The Long and Short of Retractable Leashes

Annie hikes on a deserted trail on her Flexi

There has been a lot written about retractable leashes. However, after a neighbor’s small dog rushed across the road, barking and growling and snapping at my ankles, I decided to write about them too. You see, the dog wasn’t loose, but was on a flexi leash with the owner firmly attached to the other end.

I used to use Flexi leashes almost exclusively when I first had dogs, but over the years I’ve learned the hard way. Retractible leashes are seductive because we all want the best lives possible for our dogs, and allowing them more freedom feels like the best possible answer. The first time I realized they were potentially dangerous was when Tessie, my drama queen of a collie, lunged at a car. For some reason, the lock on the handle of the Flexi didn’t work, and if her lunge hadn’t been so fast and hard that it jammed the mechanism, she would have been lost under the wheels of the car.

Why not use Extendable leashes?

There are many reasons not to use extendable leashes. I will list some of them here:

  • Dogs can’t learn how to walk on a loose leash when walking on a retractible leash for the following reasons:
    • the length of the leash is always variable, so they have no idea what distance they should be from their handler.
    • there is constant pressure on the leash due to the nature of the spring mechanism, so your dog gets accustomed to the sensation of pulling.
    • if your dog pulls harder, the leash extends which encourages your dog to pull.
  • Retractible leashes can cause friction burns and amputations to both dogs and humans. I still have a burn scar on my hand from the time a Flexi cord wrapped around my little finger. I was trying to walk our head-strong, powerful golden retriever down a trail when she decided to go after a deer. Somehow, the cord got wrapped around my little finger, and I was lucky not to sustain an amputation. If the leash gets wrapped around a paw and your dog panics and bolts, it can cut off the circulation and cause, if not an amputation, then permanent damage. Even the tape-type extendable leashes can cause injuries.
  • It is impossible to control your dog on a retractable leash. One doesn’t have the dexterity, strength, and manoeuverability to effectively work with a dog on an extendable leash. Consider this when walking in situations where your dog is around traffic, other dogs or animals, people–particularly children. A friend of mine got into a difficult situation when his dog-reactive dog sprinted out from his side before he could engage the lock and wrapped another walker with his retractable leash. The man was hobbled by the leash, fell to the ground, and was bitten by one of the dogs in the ensuing chaos.
  • Keeping your dog safe is impossible if your dog is 26 feet from you. Reeling in a dog on a retractable leash from a distance away from you is cumbersome and takes time. Dogs have been hit by cars on retractable leashes when they arced into the road. If your dog is walking 20 feet ahead of you, and the road is 5 feet to your right, it only takes seconds for your dog to dash in front of a car in pursuit of a squirrel. I had another friend whose dog was attacked by a deer when walking on a retractable leash. Luckily, the little dog was not badly injured.
It’s easy for dogs to wander into trouble using extendable leashes if you aren’t aware of your environment.
  • Allowing your 15-26 foot leash to extend based on your dog’s whim can end badly. Not all dogs enjoy meeting other dogs, and many people are either neutral to dogs or afraid of them. This was a recurrent problem when we had Vera, our reactive German shepherd. She was always under strict control, and as vigilant handlers, we kept her at least forty feet from other dogs at all times. Imagine our horror when a strange dog, walking on leash at his handler’s side, ran toward Vera, unfurling his Flexi behind him. This situation happened many times and never ended well. Vera was always fearful and angry when a dog entered her bubble. She would lunge and bark like a maniac as we dragged her further away, while the the owner on the other end of the leash looked on, baffled. I have heard many owners of reactive and fearful dogs comment over the years on how much they detest retractable leashes because of this type of scenario. We finally learned to avoid any dog on a retractable because their handlers were often distracted and oblivious.
Annie and Chi chi greeting on Flexi leashes. It is easy for dogs to get tangled in this scenario so it’s best to avoid meet and greets with retractable leashes.
  • Dogs who greet other dogs on Flexi’s are potentially at risk. If your dog is friendly and you allow him to greet other dogs while on leash, think about the number of times you need to thread and weave apart the leashes, sometimes dropping them so the dogs don’t get tangled. You can’t do this nearly as easily with extendable leashes, and if the dogs do get tangled, things can escalate very quickly, leading to panic and fights, and serious injuries to both dogs and humans.
  • Large, powerful dogs can actually break the leash or snap the cord, especially when they build up speed before they hit the end of the leash. Unless the dog has a good recall and is being walked in a safe place, he could get into all kinds of trouble. In addition, the broken cord can whip backward injuring the handler.
  • Shoulders and fingers have been dislocated and broken when a charging dog hits the end of the leash. If the handler hangs on and is jerked off his/her feet, falls can cause sprains, fractures, and/or abrasions. Dogs can be injured by the force exerted on the neck, trachea, or shoulders, depending on what the leash is clipped to–collar or harness. Retractable leashes should NEVER be attached to a head collar as they can easily cause severe neck injuries.
  • If the leash is jerked from the handler’s hand, the dog can panic and run from the noisy, bouncing plastic handle gaining speed behind him, forcing him into traffic or other dangerous places. This traumatic experience of being chased by the handle could also impact the dog emotionally and leave him with a permanent fear of the leash–or something else in his immediate environment that he associates with the event.

