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The Dog Days of Summer are Back!

It's officially summer! It's that time of year again when temperatures have reached consistently into the low to mid 90s and thats before factoring in humidity. This of course happens every year but it's almost surprising every time you walk outside and get slapped in the face by a wall of humid nastiness. The heat poses numerous challenges to training your dog. Of course our number one priority is being fair and making safe choices for our dogs. These dogs are built to work and they're going to satisfy their drives if you allow them. It is our responsibility to not allow our dogs in a situation where they may be tempted to overdo it. Beyond the safety considerations, there are some clear challenges in regards to having efficient training sessions so that we aren't teaching bad habits. There really isn't a magical number in regards to temperature that lets you know its safe or unsafe to train. I cant recall where I first heard of the "150 rule" but since then I have heard and seen it referenced numerous times and it hasn't steered me wrong yet. The 150 rule is where you take the temperature and add the humidity level to see if the total surpasses 150. If it does then you should avoid running your dog. Now, this is not to say that if the number hits 145 you are free to carry on without concern. This is just a general rule that you, as the owner, have to make the best informed decision you can. Of course keep in mind this is a general rule and does not account for context such as how well your dog is acclimated to the heat and the type of coat your dog has (a GSP will naturally do better than a Griff in the heat). If you search for the 150 rule in dog training on Google then you will see some similar references to the 140 or even 130 rule. At the end of the day, I personally stick with the 150 rule as I would never get any training done by going lower than 150. Its currently 5:00am here in middle Tennessee as I write this and the temperature is currently 73F and the humidity is 78% so it has already surpassed the 150 and the sun has barely come up. If I were to go down to the 140 or lower rules then I wouldn't get any training done from June to September. Other tips/considerations for training during the summer months:

  • Train early and/or late in the day ~ The coolest part of the day is just before sunrise but often you can get a decent window of training while the sun is setting

  • Pay attention to wind ~ it can be challenging getting up at 5am to train and theres no breeze for a decent field setup. All we can do is our best but it does help to pay attention to the weather forecast and patterns in your area. You can usually count on some sort of small breeze based on your prevailing winds if you just have to get a rep or two out of the way. If theres no air movement at all then I would suggest reconsidering the training plan for the day

  • Using the thermals ~ If you are committed to training whether theres wind or not, consider using the thermals to your advantage. Plant your birds in the shade as the scent particles will stay in cooler area but then lift once it hits the area the sunlight is heating up. Vice versa in the evening as the temperatures begin to drop, the scent particles will begin to fall along with the thermals allowing scenting conditions to be a bit more reliable than in the morning when the air heating up wants to disperse the scent particles. If you would like to learn more about scent behavior and the impacts from the environment then please check out Ep. 85 The Dog Nose Best

  • Water Training ~ Not all water is created equal and, just because your dog is in water, doesn't make it safe. Don't lose sight of the fact that dogs expel heat differently than us. They primarily cool off through the pads of their feet and panting. Their bodies are covered in fur so they do not sweat like we do. If you are training mid day in a small warm pond then its the same as covering your dog in a warm blanket in the bathtub and persists even when OUT of the water. The dog wont start cooling off until the water on the coat starts to evaporate. So the type of water matters. If you have a cool spring fed pond, or even better, a cooler water with some movement, you can get by with doing more water work during the day. Just do not lose sight of the dog still being able to overheat while swimming on these really muggy days!

  • Yard/Stationary Training ~ Some people give me sideway glances when I tell them my preference during the winter months is not to do Force Fetch but try and do field work then. Granted, this is regionally based as its kind of hard to do steadiness work if you are covered in 3ft of snow in Minnesota. I say this though because I find yard work, force fetch, or public obedience work more ideal to focus on in the "dog days" of summer. You can set up your force fetch table, obedience course, or small search areas in the shade. You can go to public parks after sun down and get some really quality obedience sessions in while the community kids play their soccer games or have baseball practice. You can go to Lowes or Tractor Supply and work on your heeling in the Air Conditioned environment. You can work on duration tasks such as place or whoa without the dog needing to run around. There are a ton of exercises you can do with your dog that will directly transfer when you do get a chance to be back in the field

  • Keep your dog in shape! ~ Its impossible for a dog to smell while its panting. Its that simple. If your dog is out of shape, the same as us, then heat effects them worse than dogs that are in shape. Regardless of whether its hot or not, its our responsibility as dog owners to keep our dogs in shape year around anyway. It not only helps when training in the heat but it helps in every other section of life be it health, veterinary costs, and just plain overall happiness/satisfaction for the dog. If you're one to say you will get your dog back in shape for hunting season but allow it to put on a few extra pounds in the off season, you are wrong. Remember, just 5lbs in a 50lb dog is 10% of its body weight. Imagine if you looked at the bathroom scale and saw you had gained 10% of weight. Would you feel like you were at your best? 10% overweight is a lot more stress on their bones, joints, and cardio system and some studies have shown can reduce a dog's lifespan by as much as 1/3rd. Get your dog in shape and keep them in shape all year. Get up early and road them, "road" them in a kayak, or get a treadmill to throw in your garage. Figure it out because there simply isn't an excuse to allow your dog to be heavier than they should be and you continue asking them to work. I understand there are other considerations or tips that I may have skipped over so if you can think of any then please let me know! The bottom line is if we have any serious goals or training objectives to hit with our dogs, we simply cant afford to not train for at least a quarter of the year because it got hot. We have to get creative to still hit our goals and satisfy our dog's innate drives on a daily basis. Working around the heat can be challenging, and even frustrating at times, but it is one of the factors that comes around every single year. Start figuring out how to not let it slow your dog's progress down. The most important part of all is to not allow those goals and desired progress push your dog too far. Heat injuries are not fun and they leave a lasting impact on the dog sometimes for the rest of their lives!

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