Protect your dog from the cold!

Colder temperatures are descending upon us, and even if winter hasn’t yet arrived where you live, it’s important to plan ahead. Dogs can suffer from cold just as we do. Those with double coats (an outer layer of longer water-repellent fur with a deeper layer of dense undercoat) might be more comfortable in the cold depending on the the breed, but even they should be monitored closely. Single-coated dogs, smaller dogs, and older dogs are at particularly high risk for problems associated with cold temperatures.

Tips to protect your dog

  • If your dog hasn’t had a wellness exam within the past year, now might be a good time, since certain conditions such as arthritis can be aggravated by cold temperatures.
  • Consider the age of your pet. Both very young and senior dogs will have a more difficult time regulating their temperatures, and senior dogs are also more likely to have medical conditions such as diabetes, Cushings disease and arthritis that will put them at risk for cold intolerance.
  • Dogs with single layer, short coats and those with less body fat will be very susceptible to cold temperatures. Smaller dogs will also have a more difficult time staying warm, and therefore a small, thin, short-haired dog such as a chihuahua will be particularly at risk.
  • Be aware of the symptoms of hypothermia: shivering, lethargy, grey or pale gums, stiff muscles, and lack of coordination such as stumbling.
  • Walk your dog during the warmest part of the day.
  • Bring your pets inside in below-freezing temperatures–even cold-tolerant northern breeds. Dogs can get frostbite and hypothermia just like people. If your dog LOVES being outside as did Vera (our special-needs German shepherd in the featured photo above), check on your dog frequently when temperatures dip below freezing. We would set the alarm and make Vera come inside every ten minutes to warm up.
  • Offer raised beds off the floor for single coated, thin, and older pets. The temperature on the floor is always a few degrees colder than at couch level. Also, offer these dogs blankets when the temperature in the house dips below 60-65 degrees.
  • Clip the fur between your dogs’ pads to prevent snow and ice buildup between their toes. Wiping your dog’s paws after walks will help to remove chemicals from his paws. Using a product such as Musher’s Secret can prevent snowballs from forming between his toes, and also protect his pads from deicers used on streets and sidewalks. Another option is to put boots on your dog when you take him for walks. Ruffwear and Chewy have several options.
    • Your dog is unlikely to enjoy his boots the first time you put them on. To get him used to them: Let him sniff one of the boots and put a treat on it. Praise him for his interest in it. Next, put one boot on one of his paws, encourage him to walk a few paces, praise and treat him, then remove it. Repeat. Over the next several days, increase the number of boots you put on him and the length of time you keep them on. Make sessions fun. Take him for short walks or play his favorite games. Always be upbeat and positive.
  • Check your dog’s pads regularly for fissuring and splitting.
  • Consider getting a warm coat for your dog, particularly short-coated, small, and older dogs. Again, Chewy and Ruffwear have some good options.
  • Keep your dog away from ice on rivers, lakes, and ponds. In Bellingham, we had a disaster a couple of years ago where one of two dogs and their owner drowned in a pond when playing fetch. The ice was thinner than the owner anticipated, and the dogs broke through. The owner drowned trying to save them.
  • Your dog might need more food in the winter to maintain a healthy weight. Weighing your dog regularly will help you monitor the amount of food he needs.
  • Remember, always keep your dog safe.

Listen to your dog!

There are so many different ways to listen to your dog: barking, vocalizations, body language, and facial expressions. Yet how good are we at understanding what they are saying? We think we can tell when our dogs are happy because they wag their tails–but this is only partially true. The position, rate, and pattern of tail wagging changes depending on what they are trying to communicate. We label them quickly when we think they are being naughty or stubborn because they don’t do what they’re told. Yet dogs always have a good reason for not doing what we ask of them and try to communicate that to us–though we might not understand or agree. When they tremble and whine, we might think they are scared. Maybe, but these signals could also indicate excitement or pain.

For example, in the Featured Image above, Vera is telling me she is not enjoying the hug I’m giving her. Her mouth is closed, her face tense, and she is looking as far away from me as as she possibly can. I’m enjoying it, but she is NOT!

