To Fur or Not To Fur

I work my Border Collie in the heat of the day and he often gets very hot. I need to know the best way to avoid overheating him. I really can't tell if wetting him down and having him lay in the shade helps any better than just resting and cooling off naturally. I have considered having his winter coat sheared or seriously groomed next spring but I have read a few pros and many cons on this subject. I'm at a loss as to what to do.... HELP!

Okay. Okay. Here's the story.......

It seems to make sense to get rid of your dog's fur to help it cool. Lose the coat to prevent overheating. Like we take our jackets off on a hot spring day. The theory sounds great but doesn't survive closer scrutiny. First, almost all open plain mammals of sub-Saharan Africa retain their coats. There are no naked lions or naked wildebeests. Instead they have short but dense coats. Exposure of the skin to the air certainly increases heat loss but also exposes one to heat gain and damage by the direct sun. Experiments in the desert show light clothing may reduce heat loss by curtailing water evaporation but reduces heat gain by 55 percent as compared to without it. Heavier, looser clothing of the Arabs is the best.

Obviously, smooth coat Border Collies have an advantage in hot weather. Ask any Border Collie owner in Texas or any lion in Zaire. Less of a coat is better but too little is a problem.

If you have your choice and you want to work long hot hours, you get a smooth coat Border Collie. If you're already stuck with a rough coat, do you shave him to resemble a smooth coat? No. The answer lies in how the coats develop in the two kinds. Smooth coats have much denser fur, like a giraffe or wildebeest. Rough coats may have more hair but it's a lot less compact than their smooth counterparts. If you shave them, you end up with a short-haired, low hair density dog. (Which is why shaved rough coat Border Collies get sunburned and smooth Border Collies don't). This isn't what you want as the heat gained will outdo any heat loss. What you want to do with a rough coat is to get rid of the undercoat, with an undercoat rake or brush. You want to make your dog out like an Arabic Border Collie. Loose fitting fur that completely covers the skin. That'll keep them protected from the heat gain of the sun and yet allow air to circulate in their undercoat to cool them off. Just because they don't sweat doesn't mean they don't lose heat through their skin. It's just not as efficient as us.

Allowing your dog to dunk itself in water is THE best way to get them to cool off (with the exception of staying indoors in the AC). Heck even your dog knows this as it heads for the lake or water trough every chance it gets. Being submerged in water dissipates heat very rapidly and cools down their body core temperature enough for them to go out again and give it another go round. Heat loss as it remains wet (for the next 5 minutes) is probably negligibly better than being dry. The important point is being dunked in the water in the first place.

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Page last updated January 7, 1998. All material Copyright 2004 Border Collie Rescue, Inc. and Dr. Nicholas B. Carter
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