Yesterday my fellow editor, Susan Chaney, wrote about the dangers of the high temperatures outside and what to do if you think your dog has heatstroke. It seems that every year someone going to or from a show loses at least one dog to the heat, so we can’t be reminded too often that being alert and prepared is the key to keeping dogs safe when traveling in the summer. I want to reiterate to everyone to err on the side of caution in keeping your dogs comfortable, and to offer a few tips from my own experience about how to be prepared.

When I worked for Bob Peebles back in the ‘90s, we traveled in a big Dodge van that was a great vehicle, reliable for a couple of hundred thousand miles. But one summer when the van was fairly new, we were on our way to shows in West Texas, and a couple of hours from Houston the air coming out of the vents suddenly went tepid, and within minutes the air conditioning had gone out.

We were more or less in the middle of nowhere, and on a Friday evening there was no hope of finding a place to get it repaired. In any case, the priority was just to get the dogs to a cool location as quickly and safely as possible, and that meant going home. But first we had to ensure that the dogs would be cool on the ride back.That day became a great lesson for me in being prepared for the dangerous summer heat.

Keeping dogs cool and hydrated when traveling in hot weather requires advanced preparation. Photo © Can Stock Photo/Melpomene.

It was late in the day when this happened, but in Texas, as in many places, the temperatures in the summer can stay in the 90s even several hours after dark. Still, we were grateful it wasn’t the hottest part of the day. We happened to have a big ice chest in the van, into which we had put several big bags of ice on our way out of town. So, after finding a place to park in the shade, we took the show towels that were packed and soaked them in the water in the ice chest, and after wringing them out a bit, put a cold, wet towel in each crate for the dogs to lie on.

We also had our usual big jug of drinking water for the dogs, so, although we of course wouldn’t have ordinarily traveled with water in the crates, I filled each of their water dishes about half full. We opened every window in the van, and set out to make our way back home.

I stayed in the back of the van and just monitored all the dogs. Every so often I took each towel out, soaked it in ice water again and put it back underneath each dog. They didn’t all enjoy being damp, that I remember! But it certainly helped keep them safe. I don’t think we ever left home again without an ice chest full of ice, whether there was anything else in it or not.

Today there are so many cooling devices available for dogs, including mats that are activated by putting them in the freezer or in cold water and those that dissipate the dog’s body heat without having to be put in the fridge or freezer, as well as cooling coats, battery-operated fans and more. I don’t think it’s as important what you pack to cool your dogs off in case of an emergency, as it is that you make sure you’re prepared by packing something that will help keep them cool.

Handlers, by necessity, are accustomed to anticipating the worst and being prepared, and most owners probably travel with at least a jug of water in the car during the summer, which can be used to wet a dog down should the car break down or the air conditioning go out. So this is just a reminder that keeping an ice chest in your vehicle – filled with ice before you get on the road – along with a stack of towels, those pet “shammies” that hold water and stay cool, or cooling mats of some kind, one for every dog in your vehicle, is very inexpensive insurance against a catastrophe. And no one should ever travel with dogs in the summer without an adequate supply of water.

Several things go without saying: during the summer it is best to travel early in the morning or late in the evening, instead of during the hottest part of the day; have your air conditioning serviced regularly if you’re traveling with dogs; never, ever leave dogs unattended in a closed vehicle except during winter months when it is cold. Even in spring and fall, even when it is 68 degrees and beautiful outdoors, the temperature in an enclosed vehicle can rise much more quickly than you can imagine. There’s no point in taking that risk. And if you leave your engine or a generator running with the air conditioning on, you still must open the vehicle doors and feel for yourself that the air is still cool and circulating at short intervals, because systems can – and as most of us know, do – fail.

For just a few dollars you can keep a large ice chest full of ice and water available to help your dogs in case of an emergency. Be sure you’re prepared.