Dogs are much more complex than we give them credit for. They have an entire language with which they can communicate excitement, arousal, contentment, affection, stress, fear, anger, joy, disgust, shyness, and suspicion according to Dr. Stanley Coren. (They do not feel the more complex emotions of guilt, shame, pride and contempt.) They also have opinions, preferences, and motivations. They are thinking, emotional creatures with brains similar to ours, and they communicate with us all the time. Since we have invited them into our homes, it is not only polite and respectful to learn their language, but we owe it to them to do so. After all, we expect them to know ours–whether we teach it to them or not!

I recently watched a webinar by Julie Shaw VTS-Behavior, addressing the question of stubbornness in dogs. She reflected my own experience with dogs: if dogs don’t want to do something, there’s a good reason for it. Either they don’t have a clue what you want them to do (they haven’t been adequately trained and don’t understand the words or signals being used to direct them), they know something you don’t (as with Annie when she refused to go down a path–we found coyote tracks in the snow twenty feet further down the trail), they are in pain (as in a friend’s dog who refused to get into the car), they’re scared (a shelter dog refusing to go through a doorway into the unknown), or they know they will dislike what will happen to them if they do what’s being asked (a dog who is expected walk politely over to the tap for a bath). Dogs don’t tend to do things randomly any more than we do. There is always a reason, and if we stop to think about what they’re telling us, we can often figure it out and modify our expectations. But we need to have the patience to do this.

How to listen to your dog

  • Watch your dog more closely than you have in the past. Even those of us who have studied canine body language for years can benefit from doing this. We become complacent over time and start to miss cues.
  • Purchase a good book on canine body language if you don’t have one. I recommend Brenda Aloff’s book, Canine Body Language, a photographic guide, but there are many other books out there. My novel, Finding Vera, is full of canine body language used by the dogs in the story to navigate their lives. In part, I wrote it as a way to educate readers on canine behavior and the language of dogs, while enjoying a good read.
  • Download a free poster on The Body Language of Fear by Sophia Yin.
  • Watch some canine body language videos, or look at photos of dogs’ facial expressions on the Eileen and dogs website to get a better understanding of your dog’s emotional state in different situations.
  • Watch your dog closely when you take her on walks. It’s always interesting to see where dogs sniff. Unfortunately, we tend to discredit their sniffing behavior because we don’t smell or see what they are sniffing. It is thought that they can smell in layers–a complex tapestry of input to them, like us looking at a multilayered sunset or view. By seeing how they react to certain scents, we can learn a lot from them. For instance, I’m now able to determine from Annie, our three-year-old collie, whether the dog who just passed by is new to the neighborhood (increased excitement and persistence in sniffing the air flow behind the dog), whether a neighbor just got a new dog (she’ll stop and air sniff while pointing directly at the dog’s house until I respond), or a coyote (she’ll sniff every inch of the ground and vegetation deliberately, then curtail her walk). If it’s a dog she’s familiar with, she’ll sniff, then move on.
  • Observe if there are places your dog likes to go, and places she doesn’t.
    • For instance, some surfaces might be harsh on a dog’s paws, for instance gravel paths, or sand–especially on a long walk. Your dog might hang back, ask to go on a different trail by pointing her body in that direction, or turn around and ask to go back to the car. It’s hard to know how sensitive dog’s paws are on rough surfaces. Some don’t seem to mind, others do.
    • Wild animals such as coyotes or cougars might frequent the area and your dog might make the very smart decision to return to the parking lot, even though you are oblivious to the danger.
    • Your dog might be fearful of a dog who barks at her from behind a fence and hang back, shake off, scratch, or try to turn back the way she came. Her communication shouldn’t be ignored. You could turn back and go a different way, arc around the barking dog, or put your dog on the side of you away from the scary dog, feeding her treats as you pass.
    • Your dog might be hesitant to go to the dog park because even though she’s well socialized, she doesn’t like interacting with a group of wild adolescent strangers. Don’t force her to do this. She knows better than you how well she can handle the situation.
  • See if there are places she likes to be touched and places she doesn’t.
    • Often the first indications of emotional or physical discomfort will be licking her lips, turning her head away, or yawning. If you don’t listen to these signals, she might escalate her communication to moving away from you, staring at your hand, or even mouthing your hand.
    • Her sensitivity could be due to an injury, a sore muscle, or past association, but a visit to the vet might be in order if this is a new behavior.
    • She might not enjoy being touched as much as you think. Many dogs love our companionship, but only enjoy being touched in certain ways at certain times. Even Annie, our well-socialized, happy collie only likes to be touched when she asks for it by coming over to us, weaving between our legs, or barking and stretching and acting silly on the couch. We make a point of stopping our snuggles before she moves away.
  • When you’re training your dog, watch closely to see if you’re communicating well with her. If you are, she should be paying attention and engaged in learning. If she starts to become confused or overwhelmed, you might see her licking her lips, turning her head away, scratching, yawning, or trying other behaviors. Our golden, Lola, used to lie down and refuse to move when she was confused. Tess would nip at me and bark. Annie will try different behaviors, and eventually get silly. The other day in her Treiball class, she ran around the room visiting the other dogs and their people when my expectations were too high.
  • Listen to your dog’s bark. Dogs have different barks and vocalizations for different things. Remember, barking is an excellent form of communication as is growling (an important warning that they’ve been pushed far enough.) A dog should NEVER be punished for a growl since the signs of low and moderate stress levels could escalate directly to a snap or bite if the growl has been suppressed. Turid Rugaas’s book, Barking, the Sound of a Language, is an excellent resource on barking.

