This summer, as temperatures keep rising, it’s easy to forget that our furry friends get hotter than we do and have a harder time cooling down after walking, running or hiking, says local veterinarian Stacey Adams.
During the summer months, when humans are spending more time outdoors and exercising outside rather than at the gym, it’s a natural next step to want to bring our dogs with us for those long runs, Adams said.
Adams, who works at Boulder’s Natural Animal Veterinary Hospital, used to run with her dog Titus. The Great Dane is now almost 12 years old, so they don’t exercise much together anymore. But Adams and other area veterinary professionals shared advice for exercising with your pets in ways that are safer and easier on them during harsh hot weather.
Exercise when it’s cooler
It sounds simple enough, but exercising with your pets during the early mornings or late evenings is even more imperative for them than it is for us, Adams said. Dogs are more prone to overheating and heat exhaustion, she said, because their only means of cooling themselves down is through panting.
If the pavement is too hot for your own bare feet, it’s too hot for the pads on your dog’s paws, too, she added.
“This is a great time of year to go swimming with dogs, because they can stay cool, even during the hotter parts of the day,” Adams said.
Some breeds and types of dogs are more prone to overheating, like older, overweight or thick-haired dogs, Adams added. Dogs with “smooshy” faces like boxers, pugs and bulldogs have a harder time cooling down because of the structure of their faces and nasal passages, she said.
If you groom your dog to keep his or her hair shorter and cooler, watch out for sunburns. Use pet-safe sunscreen or baby sunscreen — anything that doesn’t contain zinc oxide, which is toxic to dogs, she said.
“You can use pet-safe sunscreen on their nose or on the tips of their ears, or if they like to lay with their bellies exposed,” she said.
Just like humans, dogs who haven’t been “training” a lot recently need to be eased back into long runs, advised Humane Society of Boulder Valley veterinarian Jennifer Bolser.
Create an informal plan to work up to high mileage or high-intensity hiking.
“We don’t want to assume that our dog can go from sitting on the couch to being able to withstand weekend warrior syndrome where we take them for hours and hours of activity,” Bolser said.
Many pet owners tend to take their pets for very long walks on the weekends to make up for not getting much exercise during the week. If possible, it’s better for dogs to get some form of exercise every single day of the week, rather than all at once on the weekend, Bolser said.
If you haven’t seen your vet in a while, check in with them before starting a new exercise regimen with your pet. If you’ll be exercising with a puppy, Bolser recommends keeping runs very short and running on dirt or grass rather than on pavement.
Don’t wait until you get home with your pet for him or her to have a drink. In the summer, dogs need water every 20 to 30 minutes while exercising, Bolser said.
Bolser said she couldn’t provide a mileage limit for pets, but somewhere in the 10 to 15 mile range is probably the limit for even the most in-shape pups, she said.
Keep your dog’s brain exercised, too
Even if you run or hike with your dog often, don’t forget about their brains and the training necessary to take them with you when you exercise, said Humane Society of Boulder Valley training and behavior supervisor Shelly Brouwer.
Brouwer also recommended feeder toys, or toys that contain food for your dog to work to get out. They vary in difficulty, and once your dog has mastered one toy, move on to a harder puzzle, she suggested.
Teaching them new commands is one way to engage your pet mentally, Brouwer said. Come up with some sort of code word that teaches your pet to check in with you and come close when you’re out running or walking. Then, also train your dog to recognize the release word or cue that means “OK, keep walking,” Brouwer said.
A command like “leave it” can be useful for areas near Boulder with rattlesnakes, squirrels or rabbits. Make sure your dog knows his or her name and comes when called in case you spot a deer, bear or any other large game while out hiking or walking.
Even if your dog learns these commands, because of vehicular and bike traffic, Brouwer recommends keeping your dog on a leash at all times — no mater how well-behaved he or she is.
Bring treats with you on runs to reinforce good exercising behavior too, like stopping at intersections or being friendly to other dogs and pets.
–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.