OK, so when do you use them?

As I said at the beginning of this post, I have used retractable leashes in the past. To me there is no greater joy than watching my dogs have a good time, and retractable leashes make this more likely than a restrictive 6-foot leash. There are a few situations where the risk of using a retractable leash are minimized.

  • We would sometimes attach a Flexi to the back of Vera’s harness and allow her to wade on deserted beaches, always careful to keep the leash free of the water so it wouldn’t get tangled in her legs, logs, or seaweed. This, of course, wouldn’t have worked for her when she was young and wild.
Vera enjoys watching an Orca on a deserted beach using her Flexi
  • Training for recall: When you are teaching your dog to come to you. This can be done more effectively on a longline (a long, light nylon leash) where the slack can be gathered up so your dog isn’t feeling the type of pressure on the harness that I mentioned earlier. Your dog should be well trained and relatively calm if you use a retractable leash for this–not jumping, wild, and pulling constantly.
  • Walking a well-trained dog in an area where there are few people and you can see who’s coming at a distance such as fields or parks. Since our girl, Vera, was never able to walk off leash, we used a Flexi when we walked her as a well-trained middle-aged and older dog at the local cemetery and at a few selected parks where there were strictly enforced leash laws. We always carried a 6-foot leash with us in case we saw a loose dog in the distance. This way she was able to wander and sniff and enjoy some independence in relative safety.
  • Playing ball with your dog on a retractable leash is another option if you don’t have a fenced yard, or if you are in a wide- open area and don’t want your dog to run free. Again, you’d need to be aware of your environment to keep your dog safe.

Which Retractable leashes should you use?

  • Avoid inexpensive retractable leashes. You want to be sure that the mechanism inside is of good quality, because if it fails, you have no way to effectively get your dog back to you without grabbing the cord or tape, and this can lead to significant injuries.
  • Avoid cord-type or wire extendable leashes. They can cause very severe injuries and cords can snap if a powerful dog hits the end of the leash at high speed.

Dogs and Christmas…keep Fido happy and safe

Christmas is a time of family get togethers, good cheer, and high energy. We love to celebrate, to drink, to eat, to grieve our losses–and we often include our dogs in whatever we might choose to do at any given moment.

Extended families and long-lost friends might descend on you over the holidays, some of whom may think they are god’s gift to dogdom, while others might be terrified of dogs, even small ones. They might bring Fido, their fluffy white dog, who “usually” gets along with dogs, but appears like Cujo in the making.

And then there are the dog costumes at stores and online, encouraged and modeled by friends and family, even trainers. There are a gazillion choices for treats and all manner of toys. There are human tidbits, leftovers, and new children’s toys to contend with. Whether you have one dog or multiple dogs, this season can be overwhelming for both you and your dogs.