Learning to understand and communicate with your dog is extremely rewarding. As you become familiar with her language over time, more and more subtleties will become apparent to you, and the bonding you experience over the years will be worth the effort.

Say YES! instead of NO!: thoughts on positive-reinforcement dog training.

I’ve been a professional dog trainer for 34 years, and dogs have been my passion for even longer. When I started training, we followed the corrective methods forged in the military: put a chain or prong collar on a dog and jerk to get the behavior we wanted. Sometimes, if our dogs did it right, we’d give them a cookie. Though our hearts often broke for our dogs, we trusted our teachers.

Using positive training methods allows dogs to be happy, creative, and eager to learn.

Thankfully, research has since shown that harsh training methods (angry, raised voices, often shouting “NO”, jerking and popping, using a prong or chain collar, hitting your dog, or using spray bottles–to name just a few) can not only injure your dog emotionally, but damage your relationship with your dog in much the same way that abusive behavior can damage human family relationships. Dogs can also be injured physically from some of these methods. For example, throughout her life, Vera, our German shepherd, had difficulty breathing when she drank due to a damaged trachea from a choke chain which was used on her in her first home. Even expert military trainers are now using positive methods. Why? Because dog and handler must trust each other implicitly and their partnership must be absolute.

Clearly this puppy is experiencing joy! His mouth is open and relaxed, tongue showing, eyes soft, and no wrinkles of anxiety around his mouth or on his forehead.

It is thought that dogs have emotions equivalent to a two and a half-year-old child. They can experience joy, fear, anger, disgust, and love, but not guilt. When they experience fear–and they do experience fear from punishment-style training (see Sophie Yin’s poster on “the body language of fear in dogs,” and then observe your dog’s reaction to corrections closely), they might respond in a number of ways such as: “shutting down” (emotionally withdrawing from the situation), handler-directed aggression, dog-dog aggression, or aggression toward strangers. They might also develop anxiety and ongoing anxiety-based behaviors such as self-inflicted sores or hot-spots, in-home destruction, relieving themselves inside the home, separation anxiety, or learning difficulties.

The trouble with punishment-style training is that it often works in the moment. It’s therefore very reinforcing to the handler because the dog will often stop what he’s doing out of fear and to avoid further punishment. This gives the handler a sense of gratification. Unfortunately, the dog doesn’t learn how to change his behavior. He just becomes more anxious, often increasing the unwanted behavior. A dog’s ability to learn diminishes as stress increases, just as it does in humans.

The other thing that makes punishment so rewarding to us is that as primates, we are hardwired to shout and use our hands to hit when we are frustrated or angry, so the very act of punishing our dogs can feel like the right thing to do and make us feel better about training our dogs.

What to do instead…

Transitioning to positive methods can be hard. I know, because I’ve done it. Positive methods feel permissive, like they don’t have “teeth.” However, by not reinforcing “bad” behaviors, and by rewarding the behaviors you are looking for with praise and/or treats, your dog will become enthusiastic about learning and working with you. Being consistent 100% of the time, and preventing unwanted behaviors by planning what you want him to do in advance, actually works!

Say, for example, you want your dog to stay off the couch. Rather than yelling at him to get off, you could block his access to it with baby gates, or put something such as books on the cushions to dissuade him from getting up in the first place. By NEVER allowing him to get on the couch, and by planning short training sessions where he’s rewarded for NOT getting onto the couch (you could toss treats on the floor next to the couch, or give him a special chew toy on his bed in the same room), he will learn to stay off the furniture without fear of being punished for making a mistake. Before long, he’ll stay on the floor and won’t attempt to get onto the couch.

