Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dogs and Heat. It's that time again.

As the temperature began warming up at the dog show, I once again saw all the people dragging out the fans for their crates.  And once again I become frustrated about this situation and want to lecture everyone on fans, dogs, and physics.  So I will take out my frustration on you.   I'll start with the physics.

First fact.  Fans do not cool.  What fans do is create a “wind chill”  By blowing air around, the fan makes it easier for water to evaporate into the air, carrying energy with it.  On people, the moving air evaporates sweat, and eliminates body heat.  The more evaporation, the cooler you feel. 

Second fact.  Unlike people, dogs do not really sweat.  They cool themselves through panting, blowing air across their wet tongue which evaporates moisture into the air, carrying energy with it.  However, there is little to no moisture on the rest of their body to cause heat loss due to blowing air.

1 + 2=hot dog.  Unlike people, blowing air across a dry dog does almost nothing to cool it off.  If you want to cool your dog off, you have to either wet the dogs fur (to create evaporation which will remove energy/heat) or, you have to place something cooler against them (like a chill blanket or ice pack).  Simply blowing the same temperature air across the dog does not have the same cooling effect that it does on a person.

Teeny tiny disclaimers.  There is a very small amount of heat that will be lost through convection alone if the air is cooler than the dog’s body temperature, and the air is blowing on their skin (not fur). However, this is so small, it is almost not worth mentioning.   Also, if the dog is in an enclosed area, like a crate that is completely covered, and their own body heat raises the temperature inside above the air temperature outside, then there is some benefit to moving the outside air into the inside.  But still, this is not cooling the dog.
If you want to test the concept, try this.  Get out a clean dry towel.  Feel the temperature of the towel against your hands/face.  Now twirl that towel above your head for 20 seconds and feel it again.  The temperature should be about the same.  Now take the towel and get it wet with room temperature water.  Wring it out good and then do the twirl.  Compare the temperature of the wet towel before and after.  It will have cooled significantly.  This is how a fan cools you (you're the wet towel) and doesn't cool your dog (he's the dry towel).
But there is a very easy solution to cool your dog-turn him into a wet towel!  When you turn on your fan, add a source of moisture to your dog.  You can mist him with a squirt bottle, or wipe him down with a wet towel.  If it is super hot, wet down his entire body.  There are even fans available that have a source of moisture built in.  Just remember, that the fan alone does not cool him!


Monday, June 17, 2013

God Bless the Old Dogs

Chris and Madison listen to Madison's
story before she takes the first jump
on her 'Glory run'
We had the pleasure of an agility trial in Paducah KY this past weekend.  And I really do mean pleasure.  Some agility trials are just about your runs, but the Paducah club puts on such a nice event that it almost feels like a family reunion.  They are always nice and you constantly hear club members say things like "do you need some help bringing in your crates?"  and "we are so glad you could come."   Just little things, but it is the little things that cause us to FedEx our entries to ensure that we get into this trial every time.
This weekend they held a fund raiser for Canine Cancer called a "Glory Run."  Retired agility dogs had a chance to run a course and hear the cheers of the crowd once again.  Some were recently retired, and some were long retired and were a little unsteady on their feet. 
The handler could choose their jump height
McMatt’s Hidden Treasure
RS-E JS-E GS-O and certified therapy dog
with Champ assistance dogs
age: 13
 from on-the-ground on up.  They got to select a song that they felt matched their partnership, and an announcer read a bio on the dog while they waited at the start line.  We heard about accomplishments, about partnerships, about love.  When the music started and the run began, we saw heart.  Almost every one of these dogs, even those long retired, came to life in the ring.  Though the jumps were set very low, they kicked their feet up like young dogs.  They raced through the tunnel like they did in the days of old.  And when they finished the last jump, they met their teammate for the ritual petting and leash-up.   While some had more difficulty than others, they all clearly enjoyed being a part of the excitement again, and we all cheered extra loud, just in case they had trouble hearing.  And through the cloudy eyes, you could still see the dog in his/her prime-the strength, the joy, the heart.  God Bless the old dogs for what they teach us.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Agility Second Chances

Despite an entirely injury-free career, Maggie came up lame the Sunday before we left for Nationals.  She ran well on her first run of the day, but when I got her out for the second run, she was short-striding her left rear.  I hoped that it was a one-time thing, like a leg cramp, and I pulled her from the second run and gave her lots of rest that week.  We made the drive to Tulsa and I ran her on the warm up run where she ran very nice.  But on the long walk back to her crate, it began again.  Maggie was pulled from the rest of Nationals, and I held her and cried, thinking that I had hurt her, asking her to run. But also selfishly feeling sorry for myself that we were missing an opportunity.
Assuming that she was a victim of the oh-so-insideous iliopsoas injury, we made an appointment at the University of Missouri as soon as we returned home.  Fearing the worst, I tried to think of what Maggie and I would do with ourselves if her agility career were over.  But our worst fears were not realized when Dr. Cook told us that it was not an iliopsoas injury, but rather her back.   He sent us home with directions for 2 months of exercises and core conditioning, and a lecture about keeping her fit. (I had given her over two months of 'time off' over the winter- thinking that was a good thing).
Our first time on the line was nerve wracking.  I put her down to 20" preferred thinking it would be easier on her, but it just made her run faster, and slide more, so, uh, not good.  Nevertheless, she ran well and had no signs of pain or soreness.
We just finished our third trial back at our 24" full height, and she seems back to her game. I, on the other hand, am more out of shape than ever, and even my timing seems to be out of whack, but she saves me more often than not.
But the whole point of this post is that we got a second chance to run again.  Something I only hoped for back in March.  It has changed the way that we walk to the line and changed the way I feel about the results. A younger, very fast dog and handler took most of the blue ribbons this weekend and left us with mostly second place finishes.  A year ago, I would have been disappointed.  But now, I'm just glad to get out and back with a sound dog.  Don't get me wrong- when the day comes that Maggie is slowing down to the point that she is falling out of the placements entirely, then I will know that she is not feeling well and it will be time to find a new sport.  But until then, we are taking this second chance as far as we can and making a special effort to appreciate every trip to the start line.  Because all of us- even those with the youngest and fittest dogs- all of us have days that are numbered and you never know when that last run will be. 
So take a moment the next time you are out with your dog to savor the 'now' and forgive yourself in advance for the disappointment you will feel when they cannot participate in your favorite activities anymore.  And make them a promise that as much as they are giving you today, that you will give them this much back in their golden years.  For the time for all of us- even those lucky enough to get second chances- is much too short.