Annie and her presents.

a few things to think about:

  • Take a deep breath and realize that Christmas is for us, not for our dogs. In fact, holiday times can be very stressful for your dog(s), particularly if they are anxious, reactive, or fearful. Even Annie, who is a well-grounded dog who had every advantage as a puppy, has an uptick in her anxiety level with multiple visitors. And if visitor dogs are added to the puzzle, she is over-the-top with excitement and anxiety.
  • Plan what your dog will do and where he’s going to spend time during get-togethers and parties. When we had Vera, our human and dog-reactive German Shepherd, we chose not to have more than one or two visitors to the house at a time and we always introduced her to them in a consistent manner. We also monitored her closely for the duration of the visit.
  • Even if your dog does love people, he may enjoy them for 15 minutes, then need some time away from the noise and bustle to decompress. He may love to be around adults, but be somewhat uncomfortable around children. (Being “OK” with children is not the same as loving kids.)
  • Think carefully about whether to invite canine visitors into your home. Does your dog enjoy having other dogs in his house? Even if he does enjoy doggie friends, in a high-stimulus environment, it’s not unusual for dogs to get over-aroused and erupt into squabbles.
  • Even well-behaved dogs can get over-stimulated and eat, spill, or break things they normally wouldn’t.
A quiet, peaceful room for Tessie away from the chaos.
  • Set up a safe, quiet, comfortable area for your dog to spend time away from the chaos. Supply his space with some of his favorite, indestructible toys, his bed, and a bowl of fresh water. Visit him several times during the day or evening, take him outside and play with him frequently, and allow him to visit with company only as much as you think he enjoys.
  • Try to keep this season as routine as possible for your dog, and maintain his daily exercise and playtime routines. Feed him his regular diet, and keep new treats and chews to a minimum.
  • Be careful to choose gifts for your dog that are safe. A toy that is safe for one dog might not be safe for another depending on the strength of his jaws and his behavior. Some dogs like to destroy or dissect toys, some just like to spend time with them.
  • When dispensing gifts in multi-dog households, put your dogs in different parts of the room–or even separate rooms–to avoid resource guarding of the treasured items. Even if your dogs don’t fight, one dog will often be forced to give up the valuable toy by a more dominant dog.
  • Know where to call and who to contact if your dog ingests something unauthorized.
  • Review a list of potential poisons for your dog at Christmas.
Annie works hard to resist the forbidden cookies…but if I wasn’t there, who knows?
  • Be careful not to leave human food lying around–desserts, candies, turkey bones (can be fatal), bread, cheese, chips, etc. Even well-behaved dogs can lose their manners when things are left at nose level, and a poor decision could put him in the hospital. Placing your dog in his safe place might be a good idea during times when humans are eating.
  • Marijuana baked goods can be very toxic to your dog and result in hospitalization. Some dogs like alcohol, which is also extremely toxic to dogs–they can lap it directly from a glass or from the floor if a drink spills. Even alcohol-infused desserts can be dangerous.
  • Before you purchase or dig out your dog costumes for Christmas, think for a minute. As Suzanne Clothier points out in her book “Bones Would Rain From the Sky“, it is wise to ask your dog, “how is this for you?”. If your dog shakes off, licks his lips, yawns, puts back his ears, tucks his tail, or tries to escape when you approach him with his lovely annual reindeer costume, put it back in the box. On the whole, dogs don’t like to be dressed up, and even new harnesses and head collars need a desensitization period.
Annie refused to let even a Christmas hat near her unless she was allowed to play tug, so I asked
Bruno, our faux dog, to help out.
  • Because the Christmas season is a stressful time for our dogs, it is important to understand that your dog is more likely to be reactive, anxious, and more prone to make mistakes such as messing in the house, or snapping at or biting humans (think about the unsupervised child who chases your dog, or the uncle who LOVES dogs and insists on hugging your dog while Fido’s eating dinner).
  • It’s also more likely that fights will break out between canine siblings or canine visitors to the house due to high stress and arousal levels.
  • If you are sad or depressed at Christmas (many of us have lost loved ones at this time of year and the season might trigger a grief reaction), take time to play with and walk your dog. It will not only be reassuring for your dog, but will make you feel better too.
  • By being vigilant and careful and by looking out for your dogs’ needs, you can make the season a positive experience for all of your family.

