On hot, sunny days, there’s nothing a dog enjoys more than getting outside and chasing a squirrel or two. Ask my dog Oreo. But sometimes, it’s not that simple.
Even Oreo, who has extremely sort fur, overheats when the sun is blazing overhead on a cloudless summer day. And heat isn’t the only thing that can ruin a fun summer outing for your pooch. Porcupines, blackfly and mosquito bites, bees, dehydration, ticks, burnt paws — these are all things to consider when spending time with your dog this season.
The following is a list of ideas to help your dog have a little more fun during ‘the dog days of summer’:
-Get a kiddie pool. Last spring, I purchased Oreo a kiddie pool. He hated it at first. It was quite an ordeal (see “My dog is afraid of water?”). But now he loves it. He jumps in and splashes in it almost every day of the summer. One thing I’ve noticed is that he only enjoys a fairly clean pool, so we empty it out every week, hose it down, and fill it back up again. And we keep it on our rock patio so it doesn’t kill the grass. Oh, and another thing — if your dog tries to drink the kiddie pool dry, as Oreo does, you may want to keep an eye on him when you let him inside the house. We ignored Oreo’s whining while cooking dinner (he just went outside for Pete’s sake!), and then next thing we knew, Oreo had produced a giant puddle on the dining room floor. Poor guy.
-Make inexpensive frozen dog treats. While many owners like to bring their dogs to get ice cream, keep in mind that sometimes that treat doesn’t agree with a dog’s stomach. If you are going to buy your dog ice cream, I suggest buying soft serve vanilla, which is easier on the digestive system than other options. But what I really suggest is simply freezing plain yogurt or a mix of yogurt, peanut butter and banana. Then have your dog eat it outside; it can get messy. Recipes for frozen dog treats can be found in my post, “Cool Down the Pup With Homemade Frozen Treats.”
-Walk your dog early in the morning or on a trail to avoid hot pavement. During hot, sunny days, the pavement can get so hot that dogs can actually burn their foot pads — and they may not even feel it! I know from experience. When I was a teen, I was in the bad habit of playing basketball barefoot in my driveway. At first the pavement seemed hot, but then I got used to it. Next thing I knew, my feet were blistered and a tough layer of skin peeled right off. Nasty, right? Well, that’s why it’s important to kneel down and feel the temperature of the ground to make sure it’s not too hot for your dog, and one way to avoid it entirely is to take your dog for a walk in the morning, before the pavement warms up, or bring your dog to a forest trail.
-Spray your dog with dog-safe bug repellent. The other day, I found a bright red circle on Oreo’s fur-free stomach and sort of freaked out. My first thought was ringworm. Then I saw a small puncture wound at the center of the circle, and my boyfriend Derek pulled up pictures of blackfly bites on dogs — which was identical to what was on Oreo’s stomach. Long story short, it’s not fun to find bug bites on your dog, and they’ll usually appear in the dog’s stomach-groin area, where there’s less fur. For Oreo, I use the Maine-made Skeeter Skiddadler “Furry Friend Friendly Formula,” which is free of oils that disagree with dogs.
-Treat your dog for ticks year round. Since disease-ridden ticks are active any time the temperature gets around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, there are only a handful of months that they aren’t a problem, even in Maine. To keep your dog safe from these pests, treat them year round with formula provided by your veterinarian. Some of the stuff sold in stores just don’t work. It’s best to get an expert opinion when defending against Lyme disease, which dogs can pick up — and die from.
-Always provide water. When your dog is playing outside, be sure to leave a bowl of fresh water out, and check to make sure he hasn’t knocked it over. If you go somewhere like a dog-friendly beach, be sure to bring a bowl and water. A nice packable dog bowl is made by the Maine company Guyot Designs.
-Consider using a leash, long or short, to avoid dangers. The other day, I met a woman who was walking with her adorable dog off leash. We got to talking and she pointed out a sore on her dog’s muzzle — a porcupine quill that the vet missed and was working its way out of the dog’s skin. Her dog attacked a porcupine the previous week, she explained, for the third time this summer. ‘Well, maybe you should put your dog on a leash?’ I thought to myself. (Perhaps I should have voiced it aloud.) It just seems logical. If your dog has a habit of getting away from you and attacking porcupines or other dangerous critters, a leash is the best way to go. You can even use a long leash sometimes, which is what I do when I go to the beach with Oreo and have a lot of space to let him roam.
-Make a doggy med kit. Dogs are like rambunctious kids. They’re going to get boo-boos. When exploring outside with my pup, I like to bring athletic tape and a natural antibiotic cream just in case he gets a cut on his footpad from walking over something sharp, such as glass. You may also want to add some treats in that “doggy med kit,” in case of emergencies.
-Build an obstacle course. If you don’t have a lot of time to bring your dog on trips, consider transforming your yard into something a bit more exciting. Get creative and create jumps, hoops and tunnels for your dog to practice agility skills and for you to practice communicating with your dog. You can use things like PVC pipes and old tires to build the obstacles. There are instructions for some DIY dog obstacle course components on petadvisor.com.
-Go boating with your pup. Your dog may not be entirely comfortable with the water at first, so purchase him a doggy life jacket, most of which have a handle on the back so you can pick your dog up quickly.
-Protect your dog from the sun. Dogs may be covered in hair, but they still need a bit of protection from the sun. Dogs can not only get sunburns, they can also get skin cancer if exposed to UV rays too often. If your dog is spending a lot of time outside, make sure he has access to a shady area. And you can also protect your pup with sunscreen! The muzzle and ears are the most important places to apply sunscreen, according to an article in Animal Wellness Magazine. Natural sunscreens made for children are usually fine for dogs, but there are also sunscreens made specifically for dogs, such as Epi-Pet’s Sun Protector Sunscreen. To learn about safe sunscreens for your dog, visit www.animalwellnessmagazine.com/articles/sunny-days/.
-Try Chilly Towels. This is a product suggested to me by a co-worker who spends a lot of time with her dogs at flyball and other doggy athletic events. While designed to cool down humans, she uses Chilly Towels on her dogs by simply draping them over their backs. Sold online and at some local supermarkets and drug stores, Chilly Towels are one of those products that seem a bit magical. You soak it in water (any temperature) and shake it out, and the material drops in temperature as it dries. Check it out at chillythings.com.
-Bring your dog exploring. While Oreo gets to enjoy the freedom of running in a fenced in backyard, nothing makes him more excited than jumping in the car and actually going somewhere new, even if he has to wear a leash. It’s understandable if you aren’t the most adventurous person during the cold winter months, but summer is a time to get out and see something new. Bring your dog to dog-friendly parks, trails and swimming spots. He’ll thank you.