Article by Brenda Hinkemeyer
Yeah, sunglasses and a leather jacket would do the trick. But, in all seriousness, this article is about helping your Siberian Husky deal with the heat and sun: An appropriate topic with summer just around the corner. So why am I writing this article? Well, I know what to do, even though I don't always practice what I preach (to which anyone who has seen my red dogs' coats can attest). As you may or may not know, I am a native Minnesotan; however, I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, for four years. Ironically, this is where I got my start with Siberian Huskies. It is CRITICAL in a warm climate, like the Arizona desert, to keep your Siberian cool. My original three dogs had to survive record-breaking 122 degree temperatures in July, when even the airport was closed. While Minnesota summers are cold in comparison, Siberians can still suffer and must stay cool. Note that at the beginning I mentioned heat and sun, not temperature and sun. Heat is the combination of the temperature and humidity. What Minnesota summers lack in temperature, they make up for in humidity (although it DOES get humid in Arizona in late July and August, contrary to popular belief, we're still only talking about 60% at the upper extreme).
The best piece of advice is to just use common sense. If you are uncomfortable outside, your dog is probably very uncomfortable. The primary reason, of course, is that lovely Siberian coat. Want to empathize? Just bundle up in your warmest winter clothing sometime in the middle of summer and see how you feel! As you probably already know, dogs do not perspire. They cool themselves by panting - losing their excess body heat from their mouths. Think about the size of the area absorbing heat vs. the size of the area dispersing the heat, and you can begin to see what a tough job it is! I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to properly cool your dog. In addition to skin problems, such as "hot spots", your dog could get sunstroke and be permanently brain damaged or die.
The most critical key to keeping your dog cool is the availability of fresh, clean water at all times. This cannot be emphasized enough. It must be fresh water. The buckets should be emptied and cleaned nightly. This can sometimes be difficult depending on your water supply (I have well water, so algae can be a problem in the summer), but stainless steel water buckets help this a great deal. It can also be a challenge if your Siberians take turns cooling their feet in the water bucket. This means they now have fresh, muddy water to drink. I would suggest providing a small wading pool with a couple of inches of water available to the dogs. Most Siberians love to play in water. Raising the bucket off the ground slightly and clipping it to the fence so that it cannot be spilled or tipped will also help. Of course, if you can do it, I think the ideal solution would be self-waterers, similar to those used for livestock! (I personally think they would find some way to make it stay on permanently and overflow all over, though.) And when you are hosing your kennels out, give the dogs a spray or two. They'll enjoy it!
The next key to cooling your Siberian is shade. I did not list it equally with the first, because, quite frankly, you cannot FORCE your Siberian to lay in the shade. This has been my particular problem. If your dog is uncomfortable, he will seek shade. So have lots of it available. There are numerous ways to provide shade. I think the best solution is trees all around the kennels. This is not easy to implement once the dogs are in place. Siberians like to eat trees. So many of us have to rely on tarps or sunscreens. Covering the entire south wall as well as the first few feet of the kennel is ideal. Of course, you need to customize this to your particular yard and its periods of sun. My kennel area has nothing around it for miles (OK, slight exaggeration), so there is ALWAYS a period during the day when there is little or no shade. I try to shade so that this time is early morning or evening, when the sun is the least intense. Start shading your dogs as soon as the threat of heavy snow (which would ruin your tarps) is gone and the sun is higher in the sky. You should probably shade from late March to October, if possible. Make sure that you poke holes in tarps (or any solid fabric), so that the rain doesn't weigh down and ruin them. Believe me, if the tarps dip low enough and the dog houses are high enough, you will have Siberians running around on tarps and jumping out of the kennels!
The surface that your dog lays on during the day can also playa part in his comfort. Asphalt is out for many reasons besides heat conduction. Concrete can also become warm. While it is not as uncomfortable to the touch as asphalt, for example, it reflects a lot of heat and will make your dog hotter. Your dog should have a dog house or wooden pallet to lay on to keep him off the concrete surface. The dogs are most comfortable with grass or dirt to lay on. And I say dirt, because that's what the yard will look like after they lay on it for awhile. My dogs have their own little molded wells to lie in - they've dug into the ground about 4 inches in a circular area that is roughly the shape of their body curled up. They each have one... or two... or three. [Actually, it's probably closer to one for every day of the week.]
When I lived in Arizona, my dogs used to sit IN the tree in the middle of the kennel. Let me explain. There was a large Palo Verde tree around which I built my kennels. A Palo Verde tree is light green, and starts branching about a foot off the ground. It has teeny, tiny leaves on very sharp, pointy branches. While it's shading ability is not even close to a large oak, for example, the temperature will drop about 20 degrees around it. This helps - a lot! Anyway, they are also very cool to the touch. So the dogs would lay on the lower branches of the tree in the worst heat of the day.
And, of course, the dogs themselves help keep cool in the summertime, by shedding all of their undercoat. I'm sure everyone is familiar with this activity! You need to assist your dog with this process by combing the hair out as soon as it comes loose. This not only helps your dog cool off sooner, it also helps him have a healthier, prettier coat because the dead, ugly stuff is gone and the combing action stimulates their new coat. If you leave the hair to fall out "naturally", it may never completely come out. It can also lead to "hot spots" - Acute Moist Dermatitis - which is a festering "wound" under the dead hair. There are many other causes for these, but heavily coated breeds like the Siberian Husky encounter this problem more often in hot/humid weather. It is thought to have something to do with lack of ventilation in the coat. Hot spots take a long time to cure once they set in, so brush that hair out!
I should note that the coats we get on our dogs here are MUCH denser that the coats they had in Arizona. The dogs seem to adjust to the different climates that way. This is how the Siberian Husky thrives wherever he lives. If you thought you had a problem getting a good coat here, though, try it in one of these hotter places. It can be a real challenge, because they don't get their coat in until October/November and it starts to fall out already in March! I should also mention that coat color doesn't seem to have as much affect on the dogs. While the black coats are warmer to the touch, the dogs with black coats do not seem to be any more uncomfortable than the other dogs. The biggest problems with coat color have to do with the sun and it's effects on the coat. This is where the importance of shade comes in. The red coats are very prone to sunburn. The black coats would come in a distant second. The grays, an even more distant third.
NEVER, NEVER, EVER leave your dog locked in a closed vehicle. The temperature in a car will build up quickly, especially on a sunny day. Your dog could be dead in less than 10 minutes! If you must leave your dog in your vehicle (such as at a dog show or similar type of event), make sure that there are open windows, doors, or tailgate - anything to get air flowing through. Try to park in the shade, and even take the kennels out of the vehicle and put them in the shade. You can put up tarps, but do not block the breeze. Leave the vehicle running with the air conditioning on high if necessary. If it is not essential to have your dog along, and you will be stopping and entering places where your dog is not welcome, do your dog a favor and leave him home! He will miss you while you are gone, but at least he will be alive to greet you when you return.
In summary, the best guideline I can give you to help keep your Siberian cool would be to follow the same things you would do for yourself. When people are hot, we remove clothing (get rid of "coat"), go swimming, and seek shade. Of course, some of us retreat to air conditioning. This can work for the dogs too, but you need to be careful: if your dog gets used to the air conditioning one day, but is stuck out in the kennel the next day, he will suffer more than if he is used to being out in the kennel all day (same policy holds for winter and heating). If you are going to bring your dogs into the air conditioning, do it consistently, or not at all. Most Siberians survive the summer heat outside just fine - with a little help from their owners!
Siberian Husky Club of the Twin Cities, Minnesota