Summer is here with a vengeance. Just imagine if you had to live outside during the summer and wear a fur coat. Well, that’s exactly what your K-9 partner has to do.
Many people believe most police dogs are killed in the line of duty from a gunshot or stabbing. The truth: More police dogs die each year from heatstroke and heat exhaustion than LODDs. We, as handlers, need to be extremely vigilant when it comes to searching in the heat and humidity. Here are a few commonsense safety tips to help your K-9 make it through the scorching summer.
Make sure you check on and replenish your dog’s water supply several times a day. Dogs will drink a lot of water when it’s hot and humid outside in an attempt to cool off. Some dogs will even knock over their water bowl to cool the ground so that they can lie down comfortably.
During the hot times of the year, most restaurants and outside patios have a mister system to cool the area while you eat. In most cases, you probably wouldn’t eat outside without the mister system. Well dogs don’t have a choice—they dine alfresco all the time. I strongly recommend having a mister system in or around your dog’s cage. You would be surprised how much these mister systems will lower the outside temperature.
If your kennel space doesn’t have a lot of natural shade, make sure you cover the top and sides of the kennel with some type of shade cloth. You can purchase shade cloth at your local nursery. Shade cloth is easy to install and will allow fresh air to flow into the kennel. Combine the shade cloth with the mister system and, who knows, you might even want to move into the kennel with your dog!
Be vigilant. Check on the air conditioning systems in your K9 vehicle and have them serviced at least once a year. If you don’t have heat alarms on your vehicles to warn you when the inside of your K9 unit reaches a certain temperature, you need to check on your car every 15–20 minutes or invest in a heat alarm.
Carry Your Own Water
Depending on your terrain and environment, you may need to carry extra water for you and your dog to drink. When you give your dog some water during a search, don’t give him a lot. A stomach full of water will increase the chances of bloat and torsion, which is another high killer of police dogs.
Another way that may help prevent heatstroke and heat exhaustion is to wet your dog down with water before and during a search. When the dogs fur starts to dry, be sure to re-wet your dog before you continue with the search. This is something you can also do at home.
However, be aware of the humidity level when it comes to wetting your K-9. For example: Wetting your K-9 in 10% humidity is far more effective than when the humidity is 90%. In 10% humidity, the water will cool you down; however, in 90% humidity the water will act like a heat blanket.
I know this one sounds way out there, but if you work in an area that gets extremely hot, like a desert, I recommend you carry a rectal thermometer and routinely check your dogs internal temperature during a track or suspect apprehension. It’s truly the only way to see what your dog’s inner core temperature is and help prevent heatstroke or heat exhaustion.
Most people think dog booties are just for freezing temperatures or hazardous conditions, like walking over glass and sharp objects. But consider if you had to walk barefoot over hot cement or asphalt. Your dog is no different. Get him used to warming and deploying in dog booties.
K9 Trauma Veterinarian
For the times when Murphy’s Law kicks in and you need to get your dog immediate medical attention, know in advance where your nearest K-9 emergency or K-9 trauma center is located—no matter if it’s 2 pm or 2 am.
Summer Deployment Tips
- Work 25 minutes & rest 15 minutes.
- During the rest cycle, keep the dogs cool in shaded areas.
- Recognize early signs of heat exhaustion.
- Have your dogs wear cool vests.
Treat Signs of Heat-Related Injuries
- Place the dog in shade or an air conditioned area.
- Place a sheet over the dog and wet the sheet as completely as possible with cool, lukewarm water.
- When available, place circulating fans to blow air over the dog to promote convective and evaporative cooling.
- Wrap ice packs in one layer of towels and place it in the armpit and groin area.
- Don’t place the dog in an ice bath or place ice packs or cold water directly on the dog’s skin. These actions may induce shivering, which increasing heat production.