There’s a chance that the idea of running around Del Ray in 90-degree heat really bums you out. There’s a chance that doing that run in a fuzzy overcoat would cause you to pass out.
I’m here to tell you that you’re 100 percent correct, and that you’d also be the talk of the town—and not in a good way.
You may have noticed that your daily dog walks are running a little short, or that upon returning your dog immediately retreats to the darkest place in your house and spreads out into a panting pancake of fur. Dogs, unlike people, do not have the ability to sweat (except through the pads of their feet). Dogs also, unlike people, do not have the ability to pack away their seasonally inappropriate exercise gear. Walking in the mid-day heat is less than desirable for more than just a potty break for many breeds. If you, like me, have a dog that craves activity and stimulation through the warm months, this daytime inactivity could take a toll on his quality of life.
There will be days where the temperature (and its evil stepchild, the heat index) climb steadily from uncomfortable (at 4 a.m.) to unbearable (at 7 a.m.). Humans can handle heat a lot better than dogs, and it is unsafe to take a dog on a human-paced run or long walk when it is too hot, humid or sunny. There is no “safe” temperature (it depends on your dog and your running pace), but I don’t take my black lab mix out for a run if the temperature climbs above 70 degrees*. Even though it is usually too hot for him to accompany me, he still starts to stretch and whine when I put my running shoes on. Even right now he has his head propped on the window sill, staring at the runners as they pass.
Dramatically decreasing the amount of exercise in a dog’s life can have unintended consequences: weight gain, interrupted sleep, destructive habits, and the list goes on. Here are some ways I have kept my dogs (and myself) exercised, in spite of their overcoats:
Early morning dog park visits: On particularly hot days, we will wake early and march our pups to the Simpson Stadium Dog Park. Sometimes there are no other dogs, which begs the question, “What in the world is my dog going to do with herself?” This is where you come in. Wear your jogging shoes, bring a toy, and run laps with your dog around the park. When dogs are off the leash they tend to run, well, like dogs. They will sprint, stop, sprint, pee, stop, drink water, sprint and sniff. This, obviously, is quite different from the manner in which humans run (or, maybe I shouldn’t judge?). Your dog will tire out, but they will do it at their own pace.
Power-walking (in the cooler hours): The average time it takes to walk your dog a mile is 25 minutes. This is not fast enough to get your heart pumping in an aerobic state. If you are not inclined to run or jog, power-walking is an alternative. It is different from walking in that you choose a brisk pace and maintain it, reserving pee and sniff breaks for the end of the walk. Read this article for more information.
Hiking and swimming: Hiking or walking on wooded paths can be alternatives to walking through sunny neighborhoods. Walk at a brisk clip and keep your dog reigned in so you can control her movements. Once you get going, especially over uneven terrain, you will notice that your heart rate has increased. Walking over uneven terrain (roots, rocks) is good for your muscles, joints and tendons as well—it keeps them flexible and strong. Swimming is also a great alternative for summertime exercise for all parties. Check out this PDF for information on where to take your dog swimming, hiking and camping, including health and safety tips.
Running with your dog: My dog and I rarely get to run together in the summer months. When the temperature dips low enough, though, my boyfriend or I will take him for a short loop (less than 2 miles) before dropping him off at the house, making sure he has water and continuing on with our run. These short runs add variety to his humdrum summer days and keep him interested in exercising with us.
In sum—enjoy the summer. Don’t let the heat stop you and your dog from having a great time outdoors. If you have other favorite exercise ideas, please share them in the comments. If you have questions, do the same. I’m happy to research and answer them.
*Breed, size, age and temperament should all be considered when deciding whether to take your dogs on runs. Talk to your vet before starting any new exercise routines with your pet. Start slow and give your dog plenty of breaks and water. If he starts acting different, discontinue the routine.