How working dogs keep cool

Frank Turner knows how to care for dogs on the bitterly cold trail of the Yukon Quest, having run it 24 times.

Indeed, he had the honour (his word) of winning the Vet’s Choice Award twice. And he knows how to care for dogs in the heat of summer, too. “Really, each person has to look at their dogs and determine how much time you will need to adequately care for them,” he says from his large and welcoming patio overlooking the dog yard at Muktuk Adventures, which he co-owns with his wife, Anne Tayler, and Manuela Albicker.

Albicker, who is in charge of day-to-day operations, has just finished welcoming some guests as the conversation turns to summer care for their beloved dogs. “First, make sure the dogs have shade,” she says right away.

Turner agrees: “The shade is critical here; we don’t have trees in the dog yard because they pee on them. So, the houses have to be oriented toward the sun so that the dogs have shade throughout the day.” “And make sure they have fresh water,” Albicker adds. “On hot days, we change the water six times so that it is nice and cold and fresh.” “Some dogs will avoid hot water even if they are dehydrated,” says Turner. “Yes, I’ve seen that,” says Albicker. “Some dogs, when they are dehydrated, will drink even less. So, flavouring the water usually works. “We have liver here for flavouring.”

Turner adds, “In the Quest, everybody had something in backup: some have beaver, dehydrated beef, chicken, different flavours that will get the dogs’ attention.” “Just make sure there are no chunks in it,” says Albicker. “They may just tip the water out and eat the meat.”

Turner laughs, “You have to stay ahead of the curve and be smarter than the dogs.” And one more thing about water: “Wash out the bowls,” says Turner. “Even if it is just with your hands; in hot water, you are going to get algae and other stuff that forms on the bowl.”

Their next tip is to brush your dog. “It’s a daily thing, here,” says Albicker.

Life is good for a dog at Muktuk Adventures: they have shade, fresh water, and daily brushing. But they also do not have to walk on hot asphalt or concrete. “Their pads are very sensitive,” says Turner. “And dogs are really stoic; they won’t go, ‘Ouch, ouch, ouch!’ “If you can’t walk on it in bare feet, they should not walk on it.”

The dogs at Muktuk Adventures also have daily visits to the Takhini River. Some just get their feet wet and others will lie down for a bit. But, in town, “Have a small pool for your dog or water them down with a gentle spray,” says Turner. “The evaporation will cool the dog down, as well as the water.”

So, you have done everything you can to keep your dog cool, but then they tear off ahead of you on your daily walk and they don’t want to stop. Will dogs naturally self-regulate? “Depends on the dog,” says Turner. “Some dogs are best to run off leash because if they are pulling a lot, the heat is really hard on them and that is when they over-exhaust,” says Albicker. “If it is a hot day, check them for dehydration every half hour,” Turner adds.

Turner and Albicker say the easiest way to do this is to touch their gums. If they are moist, they are fine.

Another test is something Turner calls “tenting”. “Pull the hair up on the back of their neck,” he says. “If it stays there, you have a problem; that dog is not just dehydrated, they are getting into a dangerous zone.”

Also, check the colour of their urine. It should be clear or light yellow. “If the urine is dark, it could be other things,” says Turner. “But if the gums are dry, too, it’s a nobrainer: your dog is dehydrated.”

To be absolutely certain that your dog is okay, pick up a rectal thermometer from the store. If they are between 38 and 39 degrees Celsius, keep monitoring and record the temperatures. After 38.5°C, check every two hours. Over 39°C, bring the dog and your data to a vet.

As I am leaving, Turner offers one more piece of advice: “On a hot day, dogs like to fi nd shade. Your vehicle provides shade, so check around it before you leave.”

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