With record setting temperatures across most of the United States an important issue facing most K9 handlers is the recognition of heat related injuries. You are the front line to your partner's safety. Learning how to properly train, kennel, and recognize heat related injuries could very well save your dog’s life.
Training is the most important aspect of our job. There are a lot of stresses associated on the dogs that don't exist during normal working hours. When training with your partner it is important to try and park your vehicle in a shaded area. Temperatures in the shade can be 20 degree less than the ambient air temperature. Make sure you have plenty of water on hand. Something I'm using is a water pack that I can fill and a collapsible water bowl. It's important that during your training you allow your partner to get plenty of rest between each training evolution.
When it comes to kenneling your partner there are a few things you need to consider. Is your kennel in direct sun? Can you go eyes on with your dog? If your kennel is directly in the sunlight make sure that there is a covering over top. My kennel is a 10x10 concrete pad. The pad is under a metal roof. The concrete will allow your partner to cool down through the pads on his paws. The concrete will remain cool as long as there is shade and/or roof. It is also important to monitor their water. If the temperatures get too warm it will be necessary to refill your partner's water bowl with water that is a little cooler. Air movement is critical to kenneling. A fan mounted above or on the sides of your kennel will move enough air to help cool.
Preparing for the heat can mean the life or death of your canine. There are a few items on the market currently that allow you to monitor and control the environment inside your K9 vehicle. I use a system that monitors both the rear kennel and the front of my vehicle and it gives me a reading. It automatically averages the two temperatures and provides me a reading to the tenth of a degree. I usually keep my vehicle around 68-70 degrees. The system allows me to set a threshold for a random temperature that I deem excessive. I currently have mine set to 90 degrees. When the system averages over 90 degree my emergency lights activate, both back windows automatically roll down and a fan placed in the window blasts through the kennel. The system will continue until I recognize the alarm. There is also an engine stall feature. If while dealing with a situation and I am away from my vehicle and the engine stalls it will also make the same alerts.
Another key area that needs to be mentioned regarding your vehicle preparations for heat is window tinting. I attended K9 School with another officer whose department wouldn't allow the window tinting. It is a fact that window tint will reduce the temperature inside your vehicle by as much as 20 degrees. Automotive window tinting also rejects almost 50% of the heat coming through.
Lastly, with all the high tech K9 equipment we may have installed, the most important part of their well being is us. If we forget and leave our partners inside a vehicle that is not running they will die. When I leave for work I always check my inside temperature of my vehicle and I have registered 127.5 degrees. There have already been several canines in the southeast United States that may have died from heat related injuries. Most have been left unattended in vehicles not running. Ultimately we are responsible for removing our partners from the vehicle after we are finished with our shifts.
Probably the most important thing that I will discuss is the ability for us to recognize heat related injuries to our canines and being able to react to them, FAST. Dogs don't have the ability to release heat by sweating the way we do. With the heat and humidity their body temperatures can rise to extremely dangerous levels. A few symptoms that you need to look for in heat stress are:
- profuse panting
- rapid pulse
- skin that is warm
- increased salivation
- exhaustion or fatigue
- muscular weakness
The symptoms of a heat stroke include but are not limited to:
- warm nose and foot pads
- heavy panting
- glazed eyes
- a dark red tongue and/or inside ears
- vomiting or diarrhea
Most dogs have a normal body temperature range of 100.5 to 101.5 degrees. With a heat stroke the body temperature can reach up to 107 degrees.
There are a few simple things that you can do to help reduce your canine's temperature to safe levels. Place them in the shade. If water is nearby you may want to slowly immerse the dog gradually into cool water. Apply wet towels to the neck, head, groin, and leg area. If you don't have a water source available then use the water jug to completely soak the dog.
These are a few ideas that I have for cooling my canine down. Most of all stay safe and keep you and your canine cool. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to send me an email.