When the temperature gets into the high 20s and low 30s, a Labrador retriever knows what to do: dive into the nearest body of water, preferably in pursuit of a log twice its own weight, and repeat the process until well past the first frost.

After all, no one on land loves a wet Labrador. We're told that dogs have evolved over centuries so that they can shake off 70 per cent of the water in their fur in four seconds. Despite their short fur, for Labs this means a life-threatening amount of water deposited on all bystanders.

For other breeds, hot weather offers other challenges. My Aussie shepherd Merlin didn't even like to get his feet wet, but he loved to get out into the woods when the duff -- the twigs and needles underfoot -- was as dry and explosive as gunpowder.

Nice pants!

An Aussie's tongue may be the best cooling device around. Panting enabled Merlin (and his companion Lily) to prowl our park in scorching weather, all the while checking on other visitors and residents: not just dogs, but the occasional coyote, skunk, raccoon and bear. Meanwhile I skulked from shade to shade, ignorant of the wealth of data my dogs were picking up as they surfed the aromas of the summer woods.

Perhaps I couldn't smell as acutely as Merlin and Lily, but I could at least guess at what they were learning. Sometimes it was more than a guess. As a young guy, Merlin loved a summer hunt in long grass, whether in the Fraser Delta or Moberley Meadow in Jasper National Park. Between his nose and his motion-sensitive eyes, he could lock on to some field mouse or other small rodent. Then came a bounce and pounce: a leap into the air and a ballistic trajectory onto a living target that somehow always eluded him. He didn't seem to mind.

At other times, a dog can be blissfully oblivious. Once in the woods, while Merlin and Lily were just a few steps away, I looked down into the eyes of a nervous skunk who was scratching with his front paws and clearly planning to do me harm. Somehow I got the dogs and myself away from it without consequences. I haven't always been so lucky: just the other day, Lily got skunked in her own back yard. If we don't like the smell of skunk, what must dogs think?

Or do they enjoy it like the olfactory equivalent of a rock concert? After all, they love to roll around in something putrid, as if to bring home a topic of conversation: Hey, folks, get a load of this dead salmon! Cool, eh?

In the moment

At other times, dogs are keenly aware of who's around. We get bears in our Deep Cove neighbourhood, and the dogs know it, but they don't approve. Once, when a mother bear and her cub spent a morning in our front yard, just outside a sliding glass door, Merlin kept his back to them while fixing us with a reproachful eye: Shouldn't we doing something about these invaders?

Watching a dog in summer is to attend a seminar in the enjoyment of life. When not swimming or panting, a dog will always find the coolest patch of floor in the house. When I retreat to the basement, Lily follows me downstairs, flops on the concrete floor, and goes into a contented coma. With more sense, and a little extra padding, I'd do the same. Only a summer thunderstorm (or those damned Symphony of Light fireworks) may worry them. Gun dogs like Labradors, of course, don't even notice.

Other seasons will come and go, and dogs will take them in their stride. A wet November pre-dawn morning tests the human-canine relationship, but it's we who feel sorry for ourselves; the dog literally shakes off the problem (or 70 per cent of it) and trusts us to deal with the other 30 per cent.

At any time of year, our dogs are our personal trainers, getting us up and out where we belong -- in the woods and fields and on the beaches, patrolling our real property. If we are as wise as they are, we'll recognize how valuable that property really is... and how valuable our dogs are to us.  [Tyee]

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