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It's that time of year again! Beautiful weather and nice sunshine is coming! It makes for very nice outings, but it can also be a frustrating time for dog owners and dog lovers. Those who like to bring their dogs along for the ride because their dogs love to be there and those who spot a dog in a car and worry that the dog is in distress.
On a relatively nice day of 70°, the internal temps of a vehicle can reach 113° within an hour.
The Summer sun is nothing to mess with!
There are definitely times when a dog may need help, but it's important to know the signs definitively rather than making rash decisions. Smashing windows is an extreme reaction and is often unwarranted. It could lead to prosecution and legal charges, but more importantly, it can put the dog at a greater risk of danger.
So how can you tell if a dog needs help?
What are the signs that a dog is actually in distress?
How can you help without putting the dog at further risk?
There is a video that circulates yearly. Perhaps you've seen it. It presents a person smashing a window and releasing a small white dog from a black BMW.
From what is shown in the video, there are no signs that the dog is in distress. He was a happy little dog, enthusiastically jumping from the back seat to the front seat to engage with the crowd that was forming around the vehicle.
This is the first sign that a dog is not in immediate danger. A dog in distress will be panting, quiet, lethargic and quite possibly non-responsive. Without external influence to excite the dog, instinct will help them conserve energy and keep quiet to keep body temps low.
If the dog is excited and happily bouncing around to visit with company or reactively guarding the car, it's NOT in immediate danger. While it may be warm in the vehicle, there is time to try other means of helping the dog before resorting to what should be the last option - breaking a window.
In the video, after the man smashes the rear window with a giant rock, he pulls the dog out of the vehicle. At this point, the dog is still not showing signs of distress. He's bouncy and happy to have new friends. The man then allows others in the crowd to play with the dog. They put him on the ground and the video continues to show us a happy, playful dog rompin off-leash with his new friends.
There are several things wrong with this scenario. Here are some of the things you can do to help rather than potentially hurt and put the dog in further danger.
Make Sure There Actually is a Dog in the Car!
Two years ago, a fellow dog competitor came out of a store to find her windows smashed and a person ranting at her about her irresponsibility leaving dogs in a hot car. The owner of the car proceeded to explain that while there were dog crates in the car, there were no dogs in them! She had left her dogs at home that day because she knew it would be too hot in the car. The window smasher was charged with Vandalism and forced to make restitution.
This happens more than you'd think....
Keep a distance and do NOT excite the dog!
If you see a dog in a car, it is crucial for their well being that you keep a distance and NOT excite or upset them! Adding excitement to this scenario will quickly put the dog in more danger as the excitement will raise the dog's body temperature and escalate the threat of heat stroke. Keep watch from a distance.
Note the Time
You'll want to keep track of how much time is passing. This is a very important detail. You'll want to accurately keep track of how long the dog has been in the car. When we're stressed, it's difficult to keep accurate track of time. Sometimes minutes seem like hours! Keep an eye on the clock as you watch the car from a safe distance.
Make an Announcement
If you are at a store, note the License Plate and have the manager make an announcement calling for the owner of the vehicle. Once they appear, be calm and express your concern. Picking a fight will only distract you both and leave the dog in potential danger.
In all likelihood, the person loves their dog.
They may not realize they've put the dog in danger, or they may have taken measures to ensure the dog stays cool (leaving water and fans, having access to information about the internal temperature of the vehicle, etc.) Always consider the fact that the owner may have taken precautions to keep the dog safe.
Call the Police or Animal Control
If the clock is ticking, the person has not appeared and you are truly concerned about the dog's welfare, call 911. The Police will have the authority to make a judgement call and break glass if they need to. They'll also have proper tools and training to be able to do so safely. If time allows, let the authorities take over!
Do not throw rocks!
If the dog is actually in distress and you're left with no other option but to resort to breaking a window, throwing rocks or other large objects to do so can lead to disaster. With no control over where the rock will bounce or end up after the glass smashes, it could cause serious harm to anyone in the area including the thrower or the dog. Car windows are actually quite hard to break and the hardest part is dead centre. Experts suggest using a sharp, hard object, like a screwdriver or hammer and aiming for the window edges.
Try to Secure the Dog
Allowing the dog to be off-leash outside of the vehicle could open the scene up to other disasters like the possibility of the dog running into traffic. Not all dogs will be as excited to meet new friends. Some will be terrified by this sort of scenario and will run! Some dogs could react aggressively and hurt someone in the crowd. Animal control will have the ability to safely contain the dog. If you can safely leash the dog, do so.
Keep Things Calm
Do not continue to excite the dog. If the dog truly is in danger of overheating, measures need to be taken to calm and cool the dog.
If the dog is in distress, move them to a shaded and quiet area. Offer them small amounts of cool (not cold) water to drink as you continue to douse them with cool (not cold) water until their breathing is calmed. Cold water can cause the dog to go into shock. Cool water will help to gradually return the dog's body temperature to normal.
So what should you do if you see a dog in a car on a hot day? Don't panic and don't assume. If the dog is still alert and interested, they are not in immediate danger. Take a moment and think through things calmly to make the right move.
...And as you are leaving the house to run errands, if the temps are high, leave your dog home!
It could save their life.
Be safe everyone!
Hi! I'm Shannon and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members. Join us for a FREE lesson at MyDogCan.McCannDogs.com.