Summer is right around the corner. For many of us, this means spending a lot more time outdoors for activities such as festivals, sporting events, barbecues, picnics, beach runs, road trips, and so on. As an avid dog lover, I am sure you’d love to include your dog on as many of your summer adventures as possible. Dogs love to be outside and with us, right? Right. Err … sometimes.
There certainly are events when bringing your dog along for the summer fun is an excellent idea, and yet there are other times when Fido would mostly likely fare better at home. Before you head out to your own Beach Blanket Babylon, here are some points to consider so you can avoid your dog’s suffering during the dog days of summer.
First, before you leash up your dog, it’s important to find out for sure if the event you are planning to attend is indeed dog friendly. Never just assume your dog is welcome. Nothing ruins a day out faster than being turned away at the entrance because dogs are not allowed. Unless you’ve properly outfitted your car for such occasions with special shades, ventilation, or battery-operated climate-control devices, leaving your dog in the car in the summer while you attend an event is not an option in most cases. I recently saw a dog begin to overheat in a car that was parked in a museum parking lot in full sun in just 70-degree weather. The windows were only cracked an inch and the little dog was roasting in the sun’s glare with no shade and no access to water.
If the event is indeed open to canine companions, please find out whether there will be plenty of shade at the site. Dogs do not have a very efficient cooling system compared to humans. It is always a good idea to bring along a collapsible water bowl. Also, there are plenty of high-tech cooling products for dogs these days from wearable water-saturated bandanas or jackets to special hot-weather mats designed specifically for literally chilling out.
Before hitting the festival circuit, be sure to honestly assess your dog’s personal heat tolerance, fitness level, age, and comfort around crowds of people, loud noises, floating balloons, flags, etc. Fireworks and snapping flags, for example, will startle most dogs, and some may even panic and cut and run. More dogs go missing on the 4th of July than on any other single day of the year. Dogs’ sense of hearing is much more acute than ours, and sounds that are tolerable to us may be uncomfortable for them, so perhaps leave your pup home if you are planning to attend a concert in a park or a firework display. If your dog is somewhat iffy around strangers or children and merely tolerates them on a good day, the added discomfort of heat or noise pollution at a summer event may put her over the edge in a large crowd. I’d say unless your dog is a social butterfly, you’d be doing her a favor by sparing her an afternoon of being patted, bumped, and over-stimulated and instead leaving her at comfortably home with a super-delicious marrow bone or frozen, stuffed Kong project.
Another common summertime scene is seeing a dog left alone, tied up outside of a restaurant or café while the owner presumably hangs out inside. Some dogs handle this situation just fine. More commonly, when I come across a dog tied up alone outside of a storefront, his body language and behavior suggest he’s a very unhappy camper. Tying up your dog and leaving him unattended puts him at the mercy of every single passerby, some of whom may not be friendly or overly so. Both frankly can be equally stressful, primarily because the dog is bound and cannot move away if he’s uncomfortable or mistreated. I personally never leave my dogs tied up in public out of my sight, and I really don’t recommend it as a regular practice.
Instead, I do recommend sitting at an outdoor café with your dog or bringing your dog along on a picnic. Now this is the way to include your best friend. Bring along a chew toy or special treat, and teach your dog to lie quietly under your table, near your feet, or on a blanket while you catch up with friends or a good book. This is great practice for impulse control and stays. It’s also a way to continue to acclimate your dog to public places and many types of people without constantly moving through the environment and causing overstimulation. If you are at a park or a beach, reward calm behavior with frequent but short games of fetch or a quick dip in the water.
Beach days and hikes are also wonderfully dog-friendly summer activities, as are camping, paddle boarding, and canoeing. As long as you’ve got plenty of water and occasional access to shade, your dog will likely have a blast exploring the great outdoors with you and will much prefer these types of activities over being subject to all of the hullabaloo of a man-made summer bash for the masses. If you keep your canine’s mental health and physical comfort in mind, summer time fun will be had by both of you.
Kelly Gorman Dunbar is director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior, where she recruits and trains the instructors for the Dunbar family business, SIRIUS Puppy & Training. She is the creator of the SIRIUS Sniffers scent-detection program. She is also founder and president of Open Paws and consults on various matters.