Safely Walking Dogs in Summertime Heat

As we move into the hottest weeks of Summertime, there are a lot of great activities that the outdoors can bring that are fun for both humans and dogs - hiking, games at the park and long walks to name a few. However, there are some basic safety precautions to keep in mind to keep Fido safe on those hot dog-day afternoons. Being aware of things like hot pavement, dehydration and heat exhaustion will help keep those summertime activities fun and safe.

I've noticed a few photos floating around the internet lately of dogs with 3rd degree burns on their paws with captions saying, "don't walk your dogs in the heat".  Most of these photos depict extreme situations like dogs who were tied up outdoors on hot pavement for hours on end with no access to shade. These situations are terrible and these photos can make anyone's stomach turn. When shared with the masses, they can create a lot of fear and panic and, often times, overreaction. I want to be careful that we don't skip our dog's daily walk because of these extreme situations. Is hot pavement a danger? Absolutely!  Should we use precautions when walking our dogs on extremely hot days? Of course!  We all know that dogs have thick pads on their paws that allow them to withstand the elements better than barefoot humans (well, most barefoot humans, anyway).  Most people wear shoes when going outside and forget how hot the pavement can get.  As thick as a dog's pads are, they are not shoes and therefore can get hot and can burn. That being said, let's be cautious without overcompensating by removing the walks altogether.  Let's also remember that not all dogs are the same. Some dogs can manage much better than others on hot days and the conditions the heat can bring. I've worked with some dogs who were obviously fine in the elements and others who couldn't stand it for a moment. Bottom line is this - know your dog and watch for the signs.

Here are a few common sense suggestions for walking Fido on hot days.

  • If you can, walk earlier in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the windows of time where the pavement can get too hot and temperatures become a problem.
  • Don't over commit on hot days. Every block you and your dog move forward is a block you have to walk back. It may be best to stay close to home and work in circles so you aren't ever too far from the end of the walk.
  • Walk a path with shade and grass along the way so you can take breaks when needed. Check the ground with your hand now and then to test the temperature and detour as needed. 
  • Hydration is important for dogs and humans so carry water for both on those longer walks. Remember, dogs don't sweat like humans do -they will pant to cool themselves down. When you see that panting begin (and before it gets to be too excessive) take a water break and find some shade.
  • Most importantly, pay attention to your dog.  Watch for excessive panting or signs that their paws are getting tender. Also, check their pads occasionally, especially dogs that have a high threshold for pain like many working breeds do.

Hot summer days can be fun for all as long as precautions are taken and common sense applied. I'm a big believer in the power of exercise not just for physical and mental fitness but for bonding opportunities as well. Finding ways of working in daily walks on those hot days will be good for all, all the way around.

-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

© Thriving Canine, 2013