Leaving your dog? Things to consider…

In bygone days, my husband and I would pay a college student or ask friends or my parents to care for our dogs when we went on vacation. This was when we had sound, healthy, well-socialized dogs with a good recall. But even when they stayed with my parents there were problems, such as when my mother allowed our smart, savvy golden retriever to carry her own leash across a heavily trafficked bridge (no dog should be trusted in that situation, no matter how responsible they are). Another time, when our girls were left with a friend, we returned home to find that our wonderful, mature, fastidious golden had pooped in the house. Sascha would never have done this except when under extreme stress, or from simply not being taken outside to do her business often enough.

Vera, with her challenges, changed everything when it came to leaving town.
Vera does some whale-watching while on vacation with us.

Then we had Vera, our reactive German Shepherd. Before we realized the extent of her issues, we had a college student stay with her. A neighbor reported that among other things, Vera had jumped out a window and roamed the neighborhood–twice–while we were gone. This was not reported to us by the young woman taking care of her. (This is described in detail in my novel, “Finding Vera”.) Another time, we had a vet-tech, dog-trainer friend stay with her. I think things went all right, but in spite of begging the dog sitter to email us daily with a short report on this very difficult and troubled dog, the woman didn’t contact us until we had another friend ask her to send us an email. Our final attempt to leave Vera was to have a college-graduate, dog-savvy woman care for her when we went to the California Redwoods. The woman reported that Vera had diarrhea, climbed up to the window behind our bathtub on the second floor, and knocked over plants and vases due to her extreme stress. It took weeks for Vera to recover from our absence. After that, we didn’t travel for years unless we took her with us.

Annie and Uki have been walking together weekly for over a year. Both are well trained and well behaved.

Now that we have Annie, our well-socialized, happy, sweet collie, we thought it would be easy to leave her. But from our past experience, we realized the seriousness of finding the right situation for her. When we head off to southern Utah in a few weeks, a good friend and dog trainer and her lovely dog, Uki, will be looking after Annie. But even though we’ve walked the dogs together at least once a week for over a year, even though we are both dog trainers and behavior-savvy, and even though these girls have stayed together twice before, these well-trained, well-socialized dog friends still have their challenges. Thankfully, I trust my friend to know exactly what to do to prevent conflicts from arising.

In short, in our thirty-plus years of dog parenting, Don and I have rarely found an ideal situation in which to leave our dogs when we are on vacation. Leaving our companions is a serious business, and one that requires thought and research well in advance of one’s trip.

TIPs to think about:

  • Plan ahead. I would go so far as to say that you should find a safe, supportive place to leave your dog before you plan a trip.
  • There are many options as to where you can leave your dog, such as with friends, family, dog sitters, doggie hotels, or kennels.
  • Think about what your dog needs when trying to narrow down options. Does he have lots of energy and need exercise to feel comfortable? Does he like to socialize with people? With other dogs? Or does he just tolerate them? Is he older and therefore requires lots of down time and a quiet environment? Does he have separation anxiety?
  • An active dog might do well staying with a friend who has a compatible dog his own age to play and hike with, while a quiet, lower-energy dog might do fine having a pet sitter or friend come by three to four times a day to snuggle, walk, and play with him.
  • If your dog is worried about children or puppies, don’t leave your dog with a friend or family member who has kids or young dogs. He could be terrorized and make a mistake such as biting a child. It happens. Dogs who are not completely comfortable with children should not be around them.
  • If your dog is worried about dogs, don’t leave him with someone who has dogs unless the dogs know each other well and are comfortable together.
  • Ask for recommendations about safe, low stress facilities or excellent pet sitters from friends and family.
  • Check references carefully. Don’t minimize the importance of this step.
  • If you choose to leave your dog in a kennel or doggie hotel, tour the facility first. Make sure the kennels are clean and well maintained. Interview the staff, ask detailed questions about socialization time for to the dogs, and if siblings can be kenneled together. Ask about staff training, how they choose play groups, and if there is snuggle time each day. Ask if the dogs will be sheltered from rain and sunlight, and if there’s heating and/or air conditioning. Is calming music played (reduces anxiety in dogs), and what is done if the dog needs a vet? Don’t assume anything.
  • If choosing a petsitter, ask for references and check them out. Interview the pet sitter regarding their past experience with dogs similar to your dog in size, age, and temperament. Ask about their knowledge of canine body language (will they know how to read your dog?), their philosophy on dog handling (do they use verbal and physical corrections?) and do they have any experience with behavior issues. Observe them interacting with your dog. Do they like your dog? Do they interact with him appropriately? Does your dog like them?
  • Leave detailed advice for a pet sitter, friend, family member, or kennel staff, outlining diet, feeding schedule, daily schedule of activities, health issues and what signs to be alert for. Be clear about the freedoms your dog can be allowed such as leash restrictions (can your dog be off leash?) and being left out in the yard. Outline any behavioral idiosyncrasies.
  • Try out whatever situation you choose before you go on your trip while there is still time to change your mind–starting with an afternoon or evening in the care of your chosen option, and if that goes well, an overnight stay. You can see how your dog fares, and also, your dog will know that you’ll be coming back.
  • Leave items with your dog that he is familiar with (your dog’s bed, his bowl, his toys etc.), and something that is steeped in your scent such as a piece of your unlaundered clothing.
  • Leaving our dogs is sometimes necessary, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly. If done with thought and care, you can minimize the stress your trip will cause both you and your dog.

