A Labrador lying in the grass
A Labrador lying in the grass

Dealing with Heat Stroke 

Heat stroke can be fatal, and working dogs are at risk if not managed appropriately in warm weather. Even a dog at rest can become too hot in certain conditions so, if you’re working with a dog on a warm day, be vigilant about their management to ensure their safety and comfort. 

Vet Rebecca Bailey has the following guidance on spotting heat stroke in dogs.

Early stages:

  • Uncontrollable panting
  • Poor responsiveness to being called
  • Staggering gait or appears weak on standing

More advanced:

  • Unco-ordinated movements 
  • Paddling leg movements/seizures 
  • Flicking eye movements 
  • Excess salivation/frothing at the mouth

If your dog is exhibiting advanced signs of heat stroke, seek veterinary care immediately.

Heat Stroke First Aid 

It is important to act quickly if you suspect your dog has got too hot and could be suffering from heat stroke. 


Seek shade and allow a good half an hour in the shade before moving on.


Use whatever you have at your disposal to immerse or soak the dog with cold water but do not let the dog swim unattended.


Create airflow either via a fan or through open windows in a moving car.

If symptoms persist or worsen, seek veterinary assistance. 

How to avoid heat stroke

To avoid heat stroke, it is important to remember how dogs regulate their temperature and what could compromise their ability to regulate their temperature.

Understanding how dogs regulate their temperature 

A Labrador lying down panting

Where we can seek shade, shed layers and sweat to regulate our body temperature, dogs rely on other methods:

  • Seek shade
  • Lie down on a cool surface
  • Pant (which in itself can generate heat).

How does panting help regulate their temperature? 

As an overheated dog pants, you’ll notice that the tongue becomes very red and almost slightly swollen. This is caused by the superficial blood vessels on the tongue dilating and allowing hot blood to run close to the surface. This, in turn, warms the saliva on the tongue which as it evaporates takes heat with it.

The efficiency by which a dog can lose heat is determined very much by its environment and what level of activity the dog is doing at the time.

Managing a dog at rest

Access to water and shade is vital in the management of our dogs. Remember panting results in water loss as well as heat loss so you’ll need to top their water bowl up more frequently.

The kennel

A labrador behind a kennel fence

This can often be a great place for a dog to be in hot weather providing a few of the following apply:

Provide cool stone or concrete flooring

Wood and rubber mats are great for winter insulation, but stone will be much cooler for them to lie on in warm weather.

Ensure there is shelter from direct sunlight

Although many dogs do enjoy sunbathing, after a while they will generally stagger off to a cooler place. Some kennels have an inner sleeping area in a converted barn or cattle shed. This gives good shelter from direct sunlight over a larger area so keeping the surrounding air cooler too.

Ensure there is good airflow

Effective evaporation can only take place if there is a current of air to help move the heat away. An airy outside run with shade or a large ventilated indoor area is good. 

Avoid a small wooden kennel with no areas of shade in the run as it will act like an oven.

In the car

Four dogs in the back of a 4x4

Cars can quickly become a dangerous environment to leave a dog in warm weather if appropriate measures have not been taken. Never leave a dog in a hot car. 

Ensure good ventilation

Window guards are available which can safely let you leave a good air gap alternatively there are cages/transit boxes which fit snugly across the back of the car below the boot lid, these will allow you to safely leave the boot open and provide lots of airflow.

Park in the shade

Remember to plan ahead, as the sun moves so will the shade so aim to face the car into the sun so the boot is shaded by the body of the car as much as possible. Ideally, park well under the trees.

Shade your windows

Consider using reflective shields/blinds. Some trucks now have blacked-out windows which can be very effective.

Managing a dog in training or working tests 

A Labrador carrying a dummy in its mouth

When to train 

We cannot govern the time of day that the tests can take place, but we can choose when to train. In hotter months, train early in the morning or later in the evening.

Be particularly careful about walking on tarmac in hot weather. If you can’t place the back of your hand on it for more than a few seconds, it is too hot for your dog to walk on.

Seek shade

If the car cannot be parked in the shade then try to do as much waiting in the shade between runs as possible.

Encourage the dog to relax between runs 

Help your dog relax in the shade between runs and don’t take it round with you as you socialise and soak up the summer sun. You want to try to avoid the dog getting over-excited at this point and allow it to recover from its exercise.

Allow your dog to drink little and often

Huge intakes of water will lie heavily in the stomach and make it less inclined to move later when it’s time to run.

If you are running your dog at a test and it is getting hot and bothered, consider retiring it early in the day – there is no shame in this. You will have a dog to run again another day rather than a huge vet’s bill or no dog. 

Preparation is key 

The British weather is predictably unpredictable so it’s safer to assume the day is going to be hot even if it starts cloudy. Have everything you need with you to help manage your dog in warm conditions. 

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