Summer is slowly approaching and in some countries it is already getting too warm to organize races safely. In my home country for example (Hungary) the season was already over in April.
The race-free period is also meaning workout-free period for many people. Many mushers are limiting their trainings in harness and use alternative methods to tire their restless dogs instead. Some people on the other hand do continue to train, and since the weather is starting to get warmer and warmer it is also starting to get harder to even avoid to race in higher temperatures.
The nightmare of people, who are working out with their dogs in warm temperature, is that their 4-legged friend gets a heatstroke. Dogs only sweat through their paws and their primary heat exchange is panting, so if they can no longer dissipate heat, their body temperature will rise. If it goes above 40 °C they will start to show the signs of heatstroke (there are many, including rapid heart rate and excessive drooling, but I would list uncoordinated movement as the most typical when it comes to heatstroke from exercising), and they can eventually even die from this condition.
I know what I have just wrote sounds scary, but I do believe it is possible to keep training throughout the summer, one only has to be more cautious to avoid accidents. Here I would like to share some tips and tricks I found important to pay attention to when it comes to training in warmer weather.
Hydration is a key word within dog powered sports, but it is even more important in higher temperatures. It is important to provide your dog water during the day, but if you would like to do physical activity with it, you also have to make sure it drinks it.
When I race or train the huskies I give them half a liter of water 2 hours before they have to run. This I mix with fish oil, but pretty much anything works here, as long as the dog drinks it. Then I walk them one hour before the start and and once more right before it. This worked super well for us, the huskies stayed hydrated even in warmer temperatures, without having to pee on the trail. But since all dogs are different you will probably have to experiment a bit, to see what is the best for your own.
Making sure the conditions are right to train is also very important. Running on asphalt with your dog is not recommended at any time of the year, but during Summer I would say it is almost forbidden, at least during the day. Asphalt can be 52 °C hot when the air temperature is only 25 °C and while you are wearing a shoe, your dog’s paws are not protected against the hot surface. If you cannot avoid running on it at least check if you’re able to hold your hand on it for 10 seconds. If not, then it’s too hot for your canine friend to step on it.
Outside air temperature (pay attention to humidity too!) can also be unsuitable for a workout, and unfortunately then you either have to skip the training or postpone it until the Sun goes down and the temperature drops, or wake up very early in the morning, before the warm weather hits in. Choosing a shadowy location can also mean a few degrees less.
The length of training should also not be too long. Train on shorter distances and don’t push too hard. Summer is only about maintaining fitness, not about chasing results.
In some cases some additional help with cooling can help the dog to cope better with the increased temperature. Watering the dog’s harness/collar/fur or making it wear a cooling vest can both be good solutions for some. These for me do not work unfortunately because of the the double coat of the huskies, but some people with short haired dogs swear on it, so it might be worth a try for you.
As last, but not least one of the best alternative trainings to try is swimming. It helps your dog to cool down and it is a great workout and strength training. Obviously not all dogs are fond of water, at least in the beginning, so remember to start step by step and make sure it is a good experience for your 4-legged friend. Getting a life vest is also useful, because it boosts the confidence of your canine swimmer in the water, and in case your dog gets a cramp or chokes on water it can even save its life.
Whatever you do, the most important is that you pay attention and listen to your dog. You are the one who knows it the best, you are the one who has to see when it is too much for it to run. Always remember, that no dog is the same, what works for others might not work for you. It is your responsibility to take care of your dog and think wise. There is no race, training or result that is worth risking your dog’s life! If you’re unsure about the conditions, just skip that run, it is always better to be safe than sorry. There are so many other things to do during summer to tire your dog, you don’t always have to work out, do some low intensity activities like hiking or dressage instead. Be creative!