This is a clicker from the Karen Pryor website.

Using a clicker or a marker word such as “YES” followed immediately by a treat, is a fun, positive, and very effective way to teach your dog skills without fear or intimidation. Due to the release of chemical mediators in the brain, anticipation of the treat is just as powerful a reward as the treat itself. The click or word “yes” actually marks the precise behavior you want to reinforce in your dog, and the treat follows within two seconds. Watch this short video of Vera (from Finding Vera) introducing clicker training.

A “reward” can be anything your dog likes. It can be food, praise, a toy, doing a favorite trick, or getting a chest scratch. The reward is given to your dog as payment AFTER he completes the behavior you request, or when he makes a good behavioral choice. Guiding one’s dog to make the correct choice is part of our job as trainers and dog parents, and it’s your dog’s right to be paid for a job done well.

If you’re interested in learning more about positive reinforcement training methods, contact a professional trainer through CPDT or KPA to help you make the transition. If you haven’t already tried positive reinforcement training, I’d recommend that you do so. Using positive methods is not only immensely rewarding to both you and your dog, but will strengthen your relationship in ways you might not have thought possible.

Puppies during the Pandemic

In the last few months there has been an explosion of puppy adoptions–not only on my block, but nationwide. Since a significant part of the workforce is working from home, people are using the opportunity to add a new companion to their family. There are lots of advantages to this: the whole family is at home so the puppy won’t be left alone for long periods of time, house training should be easier if everyone is able to pitch in and take the puppy out frequently, and training your puppy basic skills might be more fun and more consistent if everyone does it together.

But, there are also some disadvantages. The most critical disadvantage of having a puppy during this pandemic is the lack of ability to socialize your puppy. Socializing puppies in the first 12-16 weeks of life is essential for a well-balanced temperament. It’s very difficult for dogs to catch up later on in life, and serious behavior issues can evolve if puppies don’t get the right kind of socialization during this window period. My husband and I spent twelve years trying to rehabilitate Vera, our rescued reactive German shepherd. She was plagued by a fear of strangers and dogs which manifested in aggression throughout her life, in large part due to lack of socialization as a puppy and young dog–not an easy fix. You can read the details of this difficult undertaking in my novel, “Finding Vera”.

Vera, although a wonderful companion who strove to do everything “right”, was always fearful of and aggressive to other dogs and strangers, largely due to her lack of socialization in puppyhood.

Another disadvantage to having a puppy during the pandemic is that classes for puppies may not be up and running in your area due to COVID-19, especially with the current surge in cases. So having your puppy exposed to and interacting with small groups of puppies will be more difficult than usual, and getting expert advice on how to manage and train puppies in a class setting might be risky or impossible. If you’ve never had a puppy before, you might feel overwhelmed.