Dinner Etiquette and Dogs

There are as many different ways to eat dinner with dogs as there are people and dogs, and the routines we establish are not written in stone. Is there a right or wrong way for you to interact with your dog when you are eating? As a dog trainer, my answer to that question is: no, as long as your dog is being polite. That means: not stealing food or threatening to steal food; not putting pressure on you to feed him, such as swatting, whining, barking, or growling; and not climbing up on you, nudging you, or poking you. Beyond that, it is up to you as human parents to decide what is permitted at mealtimes and what is not.

Permutations of dog habits at dinner…

When my husband and I first had dogs in the mid-eighties, we completely ignored our dogs during mealtimes except to watch their playful antics while we ate (they were puppies). For their entire lives (a full twelve years), they never received food from the table and they never asked for it. However, twenty years and four dogs later, Lola, our wonderful golden, trained me to give her food bits while she lay with her head in my lap at our coffee table. She never drooled, stared at me, or whined. Over time, this morphed into not only Lola, but Tess and Vera (of “Finding Vera“) lying under the coffee table while we ate our dinner, in their designated spots, heads resting on their paws. None of them looked at me, and none of them drooled. I would occasionally hand them each a dog treat for their good behavior. Meal time had become family time and we enjoyed it as much as they did.

When Annie was a puppy, she stayed in her X-pen or crate while we ate. We draped her crate with a towel.

Fast forward to Annie, our two-year-old collie. Annie entered our lives when we still had our reactive German shepherd, Vera (Tess and Lola were no longer with us). By that time, Vera had turned the whole dinner-time ritual into a game by lying somewhere in the living room with her back to us, and waiting to see where the treats (strategically tossed between her paws) would fall. We still ate at the coffee table watching the news (or Big Bang Theory), and little Annie stayed in her towel-draped crate or X-pen and chewed on her stuffed, frozen Kong in another part of the room.

After Vera died, however, we changed our eating habits. We now eat at the dining-room table, and, reluctant to give up our routine of sharing dinnertime with our beloved girls, we now allow Annie to lie beside us at the table. She’s permitted to place her chin on our chairs which is very cute, and will occasionally get a treat which I keep with me for that purpose. She tried swatting my husband once, and was immediately placed in her crate for the duration of the meal. She never swatted either of us again.

