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Comin' In Hot: Preparing Your Dog For High Temperatures

Updated: Jun 7






Confronting a trial projected to be 30 degrees warmer than where you live and train can be a nerve racking dilemma and we're going to talk about just what options you have.

Please understand much of the science and research that has been cited here is human, not canine. While we're both mammals, there can be some obvious differences within this subject, particularly the loss of hydration via sweating and thus the additional need of electrolytes.


Never the less, since most studies will be human, there is much more research available specific to this topic.

Additionally, I am not a scientist and may use some terms incorrectly, as I am a laymen attempting to interpret medical journals in order to summarize them. Read the research yourself, as you never want to take anything anyone says as absolute fact. Rather take the time to read it, little by little, increasing your deep knowledge on this subject.


Now, let's get started.


One thing experts agree on across the board seems to be acclimatizing properly.


There are 2 types of acclimatization: Active and Passive. Active acclimatization is the focus on training in the heat. Passive focuses on the athlete simply existing in the heat. The research is clear, the former is highly superior, good news for people who keep their dog in air conditioned areas. If a dog is used to heat while in a kennel or casual walking, that will be their ability. Since we want much more than that, WORKING in the heat is what actually matters.


However, "you will only hinder your heat training if you overdue it too soon", to summarize one of the article's points. Pushing one's self in the heat is absolutely paramount for proper acclimatization, but pushing one's self to approaching over heating, cooks the body and does damage.


Going slower goes faster.


For dogs who are in good shape and very accustomed to the type of work, that should mean starting your first session in the heat at 50% of your normal, non heat training.

A 10% increase is recommended per additional day.


Acclimatization takes an average of 14 days.


Dogs who have worked in that environment more recently are going to have an advantage as are dogs who are in impeccable shape, whereas dogs who aren't, may even take longer. If a dog hasn't been regularly training protection, the effects of an increase in temperature will be magnified. This is important to remember because for most dogs, no activity will replicate the the emotional and physical demands of protection. Cramming training the last week or two (rather than an increase in rest going into the trial) can have catastrophic results. Especially for seasoned dogs who may not be training protection regularly, try to focus on pushing harder in the 6-8 weeks before the trial, ensuring the dog is in shape and allowing ample time during the training and immediately before the trial for ample rest days.


Because traveling to the trial location 2 weeks early isn't always feasible, athletes do employ the use of training "Chambers" meant to replicate similar conditions. For example, using a space heater to heat a closed room and jumping rope, or in our dog's case, sprinting on a slat mill or jogging on a treadmill. I have found using these options very effective, especially during winter months in preparation for a spring California trial, something that can be very challenging. While options like treadmills are certainly not the only thing you should be doing, there is a huge difference in the dog's cardio capacity when using it. 3 times per week is sufficient to see major cardio improvements. Overuse of any muscle can cause chronic injuries so I like the dog to have regular rest between the most repeated movements. (Kennel Pacing, Bark and Hold, Heeling, Treadmill, or Spinning, Charging Downhill To Bark At People On My Back Slope 🤦‍♀️)


Angela Ahern, the known K9 strength trainer, highlights the benefits of loose leashed walks, something I have found to be highly beneficial both in heat acclimation (long walks in the middle of the day) and overall muscle health. Using each limb independently is something our dogs can avoid if running around loose. Leashed walks ensure everything is being strengthened, not just dominant legs. The strength training Angela teaches has also been highy beneficial for my dog's overall fitness.


Regular rest of frequently used muscles helps ensure you avoid the injury instead of waiting for it to occur.





The other major player in one's capacity for heat resilience is hydration before, during and after training or competing. Oddly enough, one study found that milk retained hydration more effectively than water. This has to do with the sugars (just enough but not too much) and protein found in milk. Additionally, your dog will likely want to drink more of it than just regular water, so for stubborn drinkers, this can be the golden ticket. I personally use powdered goat's milk, first dissolving it in hot water to easily make it clump free then adding cooler water once its dissolved. I typically give about a cup and a half at a time, a few hours before work (so they can empty their bladder before hand). Sustaining that hydration and starting early means the dog is not coming into heavy training at a deficit. Freezing liquids into ice cubes, a slush or just adding lots of ice to the chosen liquid will help air condition the dog's insides, a method ranking 2nd on the most effective ways of pre cooling right before a competition.


This brings us to our next point, which are pre cooling techniques, day of the competition.


It's a common myth that dogs should "never be taken from air conditioning into the heat".

This is the advice I have heard since I was 18 years old and just getting into protection sports.


We definitively now know this to be untrue.


Pre cooling the body allows for time before temperatures build back up, giving a clear edge to those who pre cool. Think of it as a head start of sorts, with the athlete who is already hot, fading faster than the athlete who's internal temperature or at least skin temperature is still at comfortable levels or even below. For an immediate understanding of this principle, make yourself jog for a mile in 90 degree heat. Do it the first time after being in that heat for a few hours then do it immediately after taking a 2 minute cold shower. How did you feel going from a cold shower into 90 degree temperatures? It feels GOOOOOD! If your dog shows up the tracking flag with their mouth already hanging open in a full pant, their ability to track without panting (addressing their rising temperature) will be greatly diminished.




