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Summers are changing here in Washington State and the rest of the Pacific Northwest. In the almost twenty years that I’ve lived in Western Washington, summer has gone from mild to very hot, sometimes into triple-digits.
This may not seem like a lot to those of you reading from places where hot weather is the norm; but Seattle and most of the Pacific Northwest does not have the infrastructure in place currently to combat high heat, nor are we as residents fully adjusted to this new temperature norm.
This can, and has, left a lot of dog owners unsure of how to help their dog when the heat sets in and they don’t know how to keep cool. And with the popularity of breeds like double-coated Huskies and Samoyeds and flat-faced dogs like Frenchies and Boston Terriers, helping your dog deal with the heat can really be the difference between a comfortable dog and a trip to the emergency vet.
Because I board and train dogs as a part of my full-time job, keeping my house cool and the dogs under my care comfortable is of extreme importance to me. Being so, I’ve been able to find ways to keep dogs (and myself) cool that a lot of fellow Washingtonians have not yet established.
These are not “tips from the internet” or pulled from Pinterest. They are the exact things I do as a dog trainer to keep my home cool in the summer, even while living in a house that was not built to take on the heat. I am listing them because they work for me, and for the dogs in my care.
Most are renter-friendly and easy to implement if you prepare in advance.
I’m also listing alternatives for each one to accommodate dog owners who may not be able to invest in materials from a financial standpoint, or people who are caught off-guard and need to make do with what they have.
This is how I keep dogs safe and cool during our Pacific Northwest heatwaves.
Window Privacy Film
Window privacy film is immensely helpful during Washington summers. Our buildings tend to have a lot of windows to let in light; but this works against us now that the weather has changed. I use window films from amazon to reflect light back out of the house and reduce the amount that can get in.
These films function a lot like a two-way mirror. When applied to a window, the film will create a mirror-like effect on whichever side of the window has the most light. On the other side of the window, where there is less light, the window will remain see-through but partially dimmed.
This means that most of the sunlight that could be cooking your house is instead pushed back out. These films essentially turn your home’s weakest point into insulation.
In my house, I have window film on every single window (even on my storm door) to keep the whole house cooler. It is great for privacy because it makes it harder to see in from outside, but it is also crucial for reducing the amount of heat that gets in through sunlight.
This is the exact product I purchased to cover my windows:
In a Pinch: Aluminum Foil
If you do not have access to privacy film, you can put up aluminum foil to reflect as much of the light back out your windows instead of getting trapped inside your home.
While this does not allow the window to continue functioning as a window (the foil will block vision out, as well) it is a good budget option, or a making-do-with-what-you-got option, when you’re in a pinch. The foil will reflect light back out, and function very similarly to window mirror films.
Tape the aluminum foil up with painter’s tape to avoid any damage to the wall or window. Make sure to cover the window completely to avoid allowing extra light to leak in.
Most of my main floor is equipped with blackout curtains, which were a huge help during the heat wave we had in most of western Washington in 2021.
Blackout curtains block light (similarly to the window film or aluminum foil method) which reduces the amount of heat that can get into your home. They’re another degree of insulation to protect you and your pets on those very hot days.
Nowadays I double-up on window films and blackout curtains. I have put them on almost every window in my home, so they can be opened or shut depending on how much insulation is necessary. When a room is not in-use, the curtains will be closed to help keep the house cool as a whole.
Blackout curtains come in a few degrees of light-blocking, and there are also a lot of different designs or colors available. I’d recommend switching your regular curtains out for light-blocking ones if possible, so that you are ready when the heat hits.
Blackout curtains work incredibly well in conjunction with two-way mirror window films, because they block light on both sides of the curtain. This means that the contrast between one side of the window film and the other will be more dramatic, and even more light will be reflected out.
Renters can set up blackout curtains with tension rods or with peel-and-stick curtain rod brackets, depending on how your windows are set up.
I’ve also made blackout curtains work in rentals before by using clips, zip ties, and other methods; find what works for your space, and go with that.
In a Pinch: Cardboard
If you absolutely do not have access to light-blocking curtains to keep your dog cool, you can use cardboard as an added light barrier. You can even add foil over the cardboard to double-up like I do with window film and curtains.
I do have one window where I use cardboard for this; my gym, where I have some mirrors installed over an existing window. The cardboard helps block light from seeping through the mirrors, and I can confirm that it definitely does help in the summer.
If you go with cardboard I do definitely recommend doubling-up with other methods to avoid letting the cardboard get too hot. The flashpoint of cardboard is around 800 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s good to exercise precaution. If you use the cardboard, make sure it’s in an area where you can quickly remove it if it becomes a problem.
Portable Air Conditioners
I am lucky enough that my house has internal air conditioning, which is very helpful in keeping the whole house cooler in the summer. Even so, my dog room tends to heat up quickly (if I do not take precautions) because it faces east and gets hit with a lot of light in the first half of the day.
Because the dog room is where the dogs sleep (duh), I have a separate portable air conditioner on top of the internal cooling that the rest of the house has.
