Before the temperature dropped 20 degrees in a few minutes, we had a beautiful warm day last week, and the dogs and I went for a hike. Our walk takes us past a few cooling brooks - or one meandering stream. Larry, our Chinook, loves bounding through the water and cooling off. Despite his refreshing splashes, Larry's tongue was dragging by the time we got back to the car. And Larry has a really long tongue to be dragging! It got me thinking about dogs' tongues - the long and short of them.
I was quite surprised when I first saw photos of sled dogs running full out. What was astounding was their tongues. They were so long that they reached back practically to the dogs' ears. As a sled dog breed, Larry's incredibly long tongue makes sense. Sled dogs are bred to run full out for hours at a time, and a long tongue helps them in this activity.
The reason? Dogs' tongues are critical to regulating their body temperature.
Dogs don't cool off the way people do. We have sweat glands all over our bodies, including in our armpits. We sweat through our skin pores, and as uncomfortable as we may feel when we're sweaty, the evaporation of the moisture on our skin is what helps regulate our body temperatures in the heat. This evaporation is cooling, which is why we're more uncomfortable in high humidity. We can't cool off when the air is damp, and our sweat doesn't evaporate and cool us.
Dogs have an entirely different cooling process. They don't have sweat glands in their armpits or sweat through their pores as we do. They sweat through their foot pads, but that's not an efficient way for a dog's body to cool off. You might occasionally notice your dog's damp footprints, especially on a dark floor, which indicates he's sweating through his pads. This often happens when the dog is anxious.
A dog pants with his mouth open and tongue out to cool his body. The process of panting with tongue extended helps cool the dog through the evaporation process. Air circulating throughout the surface of the dog's mouth, tongue, cheeks and lungs causes evaporation, which helps cool the dog.
An important note, it's just as crucial for your dog to drink water to rehydrate as it is for us when we're sweating. Provide your dog with cool, clean water available at all times, but especially when it's hot and when your dog has been exercising or playing.
Speaking of keeping your dog cool, some dog owners think it's good to shave their dogs in the summer under the mistaken belief removing a dog's coat will help to cool her.
In fact, the opposite is true. Your dog's coat helps keep her cool, protects her from sunburn and bugs. It is important, however, to make sure that any undercoat or mats are removed. Hair mats will make your dog both uncomfortable and warm, so make sure your dog is well-brushed-out, removing all of the dead undercoat and tangles.
Gail Fisher, the author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic for this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website, alldogsgym.com.