Tips for changing habits

  • Remember that food is a valued resource, so if your dog bullies or pressures you for food (swatting, whining, barking, growling, climbing up on you or poking you etc), he should be calmly removed from the immediate area and placed in a comfortable crate or room, given something to entertain him (such as a stuffed Kong) and ignored–or verbally reinforced for good behavior–until you’ve finished eating. Once your dog has matured, or no longer associates human mealtimes with automatic handouts, he can be invited back, and teaching him acceptable behaviors can begin.
Ceddie demands food from his Dad–climbing up on him, and making direct eye contact. Very cute, but very pushy. Photo Courtesy of Motoko Lewis.
  • Acknowledge that your food is of value to your dog. He will most likely be interested in it and will want to watch you indulge. Many of us spend a lot of time and effort training our dogs to watch us, so it will take time and patience to teach a dog to be neutral around food.
  • Decide what you are going to expect of your dog. Do you just want him present, but invisible in the room? Do you want to include him as part of your family’s culture by having him participate in some way? Do you want him to be on his bed beside you enjoying a parallel treat? Do you want to give him occasional healthy treats while you eat? Do you want him to be across the room, lying at your feet, or curled up on a chair beside you?
  • If you don’t want your dog staring at you while you eat, reward him verbally or with a treat ONLY when his head is on his paws or when he’s looking elsewhere in the room–don’t make eye contact or feed him when he is staring at you (the opposite of how we train our dogs to make eye contact). Remember, negative attention such as “no” or “uh-uh” is still attention and can therefore be reinforcing to your dog.
  • If you want him lying at your feet, tell him what you want him to do, then reinforce that behavior with calm verbal praise, a pat, and/or a small dog treat–or valued chew toy–when he is in position. You will need to reinforce him consistently at first, then randomly, then gradually fade out the treats altogether once he is staying by you. By placing a towel or dog bed beside you for him to lie on, it will be easier to teach him where you want him to stay.
  • If you want him to lie on his dog bed across the room while you eat, the same principles apply. You would toss him treats to reinforce his behavior only when his head is down or he is looking away from you.
  • You need to be absolutely consistent. A dog who occasionally gets a treat or attention (eye contact included) from the table will be much more difficult to train NOT to beg than a dog who gets treats consistently from the table. It’s just the way the brain works.

If your dog is driving you crazy:

  • Stop any behavior you don’t want by making it impossible for your dog to practice that behavior. For example, if you don’t want your dog to be a part of mealtimes, place him in a covered crate with a special long-lasting treat such as a chew toy, a snuffle mat, or a stuffed Kong, either in another room, or gated in a different part of the room from where you are eating. Praise him for quiet behavior. When you are finished eating, clear the table and invite him out nonchalantly.
  • Ignore all behavior that could be construed as begging (drooling, staring at you). This will end any begging behavior though it will most likely get worse before it improves. Ignoring him means not looking at your dog, not talking to him, and NEVER giving him treats when you are at the table eating. If the behavior escalates into pushy behavior such at barking, pawing etc., remove him from the area as described above.
  • Dogs learn that being persistent will get them what they want. They can be much more patient and much better trainers than we are.
  • Here are some training video links of Vera demonstrating how to learn three helpful skills:
  • Take it/Leave it
  • Impulse control exercise
  • Go to your mat or “place”.

Summer heat and hot dogs: tips to keep them safe…

Summer is here–in some places with a vengeance! And as much as we love to enjoy outdoor activities with our pets now that we have been delivered from the icy clutches of winter, with the increase in global temperatures and the ensuing unpredictable weather, we should anticipate the possibility of higher temperatures and humidity.

Exercise older dogs with caution in hot weather.

Compared to humans, our dogs are at increased risk of overheating. They don’t sweat except on the pads of their feet and noses, and must cool themselves mainly by panting. Because of their poor cooling systems, they are at risk of dehydration and succumbing to heat stroke, particularly dogs with short muzzles (pugs, boxers, and shih tzus for example), overweight, older, and poorly conditioned dogs. Our dogs must depend on us for their safety, so it is up to us to keep them cool through these risky months.

Signs of heat stroke: According to The Humane Society of the US, the signs of heat stroke are: “heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizure and unconsciousness.” Heat stroke can result in organ failure and death.

What to do if your dog gets over-heated: The Humane Society of the US suggests: “Move your pet into the shade or an air-conditioned area. Apply ice packs or cold towels to their head, neck and chest or run cool (not cold) water over them. Let them drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes. Take them directly to a veterinarian.” Even if your dog seems to recover, organ failure can be a complication of heat stroke.

How Do I keep my dog safe?

