I’m not really built — physically or mentally — for hot, humid temperatures. My ideal weather is what I imagine Seattle must be like year-round: 50s and rainy with an occasional sunny day in July and an occasional snowstorm in January.
But it’s not just my comfort I’m worried about as I coped with the heat wave that hit the East Coast this week. In addition to sporting a shiny black coat 365 days of the year, my little mutt has a distinctly squashed snout that makes him absolutely adorable (OK, I’m biased but look at him!) and an inefficient breather. When the weather is hot and humid like this, he suffers just as much as I do.
I’m sure Emerson isn’t the only pup stuck inside and miserable in this godforsaken heat. And it’s not like all the dogs of the East Coast can just curl up next to the nearest air conditioner until October. Try out these free (and nearly free) ways to keep your canine cool during the dog days of summer.
1. Change the routine.
Emerson goes on four walks a day with me. Usually, our first and last walks of the day are quick spins around the neighborhood. In the morning, he and I are pretty interested in eating breakfast. And at night, I’m anxious to spend some quality time with my bed. We go on longer walks in the early afternoon and early evening, partly as a way to make up for the fact that I’ve left him alone for hours while I’m at work. But with the heat and humidity reaching its oppressive apex between noon and 6 p.m., I’ve started taking longer walks first thing in the morning and after sunset.
In addition to the risk of heat exhaustion for my brachycephalic companion, I also worry about asphalt temperatures. As the heat rises, so does the danger for burned, blistered paws. Luckily, our usual route includes plenty of shade and grass, so Emerson’s feet are safe. But be careful walking your furry friend on asphalt in the heat. If you can’t keep the palm of your hand on the ground for more than a few seconds, it’s not safe to walk your pup. Take her to a grassy dog park instead or wait for the temperatures to cool down before going on a stroll.
2. Chill out.
When the heat and humidity makes it hard to take walks safely, what’s a pup to do? Throw a backyard pool paw-ty. Find a wading pool made of rigid plastic, fill it up with cool water and take your dog for a dip. Or set up a sprinkler and play a rousing game of fetch with Fido, making sure he runs through it at every opportunity. Those options too hard on your wallet? Spray your pup down with a hose and then let her lay down on a wet towel to keep cool while you’re outside enjoying the warm summer weather.
3. Tasty treats.
Just like a popsicle or a tall glass of iced tea refreshes us humans, a chilly treat can cool a dog down. Emerson goes bananas when I stuff a Kong toy full of unsweetened banana chips or Milk-Bone pieces, seal it up with peanut butter and throw it in the freezer for a few hours before letting him have at it. Kong has dozens of recipes for frozen treats.
If you want to get even fancier, make your dog a pup-sicle. To do so, take any-sized plastic container (I use a plastic “party cup”), fill it partway with water (or a mix of water and low-sodium chicken broth) and freeze. Add in some carrots, bananas or other foods your dog likes and a favorite chew toy or two, fill the rest of the way with water and put it back in the freezer. When it’s frozen solid, pop the food- and toy-filled ice block out of the container and give to your dog.
Emerson spends literally hours licking the ice to get at the treats and toys. Two pieces of advice, though: Give this to your dog outside or in an area that can handle getting wet, like a tiled kitchen floor. And always supervise your dog while he plays with his pup-sicle. You don’t want your dog to choke on a toy or a treat.
And if you really want to cool off, take your dog out for ice cream. In my town, there are tons of roadside ice cream stands that will sell you a small scoop of vanilla soft-serve topped with a Milk-Bone. We usually hit the ice cream stand after a long hike in the woods, when we’re both in need of a cool down. Just make sure not to give your pup any chocolate ice cream or toppings and start slow. Some pups have a dairy sensitivity. So if he’s never had people ice cream before, just give him a few licks the first time and see if he develops any gastrointestinal problems.
4. Seek out some AC.
Most pet owners know whether their local pet store allows dogs to come and sample the merchandise. If the weather is just impossible, I’ve taken Emerson on a field trip for some mental stimulation — and treats.
But pet stores aren’t the only shops that allow furry friends. Sporting goods paradise Gander Mountain and DIY heaven Home Depot are among the many chain stores boasting dog-friendly policies, according to Barkpost.com. Always call ahead to check whether your local branch is OK with your furry friend tagging along. You don’t want to get there and find out you have to turn around because Fido isn’t allowed.
And it should go without saying, never leave your pet in the car while you shop at a store. This can be fatal for your furry friends. In many areas, it can also get you a lot of trouble with the law.
5. Movie marathon.
If you’ve exhausted your bag of keep-cool tricks, there’s nothing left to do but put out some doggie snacks, crank up the air conditioning and get comfy on the couch. Emerson suggests a dog theme for your binge-watching pleasure — maybe a “Lady and the Tramp” and “101 Dalmatians” double feature or a few episodes of “Planet Earth.” He also enjoys, inexplicably, reruns of Animal Planet’s “My Cat From Hell.”
Now, I want to hear from you. What do you and your pet do to keep cool in the dog days of summer?
Erin L. Nissley is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.