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Outdoor dog shows and events present particular challenges in the summer. If you want to see what it’s like for our dogs in hot weather, the next time it’s 90-plus degrees, put on your warmest coat and go outside. Now try running.

Whether you have an English Setter participating in field trials or a Border Collie showing off his agility skills, exertion combined with high temperatures and high humidity can spell trouble for your dog. One of the biggest challenges owners face when preparing for a show, hunt test or field trial is how to keep dogs cool in summer.

Most breeds are built to conserve rather than dissipate heat. They don’t have sweat glands, and most of their body is wrapped in fur with little or no exposed skin; they lose heat through the pads of their feet and through their mouths by panting. Some breeds need special consideration For example, white or fine-coated breeds, like Bull Terriers and Greyhounds are especially vulnerable to sunburn, while the black coat of dogs like the Schipperke absorbs heat, adding to the danger of overheating and heat stroke.

With thoughtful preparation, you can keep your dog cool, comfortable and healthy during summer events.

Mudi paused at the end of a seesaw in an agility course outdoors.

Prepare in advance

  • Let your dog drink as much water as possible early in the day before the show.
  • Make cold treats, like frozen chew toys or dog-safe ice pops to bring with you.

Pack for the heat

Along with plenty of cool water, there are other ways you can relieve your dog from the heat:

  • Battery-operated fan.
  • Shade cloth to cover your vehicle.
  • Canopy for shade.
  • Cool cloths, which are made of chamois material, like those used to dry cars at a car wash. Put a moist chamois on your dog’s back without getting him too wet, take it off, and present him to the judge, who probably will only feel a tiny bit of dampness when going over the dog. If you keep your cool cloth in a cooler, don’t put it directly into the ice. You don’t want to put anything ice-cold onto a dog, because that shrinks the blood vessels and actually generates more internal heat.
  • Cooling vest, which deflects the heat and cools the dog through evaporation.
  • Cooling crate pad or a cold, wet towel that you can spread out for your dog to lie on. You can also have him stand on a damp towel to help the footpads release heat.
  • Rubbing alcohol which you can dab behind your dog’s ears, on his stomach, or on his paws. Rubbing alcohol cools faster than water and can draw out heat.
  • Spray bottle filled with cool water. Spray his underside that’s not exposed to the hot sun (such as the groin area, where the hair is less dense), the bottoms of his feet, and inside his mouth.
  • Rectal thermometer with lubricant. Your dog’s temperature shouldn’t rise above 102.5, which is the high end of normal. (https://www.sportdog.com/hunting-training-tips/dealing-with-a-heat-related-emergency#content-top)
  • Pediatric electrolyte solution for the dog to drink if he gets dehydrated.
  • Dog-safe sunscreen.

Of course, you know to seek shade wherever you can find it. Throughout the day, a thoughtful judge will take advantage of every scrap of shade by shifting the location where the dogs are examined and gaited, as the sun and shade shift in the ring.

lab-drinking-water-out-of-emergency-bottle

The Signs of Heatstroke

In spite of your best efforts, your dog could develop heatstroke. Here are the symptoms:

  • Unusual breathing (rapid and loud).
  • High rectal temperature (103 or higher).
  • Extreme thirst.
  • Weakness and/or fatigue.
  • Frequent vomiting.
  • Disorientation.
  • Dark or bright red tongue and gums (https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/features/dog-cool-summer#1).
  • Skin around the muzzle or neck doesn’t snap back when pinched (dehydration).
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Thick saliva.
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Heavy drooling
  • Agitation

fast cat

If you suspect that your dog is overheated, immediately take him to a shady spot or into a cool indoor room, or into a cooled-off car with the air conditioner running, or turn a fan on him. Separate his fur with your fingers so the cool air can penetrate to the skin.

To cool your dog down as quickly as possible, pour cool water over his head and body, or gently hose a very gentle stream of cool water over him, or, where possible, submerge him in a tub of cool water.

As soon as your dog is somewhat stable, it’s a good idea to take him to the nearest vet for evaluation and treatment if necessary.

Summer sporting events and shows are meant to be fun and challenging for both you and your dog. But high temperatures can turn an exciting day into an emergency. Prepare well and stay vigilant and you might just bring home that blue ribbon!

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