TIPS and resources for Parenting and socializing Puppies

Milo at 6 months socializing with Annie (18 months) before COVID-19.
  • Since there is a small risk that COVID-19 could be spread to pets from sick humans, the CDC currently recommends keeping dogs six feet away from strangers. There is, however, “no evidence that the virus can spread to people from the skin, fur, or hair of pets,” according to the CDC.
    • Based on this information and depending on your risk factors for COVID-19 (such as age and underlying health conditions), while wearing a mask you might choose to socialize your dog with other puppies, friendly dogs, and people at the end of a six-foot (or slightly longer) leash. (You would need to ask permission first.)
    • Always allow your puppy to approach the person, child, or dog, (not vice versa), especially if he is shy . It’s important to strive for your puppy to have only positive interactions with strangers and the environment.
    • Don’t force your puppy to approach anyone or anything he’s afraid of. Give him time and encouragement to investigate on his own, then if he’s still reticent, allow him a break before going back to try again. Trying to force him to interact with something he’s afraid of will only undermine his confidence. This includes swimming.
    • Think about scheduling outdoor play sessions with friends’ puppies and well-socialized dogs in a safe setting while still socially distancing from other pet owners, wearing masks, and having hand sanitizer available.
  • There is also a middle ground depending on where your comfort level and risk factors for COVID-19 lie.
    • If you are uncomfortable being six to ten feet away from other humans, by praising and treating your dog whenever he looks at a dog, child, adult, cat, horse etc, you can build your puppy’s confidence. By giving him a strong positive association with other people and creatures at a distance, he will stay positive and interested in them, even though he won’t be interacting directly.
Certified professional dog trainer and puppy specialist, Siw Lea, takes a moment with Annie at 16 weeks.
  • Consider hiring a certified dog trainer for private lessons outside the house rather than inside. The investment of time and money will be well worth it, and with a mask and social distancing, you should be safe from COVID-19. Working with a trainer, you’ll learn more about how to train your puppy, socialize him, what his behavior means, and how to manage him than you can possibly imagine.
  • I recommend the following two books by Ian Dunbar “Before you get your puppy” and “After you get your puppy“. Both are downloadable from these links. They will give you excellent advice on errorless house training, socialization (which will need to be modified as I described above), how to set up your house to manage your puppy more effectively, and much, much more.
Annie resting in her long-term confinement area as recommended by Ian Dunbar in “After you get your puppy”.
  • Be cautious which type of training you choose for your puppy. Over the last twenty years, science has shown that positive-rewards training (reinforcing the behaviors you want your puppy to do with treats and praise (rather than correcting him for what he does wrong), is much more effective. Training by rewarding your puppy for doing the right thing and redirecting or preventing unwanted behaviors is not permissive, but strengthens the life-long bond you will have with your puppy. Watch for my next blog explaining this type of training in more detail.
  • Safe and effective ways to keep puppies from biting” is an excellent article on teaching bite inhibition (how puppies learn to control their bite).
  • Other puppy resources you will find helpful:
  • Remember that puppyhood, while challenging, lasts a relatively short period of time. Puppies need lots of attention, guidance, and training for the first two years of their lives, but if you put in the time and effort, you’ll have a wonderful, well-behaved companion. While dogs often need gentle reminders of our expectations throughout their lives, they will do very well after the first two years.
  • Enjoy your puppy!
  • I’ll republish two short stories I wrote a couple of years ago about our first experience with puppies, long before I was a dog trainer. These crazy puppies are long gone now, but they taught me a lot and spurred me on to become a dog trainer. They were well-loved until they died of old age many years ago.

Back to work? What about my dog?

Over the past several weeks, many of us have been staying at home with our dogs, and if we’re lucky, taking our wonderful companions for walks, playing enrichment games throughout the day, training, and generally bonding in a way we didn’t think possible.

Now, as COVID-19 cases and deaths start to decline in some areas, there are plans to open up parts of the economy. Even if you don’t think your job will restart any time soon, there are several things you can do to prepare your dog for your absence.

If you think about it, when you were working in the past, your dog probably had an adjustment period following your days off. He might have been more excited than usual when you got home from work. He might have emptied the garbage while you were gone, or shown more interest in his toys, or heaven forbid, shown more interest in your toys (the remote control, a book from the bookshelf, a pair of sunglasses you left on the coffee table). He might have even peed on the floor. These are all signs of separation anxiety, which means that your dog missed you when you were gone–a lot.

After having us at home 24/7, being alone for 8-10 hrs at a time will be a shock.

His reaction to your absence could be greatly enhanced after been spending 24/7 together. Dogs are social animals and very bonded to their families. Even dogs who have not had separation issues in the past will miss their people more than usual after spending so much time together.

For those of you who have adopted new dogs in the last two months, your dog’s reaction to being home alone might be even more acute. If your dog has never been away from you and is suddenly stranded for eight to ten hours a day, think how scary, lonely and boring it could be for him. Some dogs will adjust without any difficulty no matter what, but anxious or scared dogs will most likely have a harder time.

Things you can do to prepare your dog

  • Don’t spend every minute of every day with your dog(s). Having a second dog may not alleviate their reaction to your absence.
    • Start gradually. Close the door when you go into another room such as the bedroom or bathroom, and don’t allow him access. When your dog is quiet, walk nonchalantly back into the room and go about your business, ignoring your dog until he settles. Once he has settled, greet him calmly.
    • This way, you’ll be leaving your dog for seconds to minutes several times a day and he will learn that your comings and goings occur as a regular part of his routine.
    • He’ll learn that you always come back.
Annie waits inside while we work in the garden.
  • Don’t interact with your dog constantly during the day, but make sure he has toys that he can use to entertain himself.
    • Get used to doing things that don’t involve your dog such as reading, working on the computer, using your phone.
    • If he demands your attention, ignore him, and if he doesn’t stop bothering you, walk into another room and close the door.
    • When he is quiet, calmly return to where you were before he interrupted you, and continue as if nothing has happened.
    • When he settles, you can give him calm, verbal praise and continue what you were doing.
    • This does not mean that you should ignore him for the entire day. Take regular breaks to take him out for walks or play with him, but gradually spread breaks further apart than what you’ve been doing.

