Dogs days of summer? These tips and ideas will have your pooch enjoying the outdoors, despite heat

CINCINNATI - We are pleased to introduce a new feature for pets and their families from Cincinnati's own Lisa Desatnik of So Much PETential.

Exercising your dog’s mind and body is important no matter the time of year, and safety should always be a priority. The hot summer months pose a number of health risks to keep in mind. In this column I want to share some of those precautions, and offer you some ideas to think out of the box and still offer your pet mental and physical stimulation.

6 heat safety precautions when it comes to activity:

1. Hot surfaces. Be aware that dog footpads are vulnerable to hot surfaces and sidewalks, pavements, and black asphalt can heat up quickly in direct sunlight.

Keep your walks on these surfaces to a minimum or avoid all together during the heat of the day, and choose walking in shady or grassy areas instead.

Some signs of burned foot pads may include limping or refusing to walk, foot pads looking darker than normal, lick or chewing of feet, or raw, red or blistered food pad.

2. Time of day. If you can, avoid the heat of the day for exercising outdoors. Early morning or evening would be better. You may want to consider walking on a street with lots of trees, in a wooded park, or near a stream.

3. Hydration. Before leaving for your excursion, pack along a thermos filled with fresh, cold water. If your dog spends time in your back yard, make sure to keep clean water in a weighted dish or two dishes in different areas of your yard.

4. Dog type matters. Realize that short nosed breeds such as shih tzus, bulldogs, boxers, and pugs are especially susceptible to heat and need extra precaution. With heat, their breathing difficulties can get worse and they may not be able to cool themselves properly. Keep in mind that if your dog is not in good shape or is older that he may be more prone to heat exhaustion.

That being said, a big, muscular dog’s muscle mass can conduct heat during activity. You may want to consult your veterinarian as to the optimum amount of exertion for your pet.

5. Dogs around pools. If you have a swimming pool, supervise your dog around it and make sure that your dog knows how to get in and out of the pool and swim safely. If you do not have steps or a ramp coming out of your swimming pool, do not allow access when you are not there.

Puppies and dogs can drown just as people can. Some dogs are natural swimmers. If your dog exhibits any kind of fear response (such as backing away, turning away, lip licking, yawning, or body shaking like he’d do when he is wet – only he is not wet) please do not force your dog into the pool. Teach him to have positive associations with water and how to swim slowly, and at his pace, using desensitization and counter-conditioning. 

6. Heat exhaustion. Dogs do not perspire as humans do. They cool through respiration so hot humid weather makes cooling down more difficult (which is why they need more water in the summer heat).

Early signs of heat exhaustion are rapid breathing, heavy panting and salivation. Other sighs are fatigue, muscle tremors, and staggering. If your dog is exhibiting any of these behaviors, take him to a cool, shady place and apply wet towels or cloths to cool down his body.

Try to give him small amounts of water and call your vet immediately. A few ideas for exercising your dog’s mind and body during the heat.

5 ideas for fun!

1. Games with a kiddie pool. Remember, if your dog exhibits any of the fear behaviors I mentioned above, do not force him into the pool. Spending time to teach him positive associations with it will go a long way.

You can through some of your dog’s favorite toys in the pool with a few inches of water, splash around in it with him, play a retrieve game with him getting the toy from the pool, or even simply tossing ice cubes into the pool. There are so many fun ways to get your dog engaged in thinking and moving using a kiddie pool.

How do you play with your dog in the summer? Let me know using the contact information on the next page.

2. Games with the hose or sprinkler. If your dog is one who runs after or into a stream of water, you can move a hose around for him to chase. You can run through a sprinkler with him or toss a toy through it

3. Chew toys and puzzle toys. Fill a chew toy with some tasty and healthy food, and then freeze it before giving your dog. Not only will it last longer this way, it will create much less mess. You can also insert vegetables or biscuits into ice (and even put this in a bowl of water).

4. Build a digging pit (in a shady area) of your yard and fill it with the type of sand you’d use for a children’s sandbox. Then bury some dog toys for him to find.

5. Scent games. Either indoors or outdoors, teach your dog to find things.

Use the summer months to teach games that involve a variety of behaviors like sit, come, stay, retrieve or tug indoors. I have some videos of creative ideas for backyard dog and puppy activities on my blog: 

The possibilities for exercising your dog’s mind and body are endless. Just always keep two things in mind…safety AND fun.

What is systematic desensitization? This a positive approach to not just overcoming fear, but also to teaching the animal to re-associate the fear-eliciting stimulus into a feel-good eliciting stimulus. (This process is called counter conditioning.)

With systematic desensitization, you gradually expose the animal to what is scary to it and the criteria for advancing to the next step is your watching his calm behavior and only moving forward at a pace that does not elicit even the mildest of fear responses. The beauty of this is that the animal is always in total control. And empowerment builds confidence.

About Lisa Desatnik

Lisa Desatnik said she used "Look at me," training to remind her dog Sam what to do for this holiday photo shoot. 

Lisa is always looking for opportunities to strengthen her skills--both for her own pets and to help other animal caregivers through in-home dog training consultations, speaking engagements, written work. She is part of the leadership team for Dr. Friedman’s international companion parrot owner group teaching mini-lessons of applied behavior analysis.

Check out her blog and website. You can also connect with her via the So Much PETential Facebook Page, and follow her on Twitter and Google+.

MORE: New year, new pet? Local expert says reading doggy body language is the key to happy pooches, humans

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