Australian summers, especially recently, reach astronomical temperatures, and last for what feels like forever. If you’re not a summer lover, you likely spend the spring struggling to stop and enjoy the flowers and dread the days to come.
For most of us, it’s easy to take a break on strenuous physical activity when the temperature starts to soar.
For dogs, exercise is much more than a want: exercise is a physiological need, which many can start to suffer from if they do not get enough.
For those of us living in a hot climate with our dogs, taking a long-term break from exercise is not always an option. While some breeds might not mind the increased opportunity to chill on the couch, others might instead take their frustrations out on your furniture.
So for all of us pet-owning peers, who are struggling to find ways to exercise their dogs in the middle of a scorching summer, here are the top tips for exercising your dog in a heatwave.
What are the risks of exercising in high temperatures?
Before slapping on the suntan lotion and heading outside leash-in-hand, there are some risk factors to be aware of. Exercise is a crucial part of a dog’s life, but it is integral to always keep their health, comfort and safety in mind when maintaining their fitness.
Individual risk factors
There are a variety of risks that could put your dog in danger during Summer – even when other dogs might fare fine. Generally, your dog is most at-risk if they are:
- of a Brachycephalic breed (like French bulldogs, Pugs or Boxers)
- overweight or obese
- have a very matted or impacted coat(like Huskies or Samoyeds), or
- very young, or very old.
Burnt paw pads
Burning paw pads is a huge cause for concern in hot weather. Concrete and asphalt can reach extreme temperatures if exposed to the sun, and can reach up to 40-60 degrees hotter than the surrounding air temperature.
Sadly, our dogs cannot speak English: which means they are not capable of telling us if something is wrong. Therefore, it’s up to us to ensure that their paw pads are safe whenever exercising.
Though not a science, the 7-Second Rule can be valuable in deciding whether to take your doggo out or stay indoors. The 7-Second Rule asks you to place the back of your hand on the surface of the path you’ll be walking on and wait for seven seconds. Too hot for you? It’s too hot for your pooch. If it starts to burn or become uncomfortable, it’s probably a better idea to keep the exercise indoors.
Know the signs of heat exhaustion
Heatstroke, or heat exhaustion, should be one of your biggest concerns when exercising your dog during a heatwave.
Heat exhaustion can be a silent killer: it can overcome your dog very quickly, maybe even before you’ve noticed the symptoms. Understanding the signs of early-onset heat stroke is essential for all dog owners, and could be the difference between life-or-death for your dog.
The symptoms of heatstroke can be varied, but are in most cases:
- excessive panting
- excessive drooling
- nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
- a rapid heartbeat
- an excessively purple tongue, or gums, and
- staggering or collapsing
How do I exercise my dog safely in hot weather?
We might occasionally pop down to an air-conditioned gym (in an air-conditioned car), but we otherwise steer clear of things that really make us sweat. Dogs aren’t as lucky, so we need to be careful of making sure they stay hydrated, out of the sun and at the same time, stay mentally stimulated.
Time it wisely
If your only options are going for a walk, keep the exercise to very early in the morning or very late in the evening. Avoid walking directly in the sun and stick to shaded areas.
Not only is it safer in excessive heat, but walking outside of your usual hours can be seriously fun! If the evening is a better option, go for a thrilling night-time walk and explore your neighbourhood in the dark. If mornings are more your thing, set out before dawn and watch the sunrise with your doggo.
Swimming and water activities
Swimming and water sports are always a fantastic way to keep fit in hot weather. Swimming can be an extremely exhausting activity, and can keep your doggo fresh (and refreshed!) on a very hot day.
Fill a paddle pool for your dog to wade in outside. Having access to a pool can give them the opportunity to take frequent breaks and cool their internal temperature whenever they desire.
If you have a lake or river nearby – or you’re lucky enough to own a pool – share a dip with your doggo! If you can’t find a large body of water, backyard sprinklers are also another viable option.
Mental stimulation is a sure-fire way to keep your dog occupied during a heatwave. Encouraging them to use their brain can be just as exhausting and fulfilling as taking them for a run, and it keeps them away from the peeling heat outside.
Treat-dispensing toys are essential tools in a dog-owner’s arsenal and are a perfect way to keep your dog occupied for hours. Depending on the toy, and what treats you pack into it, you can scale them from easy to difficult for a catered experience.
If you’re seeking more hands-on activities to mentally stimulate your dog, nosework – training your dog to use their natural sniffing and hunting desire – is considered to be one of the best ways to stimulate your dog’s brain as well as their body. By tapping into your dog’s natural talent to sniff, nosework can be done with very minimal tools, minimal training, and under the safety of your air-conditioning.
Lastly, obedience is a simple and classic way to keep your doggo stimulated in the Summer months. Teaching them a new trick – or brushing up on that competition heel – requires a ton of mental effort. Many dogs might even need a snooze after a particularly intensive training session!
So go forth and exercise – but remember to do it safely.
Exercising in a heatwave isn’t impossible – it just requires some forethought and careful planning. And always remember: if the risks are too high, it’s just too hot, or you just can’t find the energy, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break.