  • Be honest with your dog. Don’t pretend you’re not going out, but rather build a positive association with your exit.
    • Tell your dog you are leaving. Our phrase leaving our girls has always been: “We’re going out and you get to stay here.”
      • When Annie hears this, she lies down in front of the door and waits for the scattering of treats we toss on the floor before we leave.
      • Vera, who had separation anxiety, would not eat treats, but would lie down on the carpet, serious and concerned, and watch us go. I still prepared her a kong which she ate as soon as we returned.
      • Tessie and Lola would crowd into the mudroom waiting for their kibble-dispensing toys, hardly able to contain their excitement.
      • When Tessie and Lola were older puppies (past the age of consuming paper), I would hide stuffed bones and kongs and small paper bags with a few treats in them all over the house. They would be confined while I hid the treats and released when I walked out the door. They would spend the next 30 minutes scavenging. There was no resource guarding or jealousy between them. (I don’t recommend this for dogs you don’t know extremely well and trust implicitly, and who aren’t 100% compatible, especially around food.)
      • In every case, our dogs had a routine and knew exactly what was going to happen. They knew we were going to return home.
  • When your dog is relaxing, play soothing music such as classical music, folk music, or easy jazz. Music that is loud and complicated can cause anxiety. You want him to associate the music with a sense of calm and well-being, so you can leave it playing for him when you are out.
  • Practice leaving him at home when you go grocery shopping, go outside to garden, or go for a short walk. If you have a new dog, these outings should be very short at first and gradually increase in five-minute increments.
    • Before you leave the house, be calm and quiet. You want your dog’s emotions to be settled and balanced when you leave, not over-stimulated and anxious. You also want your dog to notice little variation in household energy between when you are present and when you are gone. For example, don’t have a rousing game of fetch or chase, or an intense training session right before you walk out the door. Have at least a ten minute quiet-time of not interacting with your dog before you leave, so that the transition is smoother for him.
    • When you return home, the same principle applies. Greet your dog quietly, then go about your business of removing your mask, washing your hands, putting away your groceries, your coat etc. Once your dog settles down, give him a proper greeting. Again, you want to minimize the contrast between the hours when you were gone and the minutes after you return.
  • If you have a new dog in the house, consider separating the dogs with a baby gate or ex-pen when you are gone for any period of time to make sure they are safe from each other, especially if there is any tension between them. With the increased anxiety caused by your absence, scuffles, or worse, can erupt.
  • If you have just one dog who is new to your household, I would recommend confining him to an area where he is most comfortable so he doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the emptiness of the house. Be sure he has water, toys, his bed, and a crate if he is crate trained.
Annie relaxing upside down in her ex-pen when we had Vera. We kept them separated when we were out.
  • Other things you can do: observe your dog’s behavior patterns after you leave by hooking up indoor security cameras. This can be reassuring since most dogs sleep most of the time you are gone.
  • Invest in interactive toys (click on link to see Whole Dog Journal’s picks) such as kongs, kibble-dispensing toys, electronic kibble-dispensing toys, and snuffle mats that will keep your dog entertained for the first few minutes you are gone (or longer) and smooth out that critical transition time. Every dog is different, however, and you need to choose toys carefully to be sure they are safe to leave with your dog(s).

Feature image courtesy of Motoko Lewis (photo of Master Cedric Meerkat and Mischa).

COVID-19 and working from home–with a dog

COVID-19 has filled our lives with challenges that we haven’t seen in our lifetime. But one of the silver linings of being quarantined at home, as most of us are at this particular time in history, is that for better or for worse, we get to stay home with our dogs. This could be a good thing–or it could be overwhelming. Every dog is different. For my husband and myself, staying home with Annie, Tess, or Lola–three well-socialized, well trained dogs we were lucky enough to share our lives with–would be far different than dealing with our rescue, Vera–the wild, untrained, anxious, reactive German Shepherd described in my novel, “Finding Vera“–twenty-four hours a day.