Never leave dogs alone in parked cars…

Parked cars:

  • Never leave your dog alone in a parked car–even for a minute. A minute can easily turn into fifteen or third minutes, shade can shift, and car temperatures can soar, even with the windows open. I know this is asking a lot, but even in shade, with the windows open, temperatures can warm quickly. Leaving the windows partially open does not substantially reduce the heat in parked cars.
  • Crates will block air circulation even more and trap heat around your dog, and if windows are open wide enough to allow substantial air movement, you risk your dog being stolen–apparently not an uncommon event in some areas.
  • Shade blankets: Some people leave their dogs unattended for hours in direct sunlight with a shade blanket over their car. Although the best shade blankets will reduce the temperature inside the car, there is absolutely no guarantee that the interior of the car will remain cool enough for your dog to be safe, leave alone comfortable. So much is dependent on how much shade will pass over the car, the cloud cover, the presence of a breeze, the amount of heat radiating off the surface on which the car is parked, the humidity, and the heat tolerance of your dog.
  • Fans are not nearly as effective for dogs as they are for humans.
  • Don’t risk it! Remember–dogs age, gain weight, and acquire health problems, all of which will affect their ability to tolerate heat.
Shade blankets can reduce the car temperature, but several factors play into how safe it will be for your dog. Don’t depend on them.

What to do if you see a pet in a parked car in the heat?: Check out the HSUS PDF.

Exercise:

  • Exercise in the coolest part of the day.
  • Consider the humidity as well as the temperature. The more humid it is, the less able your dog is to reduce his temperature through panting.
  • Short-muzzled dogs, elderly dogs, overweight dogs and those with medical conditions should be exercised with extreme care in hot temperatures.
  • Carry water and a bowl for your dog when going for walks or hikes.
  • Avoid hot asphalt–your dog can burn his paws.
  • Walks that give your dog access to water for play and swimming are ideal, but remember that creeks dry up in early summer, and not all water is safe for dogs to drink. Giardia is increasingly common.
  • Consider boots for your dog when hiking on hot surfaces.
  • Consider how low your dog is to the ground. Dogs with short legs will be more at risk for overheating from heat radiating from the earth.
  • A warm-weather safety chart put together by Proplan is helpful to gauge how hot is too hot for the activity of small, medium, and large dogs.

Muzzles:

  • Never use muzzles in the heat unless your dog can pant and drink in the muzzle he is wearing.
  • Baskerville muzzles are a comfortable, airy muzzle that will allow your dog to pant, drink and eat treats. We used this type of muzzle with Vera for years.
Some dogs obviously love to sunbathe, but monitor them closely. Uki, Ellie, and Annie enjoy the deck.

Long-haired and double-coated dogs:

  • Double-coated dogs have protection from the direct sun and intense direct heat because of the structure of their coats. Annie, our rough collie, will sometimes sunbathe on our hot, hot deck. Often we need to chase her inside after a few minutes so she doesn’t overheat.
  • It unwise to shave these fluffy dogs. That said, dogs also produce their own heat, and double-coated dogs will retain heat more efficiently than their short-coated cousins. Don’t shave your long-haired or double-coated dogs, but clipping their tummies should allow them to cool down faster once in a cooler environment.
  • Regular brushing will not only remove dead hair and undercoat, but will also keep your dog’s coat light and air-filled–therefore a better insulator against the direct environmental heat as well as allowing body heat to escape more easily.

Short haired dogs:

  • Black dogs will absorb the heat faster, but white dogs are more susceptible to sunburn.
  • There are sunscreens specifically formulated for dogs–their noses and ears are particularly susceptible to sunburn.
  • Zinc oxide is toxic for dogs, and can cause severe health problems, so use sunscreens specifically formulated for dogs. Keep exposure to the direct sun to a minimum.

Inside vs Outside:

  • Make sure your dog has access to deep shade and fresh water when outside.
  • Tarps can provide deep shade.
  • Dog houses will heat up, and if in the direct sun, will become hotter than the outside environment. Also, your dog’s body heat will contribute to the heat in the enclosed space.
  • Providing a cooling mat, sprinkler or paddle pool can help to keep your dog cool when outside. If it is over 85 degrees, keep him inside with his cooling mat, fans, ice cubes to lick, and water sprinkled on his coat.
  • If you have air conditioning, your dog is in luck! Keep him inside with the air conditioning turned on. Provide fans, a cooling mat, fresh, cool water, and have cool tile, hardwood, or linoleum floors available to him.
  • If your dog needs to be crated, be sure the crate has plenty of ventilation (wire crates are perfect). If you have open windows, be sure to use screens as some dogs will jump out (Vera did this once when we were out of town).

