When I first moved to the Phoenix, Arizona area I was very concerned about how to train dogs during the summer. After being here for several years, I have it figured out…
First, is the handler. I pay attention to the physical location, weather and physical condition of the dog owner. I’ve worked with some who are incapable of training outside in the summer, so I’ve had to get creative. For some, we do lessons very early in the morning. For others, we do lessons in the home. For others, we can train outdoors, but I have to be very picky about where we train. I have also hiked a lot in Arizona, and have learned about outdoor heat. I’m not a survival expert or doctor, but I have experience and am very aware of the heat. I’ve seen people who should not be in the heat, and others who were in great shape but not aware that their dogs would be endangered if they tried to make them keep up with them.
Second, is the dog. Some dogs can handle the summer heat, even when it is over 100 degrees. I remember a Kelpie I worked with 10 years ago that had no problem working in the summer heat. On the other hand, I’ve seen French Bulldogs that are done in less than 5 minutes outside. I always recommend having plenty of water for every lesson. I keep at least a gallon of water and ice in my car year round, just for myself. Also, being outdoors a lot, I’ve seen a lot of dogs, including dogs on hiking trails year round. Dogs in good physical shape, just like humans, do better in the heat. But dogs can’t handle heat as well as humans, so we have to watch them very closely. Also you have to be aware of the temperatures of the ground you are working. I touch the pavement or sidewalks with my hands. If it is hot for me, then it is even hotter for them. Thus, in the summer, I try to do outdoor lessons earlier in the day or later in the evenings. Swimming lessons are also best done just after the sun has gone down, dogs can even overheat in a swimming pool.
As I write this article, it is the beginning of May. Dogs are starting to need to drink more water, even indoors. And I’m already adjusting my lesson times. My days get very long for the next 6 months. I have to get up earlier every day, and go to bed later each night. Midday, I do office work, or do indoor lessons, or I take my time off. Summers are fun, and dogs can still be trained, but I have to make personal sacrifices of my time and energy to make it safe and productive for my students. Furthermore, not all dog problems can be held off until December, when the weather is perfect again. And dogs that are cooped up in the home too much can develop behavioral problems, including aggression issues. You just can’t wait on that stuff. The other change is our Snowbirds, who will start leaving town in about a month and going back “home” to another state for the summer. Some dogs need last minute training before they go, because there aren’t any good trainers “back home”. I’ve done a lot of that work. Summer students are fun to work with, they tend to be less stressed and the training goes at a smoother pace. I also like the swimming lessons, and the dogs do, as well. Once dogs are trained to obey on land, you want to train them in the water, especially if you plan on vacationing with your dog where there are lakes, rivers or ocean. Many a dog has gotten in serious trouble in natural waters. I worked a dog, many years ago, that had (before they hired me) gotten away from the owner, and had to be picked up by the Coast Guard about 5 miles out from the beach! So, summer lessons have their own reasons and urgency, and we need to get onto the obedience training immediately if you plan on taking your dog to the beach.
In a month, the average daily temperatures will be over 95 degrees, then the next month it will be another 10 degrees, and the next month another 5 to 10 degrees. That kind of heat takes planning, but it doesn’t mean that all training has to stop. We just need to be wise and work out the best plan. I’m looking forward to it. There is no reason, for most owners and dogs, to put off summer lessons.