Friday, 8 May 2015

Cool Runnings!!!

It is that time of year when the temperatures start to creep up the scale and we reluctantly, sometimes too reluctantly, scale back our runs with our canine athletes!

I've seen a lot online lately about 'magic formulas' to help you decide when it is 'safe' to run your dogs.

The 'formulas' go like this - you add up the humidity and temperature (in Fahrenheit) and if they don't exceed a 'threshold', you are good to go. I've seen both 120 and, most recently, 100 as the threshold number!

Problem is, these formulas are ridiculous and can either have you sitting inside when you need not be - or give you a false sense of security.

Take yesterday for example. When I checked the weather, the humidity was 97% and the temperature was 32F. That equals 129 - over either of the 'threshold' numbers. Did I stay in?? HECK NO

We had a beautiful and SAFE run!!! Most of the dogs weren't even interested in drinking when we stopped for our break in the river.

This morning the snow is gone, the temperature is 30 F with 86% humidity. The numbers again don't 'add up' but we will be fine.

The fact of the matter is that breed, condition, fitness, the environment, temperament and your expectations all factor into what is safe for your dog.
Heavy (and even just a few lbs heavier) out of shape dogs will run much hotter than fit ones; breeds traditionally developed for cold climates will run hotter than most hunting breeds (for example). If you live in a warm climate and never see cold temperatures, your dog will likely be able to tolerate running in a bit warmer temps. If your dog is particularly hard driving, they will likely do worse in the heat.

Some say colour factors in too - that a darker coloured dog will overheat faster than a lighter one. That has not been my experience, but as so many factors go into a 'hot vs. cool' running dog, who knows!

In addition, the trails you are running play a big factor. We live in a river valley where it is typically a few degrees cooler than 'up top'. On borderline days I will run shaded trails down in the valley as opposed to more 'open' trails up top.

Access to water on the trails can play a big factor too. We have a river running through our property. On 'warmer' days I will plan my route so the dogs are in the river a couple times, allowing them to drink their fill when we are.

My guideline for my sled dogs is that anything over 10C (about 50F), we don't run. I don't factor humidity into that, but if I walk outside and feel it is too warm, I turn around. Those numbers are safe for my dogs - however I still watch them like a hawk on the trail.

Going slow and pulling hard is less likely to overheat a dog than letting them go fast. This seems contraindicated to many but it is, in my experience, true. If I find myself caught from home on a day that warms up faster than I thought, I bring the dogs home slowly with lots of water and recovery breaks.  

Overheating a dog is a SERIOUS thing. They can easily die - or be altered for life by the experience. Once a dog has been overheated, it will always overheat sooner in the future. Knowing your dog and recognizing the signs early is critical.

I hate to offer veterinary advice, so here is a good link to an article on heat stroke in dogs - causes, prevention, signs, treatment, etc.

So what it boils down to is this - don't trust magical mathematical formulas to make decisions for your dogs. Educate yourself, know your dogs, know your environment....

....and always err on the side of caution!!!!

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