in the shaded areas, where she relaxes as I swim in the pool. My husband wets the grass with water jugs so we preserve our well water and provides her another escape from the heat. I also use umbrellas to provide shade. Mabel’s comfort is my major priority.

  16. We live in upstate NY and are effected by climate changes increased summer temperatures like everyone else(!) and humidity. It quickly gets too hot during the day for outdoor play or romps. we are fortunate to have AC and cool hardwood and tile floors. My wife will do a woods walk/run or neighborhood walk at 6 a.m. for a hour or so each day and in the afternoon I take Willie (our JRT mix rescue) to play frisbee at a local stream or reservoir. If for some reason I’m unable to take him for a swim I fill the kiddie pool and play frisbee in the back yard with frequent lie downs in the pool. It’s not nearly as fun as a good swim , but it gets the job done and keeps him from overheating. Willie LOVES to chase and swim after his frisbee. I put a life vest on Willie during actual swims. He’s a very strong swimmer but his mouth is water level retrieving the frisbee and the vest keeps his mouth a fraction higher. I worry about him ingesting or aspirating water, subsequently, the vest. Hotter weather keeps me on alert for toxic algal blooms and anxiously checking the DEC website for notifications( thanks to people in the area who report them!). Of course Willie’s drop ears make him at higher risk for ear infections, so each day that he swims he gets his ears flushed (I use Virbac Epiotic Advanced and recommend highly) . He hates the flushing but I remind him it’s a small inconvenience for being able to swim almost daily, with the alternative being an ear infection- which means no swimming at all. On the rare occasions that I have to walk him down a country road near our camp, I make a point of walking way over on the grass so his feet aren’t burned on the pavement- and what does he do? Tries to pull me back towards the pavement -arggh! If only he knew how much thought goes into his comfort and safety – silly boy.

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