Credit: Patrick J. Kiger
Of my three dogs, I think my basset hound-pit bull mix Madge is definitely the smartest, at least when it comes to coping with the high 90-something, high humidity weather that we’re currently enduring. She’s retreated to the doggie bed in my son Minh’s bedroom, prudently close to both the window air conditioning unit and the big standing fan that we added for extra comfort.
This sort of weather is tough on dogs, since they can’t sweat to regulate their body temperature, the hot pavement burns their feet, and their insulating fur coats only give them limited protection. But Madge’s odd mix of characteristics from two wildly dissimilar breeds seems to make her particularly vulnerable to the heat. Her brindle coat is tough and stiff like a pit bull’s, but thick and oily like a basset, and I imagine it’s about as comfortable in this weather as wearing a leather biker jacket. She’s loose jointed and prone to arthritic inflammation like a basset, so I’m sure that her hips are probably as achy as mine right now. And her pit bull-like craving for periodic frenetic romp-fests can get her dangerously exhausted when the temperature and humidity are this oppressive.
So I’ve got to keep a careful eye on her, as well as on our little terrier Joey and Kirby the puggle. We’ve reduced the amount of exercise they get, and make sure that we walk them only early in the morning or late at night. We’ve also got three big bowls of water in the kitchen that we keep continually filled.
I came across this interesting article from a British dog magazine about how owners of big cold-weather breeds can condition their dogs to tolerate heat. It raises an interesting point that I hadn’t heard before.
The autonomic nervous system controls the dilation and constriction of blood vessels near the skin. This system is affected by emotion and activity. When an animal becomes excited, the nerves constrict the blood vessels in the skin, reducing heat loss and raising core temperature. Soon after, the brain temperature rises. Thus excitability puts the animal that much closer to the threshold of brain damage from heat. Calmness before any exercise or stressful situation can improve performance.
I’m not training Madge for working or competing in flyball, but still, there’s a useful lesson here. Helping your dogs to stay calm and relaxed with some slow stroking and petting, and speaking to them in a soft, calm voice certainly won’t hurt and possibly will help them endure the climatic ordeal.