Even if you do not have a designated dog room, I would definitely recommend securing a portable A/C if you are at all concerned about keeping yourself and your dog cool during the summer. If you never use it, at least you have it if you suddenly need to; better than to be caught without it.
My portable A/C keeps the dog room at 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit, which is comfortable for most dogs. When it is not in cooling mode, it is still on in “fan” mode and keeps air circulating through the room, which also adds to the comfort of the dogs in my care.
If you are on a budget, I’d recommend buying a used portable air conditioner during cooler months. In the summer of 2021, prices on A/C units (even used ones) saw a tremendous spike because of the demand from those of us who were under-prepared.
And if you can’t get your hands on a portable air conditioner at all, you can make do with a few fans. Try to keep air circulating so that it does not stagnate.
Cold Water and Ice
Dogs expel heat through moisture, much like humans do. And like humans, dogs can get dehydrated in high-heat environments, which in turn also reduces their capability to self-cool.
Don’t let your dog get dehydrated, especially when the weather is hot.
Giving your dog access to cold, fresh water can help them regulate their own body temperature and avoid heat-related illness. Making the water cold or icy can even aid in cooling them as their bodies even out internal temperature.
Cold water may even entice your dog to drink more, which will further help them self-regulate their body temperature. Keep the water topped-off, clean, and cold; keep it enticing.
You can also give your dog an ice-lick, or a bowl of water frozen solid. As the dog licks at the ice, they will be able to lose some heat through contact with the ice, and maintain their fluids lost as the ice melts.
If your tap is warm or you otherwise don’t have access to cold water, I recommend keeping jugs of water in the refrigerator that can be topped off and switched out to keep your dog’s water fresh and cold.
Dehumidifiers are extremely helpful during hot months. A lot of us forget how much humidity plays a role in heat-related illness like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Removing excess moisture from the air will help humans in the home cool through sweating, and help dogs cool through the evaporative methods of panting and through the sweat of their paws and nose.
In my dog room, I have a portable air conditioner that also has a built-in dehumidifier. I also have a second dehumidifier from Frigidaire on standby (linked below) for use in “common areas” like the living room so that the air does not get too damp and limit self-cooling abilities of the dogs and humans in the home.
A dehumidifier would certainly help on top of the other methods listed, and does not need to look as extravagant as my setup. If you can get an A/C that has a dehumidifier or the heavy-duty dehumidifier I use in my home, great. If you can’t, there are smaller and more affordable options for dehumidifiers as well, like the compact portable one shown below.
In a Pinch:
While dogs do not sweat like humans do (except for in specific areas like the paws) they can still benefit from cooling off in the pool. External water can help dissipate some body heat, and almost act as sweat by evaporating off their body throughout the day.
I have a kiddie pool on my property that I use for a number of things. It is sometimes a bottle pool for puppies, and in the summer I put in in the shady spot under my porch for dogs to wade through.
Not everyone will have access to pools, even the small type that I have. If you are really in a pinch, you can hose your dog down in the shower or tub with cold water to help them cool down a bit.
Cooling mats help pull body heat away from the dog. While they are not technically cooling the dog by aiding in the regulation of body temperature, they are pulling the heat the dog puts off away from the dog, which keeps the dog comfortable and feeling cool.
I have the cooling mat shown below that is part of a raise cot-style dog bed. This is great in summer because it keeps air flowing around the dog by lifting the mat off the floor and also give the dog a cooling surface to lay on.
Other cooling mats are also available that are just the mat, which you can place anywhere in your home.
What Not To Do For Your Dog in Hot Weather
Don’t shave your dog to keep them cool; they do not lose body heat through their skin by sweating the way that humans do, and shaving can actually be counter-intuitive.
In addition, a dog’s coat tends to act as a form of insulation; removing it can actually make the dog more susceptible to external heat.
And given that they can not lose heat from the area by sweating, shaving does not have a real tradeoff for this lack of insulation.
In the hot months, let your dog keep their coat, and stick to other methods to help keep them cool.
Avoid cooking during hot weather. That heat will get trapped in the home and be detrimental to the goal of cooling.
If you can cook in advance, that is the best choice. You can also set up cold meals from leftovers or simple solutions like sandwiches. As much as possible, avoid running the stove or oven.
If you’re set on cooking, consider taking it outside, so long as it is safe to do so.
I cook my dogs’ meals from home, which can be problematic if I am trying to cool my home. During the heat spells, I sometimes will set up the roaster that I use for dog food in a shaded area outside or in the garage if I am in a pinch. This is, of course, assuming it is safe to do so.
When at all possible, I much prefer to plan ahead and have enough food prepared so that I do not need to make any new batches while the weather is nasty.
It might seem like a no-brainer to give your dog ice packs in the summer, but I strongly recommend against it.
While the ice packs might be cooling to the touch and pleasant, many ice packs are made of materials that are dangerous if ingested. If your dog were to chew the ice pack, they could easily consume the contents and end up sick or worse.
Even homemade ice packs, like ice in a plastic baggie, can be a temptation for bored dogs on a hot day; and we don’t want them eating plastic.
An alternative would be freezing toys like Kongs stuffed with cold wet food or kibble with water added. These can act similarly to ice packs without posing a risk to your dog.