5 tips for exercising your dog during heatwaves – from an animal behavior consultant
The blistering heat can stop us from doing a variety of things, but one thing we can’t afford to sacrifice through this weather is exercising our beloved pups!
This is something that needs to be done cautiously. As a pet parent you want to care for your dog the best you can, but knowing how to keep up their activity routines during the hot weather can be tough.
We spoke to animal behavior consultant and trainer Emily Cassell at Empowered Animals about exercising dogs safely during a hot summer season. She gave us her top 5 tips for pet parents to make sure pups don’t have to miss out on hot days.
1. Take a nature trail
“Avoid the absolute hottest times of the day, around midday,” Emily recommends.
She also says that pet parents should avoid asphalt and the sidewalk/concrete as it can burn the bottom of their feet.
Pet parents can do the pavement test, to make sure it’s safe to walk on. This includes putting the back of your hand on the pavement for approximately 7 seconds, if it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for their paws!
“Let your dog walk on the grass when you take them out. Take a nature trail that’s shaded – which is helpful in protecting their feet, too. Early morning, evenings and night are coolest times to exercise dogs outdoors,” Emily explains.
“Nature trails are great options! Not only do they provide a place for your dog to walk, but on the enrichment side - the smells, letting your dog explore and smell different things - that mental stimulation is actually going to provide more bang for your buck when it comes to exercise.”
Emily explains that maximising enrichment, through nature walks – or decompression walks – is helpful because it exercises them without the need for too much running around. This enrichment will work their brain and give them a satisfying walk without either of you overheating.
Read more about the benefits of decompression walks
2) Monitor dog activity and breathing
“The dog breed you have also makes a big difference. Dogs are bred for different things, and they have different fur types and so on. These all play a factor in how they manage hot weather.”
“It’s good to take a look at your dog and assess ‘are they getting too hot’ are they panting fast, shallow, excessively? Do they seem like they’re slowing down and not able to keep up or like they’re not enjoying it? If your dog can’t enjoy the walk in the first place, it might be good to find an alternative activity for them to do in the summer,” explains Emily
Keeping a close eye on your dog and being aware to the amount of physical activity they’re doing is important on hot days. You don’t want to be outside for too long. Through closely observing your dog, pet parents can get a feel for how long is comfortable for them to be outside before it’s time to call it a day.
3) Look at alternate outdoor activities
“You can help a dog swim or play in water by trying things like frozen treats, praise, getting into the water with them, keeping sessions short and sweet, and swimming somewhere with steps or a ramp.”
Swimming or playing in the water is an alternate outdoor activity that Emily recommends. But there are a few things to look out for.
Dogs that aren’t familiar with an easy route out of the water, or know they can’t touch the bottom, will be nervous to swim. What’s more, not all dogs like to swim “Some dogs are afraid. You should never force a dog who is hesitant to get in the water. It’ll make them more nervous, and they won’t be calm enough to learn to swim.” Emily also discourages pet parents swimming to the middle of a body of water and getting them to swim to you, if the dog is new to swimming.
As an alternative, “you can encourage dogs that are weary of the water through using a kiddie pool. Put some frozen treats like frozen watermelon and banana in there. Allow them hop in and use more water each time. It’s a training exercise that'll get them confident in the water and eager to explore it.”
4) Clicker training and teaching tricks
“A lot of the time, mental stimulation actually works better than physical exercise. Teaching your dog something new will work their brain, it’ll be quicker than going out for a walk (a good training session will only be a couple of minutes long) and you can teach them just about anything, new tricks or useful behaviors, for example,” explains Emily.
As well as working their brain and not taking too long to do, clicker training is beneficial because, “it relies on the dog figuring out things on their own, and not you telling them exactly what to do. This works their brain that bit better,” Emily says.
5) Use enrichment exercises in the house
“Try creating scavenger hunts, hiding treats around the house, or hiding treats in boxes or toys,” she goes on, “When a dog uses their nose, it wears them out very, very fast. So, teaching them to find those things can really be a great indoor activity - you can avoid the heat altogether.”
Emily explains that experimenting with enrichment exercises in the house is a good way to give your dog some activity when it’s too hot outside.
Looking for an exciting indoor enrichment toy? Try out PupPod!
Extra advice for exercising dogs in hot weather
Alongside her top 5 tips for exercising dogs safely during hot weather, Emily has some extra advice for pet parents.
“Taking water is really important. Keep yourself in mind, too! You don’t want heat exhaustion, otherwise you won’t be able to look after your dog,” says Emily.
Understand your individual pet
“Understanding your individual pet is important. If they are reactive, chasing cars or people, or reacting to other dogs, they will probably get hotter much faster. It’s beneficial to get some training - keep it close to the house – and work on foundation skills to keep your dog’s stress levels down!”
Exert some extra energy before you leave
“If your dog is super exuberant before the walk, doing some training beforehand to keep them calm will help. Using clicker training to teach manners at the beginning of your walk will mean less time outdoors exercising because you've already spent some time in the house, exercising with the AC on,” Emily explains.
“In the heat, you have a combination of the stress of the triggers that keep coming and the heat, which is also a stressor. These two different stressors will make your dog uncomfortable. If a stressor comes along, they’ll be less equipped to handle it.”
The physiological things that stress brings - short shallow breathing for example - makes them less able to handle the heat, too.
“If your dog is that stressed out on a walk, you probably need to work with a trainer just to walk out of the door in the first place, regardless of weather. It’s best to consult a professional. A lot of people with these issues might already be using some of these solutions, such as walking dog at night to avoid the stressors,” Emily says.
You don’t have to exclude exercise
A hot summer’s day doesn’t mean that exercise for your dog has to go out the window. By following some of Emily’s advice, such as getting to know your individual pet, monitoring them closely and using indoor enrichment, your dog can get the activity they deserve, even when it’s hot!
If you do have a dog that is prone to anxiety, over-excitement or stress, then you may want to be extra careful and vigilant on hot days. As Emily recommended, if your dog is suffering with some of these physiological problems, it’s best to contact a professional.
Emily Cassell is a professional animal trainer and behavior consultant at Empowered Animals, you can contact them for a guidance and support here.