When I first decided to write a blog post about COVID-19, I decided to write about how the virus interacts with dogs. But since new information is coming out daily about the virus, I will instead include this link to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Social Tools resource on that subject.

When you stay home with your dog:

Realize, right from the start, that there are two beings (at least) involved in the changes that occur when you stay home from work:

  • First and foremost, your dog(s), who has had an entire apartment or house to himself five days a week for as long as he can remember, where he can snooze undisturbed for up to ten hours a day, chew on toys, and look out the window or play with his sibling(s).
  • Secondly, you (and everyone else who is staying home), who are most likely in a state of stress. Your dog can not only read the level of stress that you’re under by observing your body language and the pitch of your voice, but by using his exquisite sense of smell. Your house will also be louder with kids running amok, conversations, telephone calls, laughter, computers, television, and games etc.

Things to think about:

  • Start to integrate structure into your routine right away. This is will tell your dog right from the start what your intentions are so he can go about his day accordingly. By knowing what you will be doing in advance, he won’t be plagued by the anxiety of wondering what his new role is. Dogs love routine and structure in their lives, and setting things up in a way that will work for you both right from the start will benefit everyone. Expect an adjustment period at the beginning while you both adapt to your new lifestyle.
  • The old adage “A tired dog is a good dog” rings true. Plan to spend time walking your dog before you start your day. When my husband and I had three dogs, that meant getting up early–at 4:30 AM–to be sure the dogs were tired and exercised before work. Working from home without a commute will give you more time, so get up early and take your dog for a socially-distanced walk before you buckle down in front of your computer. Adjust this walk to the age, energy level, and interests of your dog, being sure it is quality time for each of you. You’ll be more clear-headed and productive after some time outside, and your dog will be more relaxed and ready for a nap.
  • Decide where you want your dog to be while you work, and what you want him to be doing. Even if you aren’t actually moving your job home, you might have projects you’re focused on, or creative endeavors that require concentration such as playing an instrument, writing, painting etc. If your dog is mature, he might just need some loving and a chew toy to settle down. However, if you have a puppy or a demanding adolescent, or if your work or project is making him anxious, you might need to set up a quiet, comfortable enclosed area with water, his favorite bed, chew toys, and a stuffed Kong or two.
  • Decide how often you will take breaks with your dog. It isn’t fair to expect your dog to be a perfect dog for 8 hours in a row with his favorite companion at home. Nor is it reasonable for you to work for 8 hours without a break. You might decide that you will take a break every two hours. Set your alarm.
  • Think about how you’d like to spend break times with your dog. Would another short walk together help to relax you and your dog? Would a wild game of fetch distract you, and help you and your dog laugh together? Would snuggling on the couch or playing “find it” with a few low-fat treats give you the contact you both need to mellow things out after a bathroom/ potty break?
  • Dogs who are exercised a lot tend to become more and more fit, requiring more and more exercise to tire them out. However, exercising their brains tires them out in an entirely different way. Ten minutes of training your dog (I call it playing with my dogs), by teaching them a new skill or trick, having them find an object with their noses, or teaching them to be creative, can leave them content and ready to pass more time on their own, plus it relieves you of the guilt you might otherwise feel if you were to ignore your dog.
  • Be consistent with your dog. This means that if your dog is being demanding of your attention by nudging your hand or elbow, barking at you, asking to go outside, then asking to come in again repeatedly etc, respond in the same way each time. You know your dog, and can most likely predict what his attention-seeking behaviors will be. Decide how you will respond to them ahead of time and respond exactly the same way the first time every time. Behaviors that are intermittently reinforced will be strengthened and be harder to break. The best way to deal with unwanted behavior is to ignore it. Shouting at or hitting your dog not only gives him attention, but will damage the bond you have build together. For instance, if your dog bumps your elbow for attention don’t ignore it the first four times, then absent-mindedly start petting him the fifth time he does it. You have to stay the course since unwanted behaviors will often get worse before they improve. If you do respond to him, he will be much more likely to continue trying to get you to respond to his nudge one more time.
  • Be patient with yourself and your dog. He/she knows it is a difficult time for you and so her behavior could well be more clingy, barky, or unpredictable than usual. Spend short periods of quality time with her through the day, and it will pay off by building an even stronger bond between you.

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.

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 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.


  • 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).