Your car makes a great oven to cook your dog if you don't take the proper precautions and setup a sanctuary from the elements for your dog.
Keeping our dogs safe in the heat is the top priority for me and other canine handlers in SAR. Working dogs spend a lot of time in the vehicle including traveling, searches, and during training. With how much time they spend in the vehicle, it's important to make their home away from home as comfortable as possible. This is particularly important during the hot periods of the year. Temperatures in the 70's and above can quickly turn a vehicle into an oven. Test it out for yourself - find a parking lot and turn the engine off with the windows rolled up. Now slather yourself with butter and enjoy the baking feeling as the car heats up.
Cracked windows on a 90 degree day aren't enough. We've got to get creative and invest in protecting our K9 partners!
Before I jump into some of the things I do to keep Luna cool, here are some of the signs of heatstroke in a dog:
- Excessive and prolonged panting
- Disorientation / Distress
- Dry tacky gums
- Frothing at the mouth
If your dog shows symptoms of heat stroke seek emergency care immediately! If you see a dog in a car showing these signs, call 911.
So what can you do to avoid the dangers of heat? I'll explain what I do with Luna that has worked very well for us the past 2 summers. I'd also recommend you to do your own research and always keep your dog's safety top of mind.
An important step to safety during warmer weather is good old exercise. Conditioning yourself and your dog to the heat goes a long way to acclimate to the higher temperatures so you are ready in case you get called out for a search during the hot season.
I'll walk you through what I do. Even with a black vehicle (the worst), Luna remains very comfortable in her kennel on the hottest days. My vehicle is Luna's home away from home when we venture out into the world. The vehicle is her safe area no matter where we happen to be and the chaos outside.
A look at my setup
Kennel - I highly recommend having a kennel for your dog. When Luna and I first started I had a small 4 door sedan that wasn't the best suited vehicle for search and rescue and a dog. I couldn't set a kennel up in the car and was a major issue because I couldn't safely secure her in the car. If I rolled the windows all the way down she could jump out (and she did). If I kept the windows halfway down and opened the sunroof all the way she could jump out the roof (and she did, multiple times to come chase me down). Having the windows partially rolled down also introduced another risk. She gets very excited when I'm helping other teammates and working with their dogs. When she gets in that excited/agitated state she almost goes besserk trying to get out of the car and would squeeze her head out the crack and put her paws on the window - it wouldn't have taken much for her to break the glass.
By having a kennel you can safely secure your dog while opening up all your windows and cargo doors which greatly increases the airflow through the vehicle to help regulate the temperature.
Luna's kennel is the Intermediate size Ruff Tough Kennel - I love this kennel. I've had a lot of good intentioned people comment about its size because they think it is too small for Luna. I know they mean well, but the kennel is designed for travel and safety, she is able to curl up comfortably in the kennel which keeps her in a relaxed state in the event of an accident. The kennel could be compared to a dog house - it should not be too large, but rather a den that the dog can curl up in and feel safe and secure. The Ruff Tough Kennel is a one-piece molded plastic kennel that is incredibly strong. If we are involved in an accident I feel somewhat better knowing Luna will be shielded by a strong plastic barrier rather than a metal crate. I also can be comforted that she will be laying down, curled up, and relaxed - not standing up and walking around a kennel much too large for her.
From the back:
The kennel has pre-drilled holes along the sides providing ventilation and you can purchase a kennel that has a door on both sides to increase ventilation. I would absolutely recommend the door on both sides. The door is durable and easy to operate. It will swing open in either direction to make loading/unloading a dog easy regardless of vehicle and position of the kennel. The plastic also will not heat up like metal.
Fan - I got this baby on Amazon after doing a lot of research on vehicle and RV fans. I wanted a fan that was powerful, durable, efficient, and not dependent upon batteries. It's expensive for a fan but it puts a LOT of air through the kennel. Endless Breeze Fan - Amazon
From the back of the kennel (and why the double door is so great with the Rough Tuff Kennel)
The fan plugs into any DC plug and runs like a champ. On a warm day I plug the fan in while traveling and leave it plugged in with the vehicle off - no issues with my car battery to date.
Cool mat - Trying this out… and I'm not super impressed so far. It at least adds a bit of comfort to the kennel. It works great inside our air conditioned house but when I lay on it outside in the heat I don't feel any noticeable cooling. Maybe if you pre-cooled it or had it in the cooler and then let the dog sit on it it would have more impact. I chose this one because of it's simplicity. There is no charging, it is non toxic. No complex getting wet, or putting in a cooler (one of the ones I looked at had a tendency to mold) Cool Mat - Amazon
Water - Don't forget the water!! I use a Kennel Gear Bucket for keeping water in the Kennel - Love this thing! Picked it up off Amazon (Pricey but it is high quality) Kennel Gear Pail - Amazon
It has a slick mount for your kennel which makes installation a breeze. You can remove the bucket and fill with water and attach it back to the mounting bracket as pictured below:
How it looks when mounted:
This is the quick release to remove the bucket:
I also keep a 2.5 gallon container of water in the car which can be used for Luna, me, or any other situation you need water (dog decontamination bath, rinsing wounds) 2.5 gallon Aqua Pak - Amazon
To keep the jug from sliding around I use a quick gear tie to secure it. (I learned this lesson the hardway after spending an entire weekend pulling out seats and carpet to dry out my vehicle after my water jug tipped over and spilled)
Solar Canopy - I first saw these in use at the IDHS SAR conference and got the reccomendation on where to order from my friends there. This thing is awesome. It really does shave 10-15 degrees off the internal temperature. When you stand under it on a hot day it feels great with a cool breeze blowing through. You can get these from Petedge.com (multiple sizes, I have the 12x20ft) Solar Canopy - Petedge.com
Reflective Sun Shade - Not much to say about this. I'm picky though so I ordered a custom one for my vehicle that is fitted to my windshield. I store it on top of the kennel. Intro-Tech Automotive Ultimate Reflector Car Sun Shade - Autoanything.com
Cool Collar - Also learned about this from Tammy at the 2014 IDHS SAR conference. These are pretty slick! You fill it up with ice and it has a mesh side that sits against the dog's neck. The ice melts and trickles down the dog's chest simulating sweat. Cold and refreshing! It does come with some re-usable cool packs that you can freeze and use indoors to avoid melting water indoors. Kool Collar
And on really hot days or after a really hard run I'll burn some gas and leave the engine running with the AC on.
So that's an overview of my system for keeping Luna comfortable, safe, and alive on the hottest days of the year. Thanks for reading!