Studies showing this pre cooling strategy highlight three main ways of doing this, listed in order of recognized effectiveness as measured by the lowering of internal temperature (skin temperature reduction is also effective but internal is considered the ultimate goal):


  1. Cold water submersion. (most effective)

  2. Frozen liquid consumption. (moderately effective)

  3. Wearing cold garments. (largely ineffective)


Cold water submersion, while less convenient than frozen liquid consumption, is superior. First let's talk about what you'll need to employ this tactic, then we will address some of the questions and concerns. If the event location has reliable access to a nearby hose, hose submersion can be used en liu of the following method.


Shopping list:


  • Rubbermaid type kitchen trash can

  • 5 gallons of water (1 gallon jugs are available in most gas stations)

  • One large pitcher

  • 2 bags of ice



Be sure to scout gas stations and stores PRIOR to trial day. Especially if in another country, availability is not gauranteed at every gas station.

While I buy 2 bags of ice, I typically use only 1 bag, the second bag just helps keep it from melting. Load the ice into your trash can to catch all the leaking and take everything out when you arrive at the stadium. Poor your five gallons of water into your trashcan. Put a 1/2 or full bag of ice into the five gallons of water. (Too much ice can make it hard to scoop mostly water.) Scoop the water, first splashing their legs and feet to get them used to it. Then cup your hand below the dog to catch it, splashing it up into the dog's chest and belly. Drench them as much aspossible, a light splashing is not as effective. Let them have a toy to hang on to if that helps and let them move between splashings. (Demonstrated in the video version of this blog)  If using a hose, use mild or soft pressure to once again start at the legs and feet, working your way up to the undercarriage of the dog. This allows them to get used to it before touching more sensitive areas.

This is how I have typically done my pre cooling:


(Last baited water, at least 2 hours before call time, always available normal water)


PROTECTION

  • 30 min prior to protection

  • Again, 15 min before (If temps are really high)

  • Right before going on, sleeve in his mouth.

  • A couple laps of ice water if he wants it


Obedience

  • Once 30 minutes prior

  • A light splash right before going on

  • A couple laps of ice water if he wants it


Tracking

30 minutes prior to getting out of the car

  • 10 minutes before getting out to walk

  • Again at the flag with a small bottle of ice water, splashing chest, belly, balls.

  • A couple laps of ice water if he wants it

  • Be sure to take an umbrella for shade (train with it prior)



These should be rehearsed WELL before the trial day, adjusting to each individual weather presentation as needed, a bit less if you're dog lives and works in that environment, a bit more if it's REALLY hot.



Warm Up?


The obvious concern with using cold water submersion before training or trialing is a muscle tear. While getting circulation flowing and not sprinting out of the gate with cold muscles is highly advisable, my personal dogs warm up well from the car to the gate and while waiting. Every dog is different here, dogs who are more "chill" may need a slightly more orchestrated warm up than dogs who warm up easily on their own. Rather than keep them in a down, I encourage my dog to trot in both directions, back up and a few other light movements to ensure muscle temperature increases a bit before running blinds. This should be done in the shade if possible or at least on grass but NOT a hot asphalt surface. Whether Protection or Obedience, I don't think you have to leave out a warm up plan, but think of it as less "warm". Their muscles should be able to get soft and flexible without sacrificing your pre cool.


Food


Another factor I believe likely plays into a dog's ability to feel their best during competition is processed VS unprocessed food. While I don't have studies to cite, I encourage doing some research on human athletes to see if processed vs unprocessed food has shown a disparity in performance. It certainly seems like common sense. Processed food makes us feel heavy, tired and sluggish, why wouldn't it be the same for the dogs? One study from Lackland Air Force Base (that I can't find) found dogs performed best when their last meal was 24 hours prior to the work. One wonders if that test was done using kibble, raw or both. Because there is such opposition to raw within the veterinary medical field (highly funded by kibble companies), research on this topic is extremely difficult to sift through. Until the studies conducted show a higher commitment to excluding bias, I can only go with my own experiences in addition to most professional athletes'. One tends to feel best after eating minimally processed foods like meats, vegetables and some carbs. For this reason, I feed less processed food at least two weeks prior to the trial.




"I Never Had To Pre Cool My Dog"


In closing, I think we have to address the argument that heat resilience is something that must be taken into consideration when developing a breeding program and therfore, mitigating the effects of it should be avoided in order to properly assess the dog.


There are some major flaws with this argument, primarily, the region in which the dog resides and works. Dogs living in hot, humid environments will have an extreme advantage, regardless of their genetic heat tolerance. Dogs living in cold environments will be at a huge disadvantage. There are also differences in drive, the more casual dog in protection being less at risk than the higher drive dog. Size, coat and, maybe most importantly, physical condition also have contributing factors. I remember being on a side line, remarking to a well known individual how much I liked the current dog on the field. The response was, "yeah but he gasses too quickly, so I'd never recommend him for breeding". The issue this person didn't consider was this particular handler trained irregularly, often taking the dog from being kenneled months at a time, straight into a trial. Unfit, out of shape and wholly unacclimated to working in hot weather (we know just existing in it does NOT do the job). It would have to be an exceptional dog who could perform in the heat, and while that does exists, what are the odds of them also checking all the other boxes of being a good breeding prospect? So while heat tolerance should absolutely be a factor in determining a dog's breeding worthiness, it's not the only one and can not be measured or assessed without deep knowledge of the individual.


We hope you enjoyed this article, please do your own research to formulate the best plan for your dog and the trial you have planned.


For the video versions of this tutorial, check out our You Tube and Instagram posts:



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Milk Retains Better Hydration Than Water


Links on Acclimatization











Links On Pre Cooling








Goats Milk



GlycoCharge




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