August 2023 Enrichment Challenge: Make Plans to Combat the Heat

Happy August, y’all! 

With summer in full swing, many places are seeing record-breaking heat waves, and that means we probably need to adjust our plans to make sure that everyone remains healthy and safe. 

So this month, we challenge you to get creative and adjust your plans to make sure that they are heat safe and effective! 

But of course, we aren’t going to send you on your way with just that. Let’s talk about some tips to combat the heat while meeting our pet’s needs. 

And because heat can actually be dangerous, and safety is a need of all living creatures, I want to make sure that I add some safety disclaimers and resources: 

  1. It is important to know how things like heat stroke appear in the species of your pet. Whether that is a bird, a cat, a dog, a horse, or a snake, make sure that you find a credible medical source to help you know the signs of heat stroke. Here is an article on heat stroke in dogs from VCA Animal Hospitals.
  2. And, because heat stroke isn’t the only risk that heat poses to the safety of our pet, make sure you know what other risks can come along with hot weather. Increased risk of dehydration, damage to the paws, sunburns, and more are also possible. The American Veterinary Medicine Association provided a great list of considerations for the heat.
  3. Different conditions, bodies, and individuals respond differently to heat, so always check with your primary care vet to adjust your plans to meet your individual pet’s needs. 


Let’s get into some ways to combat the heat in your enrichment plan! 


#1 – Pupcicles galore!

Frozen lick toys can be a fantastic way to provide our dogs with a nice, low-key activity to burn some energy, and also keep them occupied while you’re taking care of other things. And it can also be a great way to help your pet drink a little extra fluid!

While I typically use my dog’s canned food in their lick items these days, adding extra water can increase the hydration level even more. Back when we still were able to feed our dogs kibble, I’d make homemade bone broth (no sodium and toxic flavorings), and use that as a base to make a tasty treat. We’d mix some kibble into the bone broth, and then freeze it in toys, bowls, whatever we had on hand to create a simple toy for the dog. 

*Pro tip* slow feed bowls are fantastic for this. Fill the bottom with a layer of water or broth, add the kibble, and then freeze it. It provides a stable toy for the dog to lick from, and can hold their meal!


#2 – Switch your concrete walking out for some nature

With hot weather comes an increased risk of increased time in direct sunlight and walking on hot surfaces. Streets and sidewalks can pose a risk to your dog’s paws, so if you can, taking the time to find a little nature, doing a shorter-than-normal walk with increased sniffing and shade may be a viable swap for your dog’s normal exercise routine. You may find that with the increase in heat, your dog’s need for exercise decreases!

Now, I also recognize that taking the time to find nature can be extremely privileged, and not something everyone can do at the drop of a hat! So, if you need something more immediate, then focus your dog’s outdoor exercise at times when the day is coolest, and the concrete isn’t in direct sunlight. 

If you have a pup that has Big Feels on leash around other people, dogs, <fill in your dog’s trigger here>, then you may need to get a little creative. Avoiding the hottest part of the day is a pretty normal thing, so you might find that the level of activity at your safe walking spots has changed. Keep an eye out and adjust accordingly, and reach out to your behavior consultant if you need help crafting a hot weather management strategy!


#3 – Incorporate cool into your dog’s safe space 

My dogs are hot-weather dogs. If it is in the 50s or below, they do that thing where they ask to go outside, and if I open the door, they take a couple of steps back, drop their head, sniff the air, and weigh the pros and cons of stepping outside. Because I know that, their safe spaces are all centered around providing them the ability to heat themselves without my help. Laika loves her pile of blankets, and I’m pretty sure everyone at this point knows about Griffey and his love of cave beds. 

When it gets hot, especially when air conditioning isn’t an option, I can watch their conflict between going to their favorite places and being so stinking hot. They go to their spot, and then get up and move, and go back, and really just struggle to settle. And the result of less rest and comfort throughout the day is that everyone is a little more on edge.

So, if you see that your pet is struggling to relax, try to find ways to help them cool themselves. Desk AC units, swamp coolers, cooling mats, or a fan in their safe space can all be great ways to cool their little bubble of comfort. You can find some really cheap, incredible ways to create a cooling effect by doing a little Google search! 


#4 – Water time! 

If you have a dog that ranges from comfortable with water, to absolutely in love with water, then you may be able to use that to your advantage! A small kiddie pool, cooling off in the hose or cold water in the shower, or going to a dog-safe lake (if your dog will thrive there with the hustle and bustle) can be ways to incorporate water into your plan. For the low riders and the tiny kiddos, a kiddie pool is probably too much, so something like a small baking sheet with a non-slip liner, or an under-bed storage container can be a good option! 

Misters can help to cool the ambient area and are something that is utilized often in zoological settings. You can find all sorts of DIY or for-purchase options with a quick Google search for “Outdoor mister system for dogs”. 

Remember, we don’t want to ask our pets to do something they aren’t comfortable with! Laika LOVES going in shallow water to trot around, getting hosed off isn’t her jam, so we aren’t going to spray her with the hose. On the flip side, my parent’s dog ran through a screen door at the sound of the spigot getting turned on to go play in the hose, so every dog is an individual. 


#5 – Take it easy, for everyone’s sake

Extreme weather is one of those times that I really recommend taking a beat to see what your dog needs RIGHT NOW, not what they needed a week ago, not what they needed 6 months ago, not what you think they might need right now, but what they are showing you that they need.

I have worked with many, many, many dogs that get so overstimulated with extreme heat, so while most people think that more exercise is the solution, pausing, helping them to cool off, and to calm down really provides the improvement everyone is looking for.

Other dogs may find a whole new type of chill with the increased heat. Both my dogs will happily lounge around when it is over 85 degrees, and they need the most exercise and activity between 65-85. 

And, because stress doesn’t happen in a vacuum, don’t panic if it feels like you’re not making as much progress on your behavior change goals, or your dog is more on edge, or you are more on edge! Heat can contribute to trigger stacking, so take that into account when you’re making your training plans for the week, month, or however long the heat is here to stay. 


Now What? 

Build your hot weather plan! Make any adjustments you need to help keep everyone healthy and safe. And remember, this means you too! 

Happy training,