We often refer to the dog’s fur as a “coat,” but that contributes to a misunderstanding of how the dog’s fur really works. Of course wearing a coat in summer the poor thing must be dreadfully warm! So let’s dispense with the word coat for this discussion. Instead, let’s think of the fur in terms of what it does, and that involves its functions for insulation and protection. As you know with a house, insulation is important to keep temperatures stable. You set a desired temperature on your thermostat, and the heat and air conditioning systems work to create and maintain that temperature. The insulation helps to separate the inside of your house from the outside so it is easier to get the temperature to stay where you set the thermostat. Take away the insulation, and your mechanical systems are going to have a heck of a time keeping your house at the temperature you desire. The inside will always want to match the outside if there is a poor barrier between the two.The insulation function of a dog’s fur works in the same way. Dogs have a core body temperature that they must maintain for the organs to function well. Generally this is in the vicinity of 100 to 102 degrees or so, give or take. The fur is what protects them from external stimuli that can cause that temperature to be harder to maintain. Without the fur as insulation, the heat gets in more easily and the body has to work that much harder to keep things stable.
Imagine shaving your head and being outside in the summer. Would it be cooler without that hair? Quite the contrary. You not only will feel the sun’s rays more intensely but you will be more subject to injury. OK, so you’re not shaving the dog down to the skin, so that isn’t a fair comparison, you might say. The physics are still the same. The sun and the heat can more easily affect the dog because the fur is not there as insulation to protect the dog from the external environment. Even if the temperature outside is lower than the dog’s body temperature, the sun and all the other environmental characteristics are now acting more directly on the dog because there isn’t that important layer of fur to insulate the skin. Dogs can get sunburned, and you may recall a time when you were outside in 90 degree weather, feeling the sun on your skin and thinking it felt a lot warmer than 90 degrees! Add to that experience the heat of pavement or a patio which are well over the ambient air temperature, and things can become dangerous quickly without some insulation or protection. A temperature of 90 degrees is barely suitable for a warm bath. But the sun hitting your skin with a 90 degree air temperature, or maybe more if you are near reflective or heat-absorbing surfaces? You will feel that! So will your dog, and it can be dangerous, especially for a dog without it’s normal protective layer of fur.
Fur also serves another purpose, and that is protection from physical elements. Fur provides an additional layer of protection against injury to the skin such as might occur from a good roll in the grass. The topcoat, which is what you see when you first look at your dog, also helps to repel dirt and debris and sheds water to some extent. Check that out the next time your dog is out in the rain for a short time. The top layer of fur will be wet, but the skin can still be fairly dry (depending on how long they are out and how hard it is raining. Some of my goldens didn’t know, or want, to come in from the rain so your mileage may vary).
Good care for a golden includes recognition that both the fur and the skin are important to your dog’s health. There is a need to be vigilant year round about good skin and fur care. Summer provides its own reasons and challenges in that regard. You and your dog may be outside more, playing in the grass, perhaps swimming or whatever summer fun you have in store together. Attention to cleanliness to remove contaminants (like all that wonderful pollen we have in Virginia) is important to keep the fur and skin healthy. Regular brushing and removal of mats will increase the effectiveness of the fur and the comfort of your dog. Keep the skin dry to help fight off hot spots. While tending to the fur, it is a great time to check for parasites like ticks and fleas; dangerous debris such as foxtails; and also lumps, bumps, or injuries to the skin. One of the best things you can do for your dog is catch a skin problem or a lump or growth early. To help your dog through the hot summer months, provide plenty of shade and water and monitor their activity and their behavior. Goldens do not always know when to quit when they are having fun.