Gardening with Dogs

Annie learns to cross our stream on the little bridge we made for her. She kept knocking down the cobble on the edges of the stream bed and crushing the plants. Now she uses her path and bridge.

THE DOG’S POINT OF VIEW:  Some dogs love to dig. It’s in their genes (some more than others) and in their hearts. Imagine, for a moment, the feel of the earth between your pads as it yields to the strength of your shoulders and the scrape of your nails…the feel of the dirt flying and thumping behind you, the all-consuming smell of the fresh soil, the clay, the roots as you dig deeper. Perhaps you even feel a sense of gratification as the hole widens or disappears into the depths. In the summer, the hole is cool and possibly damp. It wraps your body in comfort, protects you from the heat. In cooler days, it may just be a place to play and pass the time.

Most dogs don’t have a sense of where the garden begins and ends. They don’t know that the lawn is all theirs, and the flower or vegetable beds are out of bounds, or that the decorative water feature you.’ve spent hours rejuvenating after winter is absolutely verboten. They just play or wander happily within the boundaries of their space.

THE HUMAN’S POINT OF VIEW: We love to gaze upon the green sweep of lawn yielding to masses of flowers and shrubs. We have spent hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on our gardens, countless hours, weeks, years accomplishing this remarkable feat. We are sometimes passionate about the outcome, but sometimes, like our dogs, we just love the feel of the soil on our skin and beneath our fingernails. Whatever our motivation in creating our personal landscaping and gardening fantasy, most of us don’t like dogs digging in our sacred place, or even wandering through our flowerbeds. 

Tips:

  • Realize that your dog has no intention of ruining your garden. He is simply out there following his genetic impulses (terriers, for example, dig to reach their prey) or because he finds great pleasure in the work of it. If you can look at this objectively, it will help you to solve the problem.
  • Be sure your garden is fully fenced before you let your dog run free.  Being outside with your dog does not prevent him from chasing a deer, cat, raccoon, or squirrel across the road in front of a car. I’ve had several clients over the years who have had dogs injured or killed due to the misconception that they could control their off-leash dog in an unfenced yard while they were distracted by gardening. 
  • Dogs mimic our behaviors. As much as you love to have your dog’s company while you dig and plant, having him with you will encourage him to dig too. Leave him inside the house or on the deck while you work.
A low fence can help to guide your dog to use the pathways you create.

  • Provide pathways and unobtrusive fences to keep your dog out of areas you want to protect. Introduce him to the fence when he is leashed, and reward him with praise and small treats for staying on the correct side of the fence. Don’t allow him in the yard unattended until he is fully trained. Otherwise, he will practice the behavior you want him to avoid..
  • Provide chew toys and play toys to entertain your dog when you are outside with him. Show him what he’s ALLOWED to do.
  • Provide shade and water.
Annie in her digger-dog hole
  • Give your dog a place to dig. He may have indicated where he wants to excavate, and if you can integrate this into your garden, do it!  We were lucky in that three generations of our dogs have been digging under a rhododendron in our back garden. Each generation has taught the next where to dig.  We have a 27 year old digger-dog hole there now. Vera especially loved her digger-dog hole.
  • Encourage your dog to dig in the spot you have chosen: bury treats, bones, toys–things your dog loves–in the spot. Make a game of it. Cheer him on, praise him, get excited for him as he spreads his claws, sets his shoulders, and gets into it. 
  • Don’t leave your dog outside unattended–even if you’re home. Dogs have to be taught what is sanctioned by their people and what isn’t. They need to be praised for behaviors we want and directed away from behaviors we don’t like.

Safe and Humane ways to teach your puppy how to stop biting by Kristen Seymour

Please read and enjoy this very educational article on how to work with your puppy to teach bite inhibition–written by Kristen Seymour, linked from Pupbox.com.

Bite inhibition is an extremely important skill for puppies to learn, and they must learn it before their jaws reach adult strength. They learn this skill through biting–other puppies and dogs, and us. Puppies and dogs will teach the puppy through yelps, avoidance, and maternal correction until the puppy learns to temper his bite pressure. We can teach them by following the steps outlined below:

Puppy Biting