The Dog Days of Summer: Safely Working a Service Dog in Summer

A Black Lab guide dog lies on a sidewalk. He wears a Ruffwear Cooling Vest under his leather harness.Unlike the fear inducing Game of Thrones statement. “winter Is coming,” Service Dogs handlers equally dread summer. Well, summer is upon us, which means we must take appropriate precautions to protect our dogs. This articles outlines 13 tips and tricks every service dog handler and even pet dog owners should consider when stepping outside in the summer. This is broken down into environmental considerations, caring for your service dog, and products for your kitbag.

Jenine from America’s Vet Dogs contributed information and the fact checking of this post.

Environmental Considerations

Venturing outside requires one to analyze a multitude of variables impacting the behavior of the service dog. Most notably, the air temperature, ground temperature, existence of shade along routes, and navigating through sprinklers impose unique situations to evaluate.

Hot is hot

There is a time and place when to use your service dog and when to resort to your cane. If it’s extremely hot outside, like the National Weather Service issues a heat advisory or warning, it might be time to leave your service dog at home and practice your cane skills. Consider working your service dog indoors at a mall, shopping center, or other temperature controlled environment. For exercise a treadmill goes a long way in keeping you are your dog in shape.

Paw safety

When you let your service dog relieve themselves before heading out, feel the pavement with your hands or walk outside bare footed. If you think this is crazy, your service dog probably is thinking the same thing. Consider walking your dog in the grass or in the shade to let them cool their paws. Avoid or minimize blacktop surfaces, and be aware of surface temperatures.

Walking in the Shade

Your service dog may choose during really hot weather to walk in the shade of trees, bushes or buildings. This may increase the chances of bumping into objects, like branches, doors or things sticking out from buildings. In urban environments, people may also stick closer to the shady building lines, both walking and… resting. If you find yourself running into overhangs or bumping things more often, think about where that shady area is and use the methods taught during your training to encourage your dog back to the center line or proper position. Be careful with heavy corrections since this negative corrective action forces the service dog into an equally negative situation, walking on super-hot pavement under the scorching sun.

Dancing through sprinklers

Yes, they are everywhere and in the summer heat you may find even more of them…sprinklers! Your dog’s face is right in the path of that spraying water and let’s face it, no one likes to get a face full or have to walk straight into a spray. Your dog may treat sprinklers as off curb obstacles. As long as the roadway is safe enough, navigate onto the street until you pass by. Try to keep interactions with the sprinklers positive, not overly correcting or dragging your dog through them. If you are having difficulty getting your dog to walk through an area with sprinklers, contact your school for help. Also let your neighbors know about how the sprinklers impact your service dog and request the sprinkling cycle concludes before the sun crests the horizon.

Your Service Dog’s Reactions to the Heat

Dogs are amazing animals for more than their intelligence to become service dogs. They possess physical capabilities to withstand the heat and different methods they indicate overheating. This section provides some tips for grooming to symptoms your service dog might be overheating.

Shaving is not for the dogs

Dog’s fur and hair serve as natural sun block. Yes, the coat insulates during the winter, but it keeps the skin from drying out. Therefore, do not cut your service dog’s hair or fur, rather stick with the basics of daily brushing. A shiny healthy coat creates more benefits then a high and tight.

Pad Safety

A dog’s paws and the pads are both natural shoes and a major component in cooling through perspiration. Hot pavement’s dangers go beyond burning paws, but may dry out pads leading to splitting, blistering, and other injuries. Check each pad before and after your walks for any signs of damage. If you have a dog with longer fur on the tops and bottoms of the paws, and you have the fur trimmed to prevent the ratty old house slippers look, remember that the fur can be insulating for the pads so leave it long on the bottom and nice and neat on top, but never shaved.

Wet noses are good, but dry noses spells trouble

Dog lovers often remark on the lovable wet nose kisses we receive alongside licks. Should the nose no longer feel wet, your service dog may be experiencing dehydration. While you are walking, take the time periodically to feel the nose and make sure it remains lovably wet.

Panting is natural, but a raspy or coughing panting indicates distress

Dogs lack sweaty armpits, rather they cool themselves through panting. While panting, the tongue drupes out of their mouth and actually becomes thinner and wider to increase the surface size of the tongue so more capillaries may deliver blood to be cooled. When the natural panting begins to sound labored or gagging, it’s time to stop, find shade or a cool spot, and let the dog rest. As your service dog ages, the likelihood of this will increase as heat tolerance decreases.

Ice Water is a no go

Did you know drinking room temperature water instead of ice water is better for you and your dog? Drinking icy water in the heat stresses your body and does not cool it. In dogs, ice water may increase cramps. When allowing your service dog to hydrate, opt for room temperature water and let the body cool itself naturally. Now ice, by itself, is ok to give your dog as a treat, since chewing allows the ice to melt and warm up. without the negatives of ice water.

Product Recommendations

Have you walked through the pet aisle at a store and felt overwhelmed by the available options? Don’t be fooled by marketing gimmicks and purchase worthless products. Below is a list of items recommended by service dogs users and touted as safe and effective items to protect and prolong working capabilities in the summer.

Famous Paw-Wear and Musher’s Secret

Dogs’ sweat through their paws much like we sweat through most pores throughout our bodies, thus the paw protection paradox. Well, here is a little secret, Musher’s Secret. This all natural paw wax protects those paws the same in winter and summer. Protection stems from keeping paws moist and supple, reducing pad splitting from drying out. If you are able to use dog boots, and not all dogs will let you, make sure the paws are able to breath. This reduces chances of your service dog from overheating.

Beat the heat, drink water

Plenty of foldable bowls to all in one water bottles and bowl combinations exist, so no excuse for not owning one or several. When you leave, the hydration kit is equally important as the harness.

Ruffwear cooling vest

Many cooling vest and collars line your pet store’s shelves, but none compare to the Ruffwear Cooling Vest. The vest cools your service dog the same way a swamp cooler works, while blocking the sun. Above is a picture of BlackJack wearing his Ruffwear vest in harness, and while it looks like a heavy blanket, it enables us to work or play longer. The vest requires you to soak it in water before heading out, and while out dumping more water prolongs effectiveness. For example, we walked a 5-mile route in 90 degrees with direct sun. At the end of the walk, his body felt cool under the vest and his nose and panting remained normal.
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Frozen Treats

A frozen Kong filled with treats will aid cooling while nourishing your service dog. Simply take a handful of food and let it soak in some water. Then fill a Kong up with the wet food, without mushing it, and freeze it. This becomes a frozen chewy treat

Conclusion

The best way to assist your service dog is to adjust your schedule. Exercise, play, or do your errands early in the morning or after the sun goes down. In nature, most animals rest during the middle of the day due to the sun and heat, proving animal instincts are smarter than humans. Remember your service dog serves you so long as you serve them.