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Dog days: Helping your pet beat the summer heat requires a little extra attention to detail

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July 25th, 2018 12:00 PM

Jill Showalter

It's hot outside. If your dog could talk, you both could have that same two-minute conversation about the weather that you have with Bob from accounting every morning. In this case, Fido's lack of verbal skills is good thing. But despite his unwillingness to engage in elevator talk, he knows it's hot, too. But he can handle the heat in moderation as long as you take the necessary precautions. The problem, though, is that some of the precautions that seem obvious actually can do more harm than good.

Coat of arms

Consider your dog's fur. You may think she needs a shave or a short haircut when the temperatures rise but in fact, her fur may be her biggest defense against the heat. By cutting it too close to her skin, you're likely removing her built-in cooling mechanism during the hottest days of the year. When I hear people talk about shaving their dogs
for the summer, I always tell them to be aware of not only their dog's visible fur, but also the undercoat that lies closest to the skin. For some dogs with single coats, like poodles and Shih Tzus, it's not an issue. But for double-coated breeds, like Siberian Huskies, sheepdogs and Pomeranians, the undercoat acts as a temperature regulator. If you shave too close or remove the undercoat, your dog's best natural defense against the sun will get swept up and tossed in the garbage, where it won't do her any good at all. Even though it's easy to overlook because their skin isn't always visible, dogs are susceptible to sunburn, and removing or damaging their undercoat makes
them more vulnerable than usual to the sun's damaging rays.

Also, shaving a dog—especially unevenly—can result in spots and patches down the road. Like people, dogs lose their hair as they age. Also, their hair doesn't grow back as well as it once did, so it's possible a close shave can be the start of your dog's Bruce Willis phase, which he may or may not be ready for just yet.

Proper care counts

While the right haircut is important, regular brushing, shampooing and drying are also essential to maintaining a cool, summer coat. While most people give their dogs a quick once-over with a towel before letting them out to the yard to air-dry, a quality groomer will make sure that your dog's hair is blown dry before she leaves the shop. Proper drying ensures less matting, thoroughly dry fur, an even coat and—let's face it—the elimination of that
unwelcome odor you sometimes face when you snuggle with your dog an hour or so after his bath. If there are layers of fur that take long to dry, you're likely going to get that wet-dog smell unless he's dried properly. 

But don't rush to the blow-dryer just yet. Those things produce some seriously hot air, remember, so in many cases, it's best to let a well-trained groomer handle the entire cleaning process. They'll make sure your dog remains calm throughout the process and leaves the facility clean and dry. This isn't you running back to the office with wet hair pasted to your head after a lunchtime workout and three-minute shower. Try that with a dog and you'll be smelling him for a week.

Treat the feet

While treating your dog's coat is important, proper paw care also will help them stay cool. Your dog's paws have a high sensitivity to temperature and should be treated accordingly. Make sure they're clean by removing debris in between the paw pads and keeping their nails at a proper length. 

It's not just maintenance, though. It's also helpful to provide some relief from the heat. Your dog probably avoids the cement and brick pavers in your yard and opts for the grass and mulch instead. You can provide a respite for those hot paws with a small pool. Your dog doesn't need to be fully immersed in water to cool off or sprayed head-to-tail with a hose. That small pool will allow them to stand in a few inches of water and help them stay cool. 

Made in the shade

On hot days, your dog probably seeks out the shadiest areas of your yard for a little nap. Hopefully, it's under a tree or large bush that provides cover from the sun but allows a maximum breeze. A dog house may seem like a place to keep cool, especially if it's on cement, but if your dog is blocked from the cooling, summer breeze, it will probably do more harm than good. If you don't have any natural shade, consider a small canopy to do the job.

In some case, your dog will plop herself down in the middle of the sun. Just like the seek out that one patch of sunlight in the house during the winter months, some dogs just enjoy the heat of the sun on their body. Keep an eye on them, though. Make sure you have water nearby and toss a few ice cubes their way. 

Bottom line? You can keep your dog safe and cool this summer with relative ease. The most important thing is to pay attention. By giving them proper grooming and providing them with a cool environment, they'll be enjoying the dog days of summer for weeks to come.

Jill Showalter owns Yuppie Puppy and Doggie Day Play in Oak Park. She has personally tended to more than 100,000 dogs since 2007 and has shared stories and advice with numerous dog owners.