June is here! That means the heat is coming and my dog, Riggins, is not OK with that.
Riggins’ birthday is at the end of June. At that point, he will be 11 years old. He’s a black German Shepherd Pointer and Samoyed mix. His Samoyed daddy gifted him with a crazy thick coat of fur complete with undercoat. He is not a fan of hot weather.
We live in L.A., which, due to an ongoing five-year drought, is like living in the middle of the Sahara. It’s warm all year long, crazy hot during the summer, and unbearably hot one to four weeks a year. When the heat starts to get turned up, Riggins goes into a seasonal hibernation. It’s like his battery gets switched to “power-down” mode.
The first step in getting summer-ready is “the great shed.” At first glance, you wouldn’t think Riggins is a big shedder, but then you’d notice piles of black dog hair collected in every corner of my house. I remember seeing an episode of A&E’s Hoarders where a young man never wanted to sweep up his dog’s hair because, in his mind, it was killing his dog. As I vacuum up balls of Riggins’ discarded fur, I often think that poor guy wouldn’t last one day in my house. Unlike the dog-hair dude, I LOVE when Riggins’ balls of cast-aside fluff get sucked away. It’s the great shed vs. Wendy, and I plan on winning!
As Riggins’ undercoat sheds and becomes loose, tuffs of silver-colored hair start showing up on my pup’s thighs and bum. It’s a fun game (if you dare to play) to identify the loose hair, grab it, and pull the no-longer-attached fur away in clumps. This is about the time I start warning anyone who pets him to do so at their own risk, as it is a guarantee they will come away with an extra layer of black hair attached to their arms and clothing.
As the shedding slows down, so does Riggins’ energy level. This is when summer hibernation really kicks in. There is a lot more napping and a lot less activity. A short walk or hike results in the rest of the day being sprawled on the human bed, tummy up, legs spread wide, to get as much cool air from the ceiling fan as possible.
Hikes and adventures have to happen early in the morning — extremely early in the morning. Even then, when the morning starts to heat up, Riggins does his best to stay cool. He’s learned the command “go find some shade” and will jog ahead until he finds a bush or tree that allows him to be comfortable while he hangs out and waits for everyone else to catch up. If he does get caught in direct sunlight, it only takes a minute or two before his black fur is hot to the touch.
I’ve invested in a cooling vest, which helps a ton. On our hiking adventures, I carry enough extra water to be mistaken for a camel. We go out early and focus on a trail with shade and/or water. Those trails with water aren’t necessarily Riggins’ favorite. Even at his hottest, his fear of water keeps him from throwing himself into the cool and refreshing liquid. I’ll get him to wade in far enough that I can splash his belly to help cool him down.
When L.A. really gets steamy, we have no choice but to just stay at home and cruise around in the air-conditioned car when we need to get out of the house.
Every year, I forget how bad the heat affects my sweet baby boy and think about how much older he is getting. Which, I suppose he is. But then fall comes along and with it cooler temperatures. Riggins responds by gaining energy and shaking off the hot weather funk. The difference in his personality and energy level between hot and cool days is dramatic.
This year is going to be tough. We are both dreading it. A well-publicized El Nino skipped our little section of the world this winter so our upcoming summer is looking to extend into La Nina and a dry fall/winter. Poor Riggins’ summer-heat timeout may last a little longer than normal.
It’s time to start making chicken-broth popsicles, pick up a wading pool (even if my silly mutt doesn’t want to get wet), and pull out all his cooling items (bed, vest, scarf, etc.). Who is afraid of winter? SUMMER IS COMING!
Do you have any suggestions to help Riggins and me survive the upcoming hot season? Please share any tips you have in the comments.