Home > Agility, Agility Trials, Surfaces, Varia > On playing agility on outdoors artificial turf

On playing agility on outdoors artificial turf

The 2016 AAC National Agility Championships will be held in Montreal.

Wow! When I heard the news, I was ecstatic! Just a couple of hours from home. Short trip. Cool!

When I heard we were going to be playing on the soccer field of Ecole Secondaire de la Ponte-aux-Trembles, on artificial turf, I was very happy. I thought it would be great to run on a nice, smooth, even surface, no matter the weather. I did not give the surface a second thought, but then my experience of running on artificial turf/grass has been limited to a couple of indoor trials and training sessions.

Then, last week, the organizing committee posted on Facebook more information about the soccer field we will be using:

“Finding a perfectly even and athletic quality field that could hold 6 rings was an important objective for the organizing committee. In addition, for those who were in Sussex in 2014, it is easy to understand the fear of seeing a field deteriorate from one competitor to another. In Sussex, they had a field that resisted very well to the atrocious weather conditions. However, Montreal Island is known for its clay type soil in many areas. This can be disastrous in wet conditions, to the point where an event would need to be cancelled. Renting a one time use venue (predicting the soil’s capability to resist in wet conditions) was deemed too risky.

The choice was obvious; it would be artificial turf (Synthetic grass).
The site chosen has an excellent quality field surface (recently replaced- approximately 2 years old). New enough to avoid being patted down or worn out, yet old enough to be broken in. Thanks to local government support, we obtained special permission to use it for a canine event.

Many worry about the heat from the turf on paw pads. On a bright and sunny day during summer, it is undeniable that artificial turf is hotter than natural grass. We tested by checking if we could leave an open palm hand easily over 10 seconds on a very hot day, with no clouds at high noon. There was no problem in doing so. There is no danger for burning pads due to the heat. However, the committee acknowledges needing to find ways to reduce the discomfort caused by the heat floating off the turf in the waiting areas and for the volunteers who will be there for hours.”

Reading the text I highlighted above, sent me some warning signs. I had not “clicked” until this post came up on Facebook.

Considering that the dogs will have to spend more than 10 seconds on that surface, and also not having any idea of exactly how hot such surface can become, I set out to find some answers.

The first things I found were journal articles about the 2015 Women FIFA World Cup held here in Canada, outdoors on artificial grass. Here in Ottawa, on a 25C day (air temperature) the artificial turf the soccer players had to play on was at 55C. The women at the FIFA World Cup kept their cleats on ice before going in the field. And developed blisters in their toes because of the heat of the surface. In June.

I then discovered that there isn’t much research done on the issue of artificial turf overheating and most of the research has been concerned with their toxicity. However, there is a reputable source of information: the Penn State University Center for Sport Surface Research:


This year they studied the effect of irrigation on synthetic turf temperature:


The study was conducted at Penn State’s Center for Sports Surface Research on June 24, 2015 on a FieldTurf Revolution plot that had been installed in 2012. Weather conditions were sunny, breezy, with clouds moving in at about 3:00 PM and lasting for the remainder of data collection.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I highly recommend having a look at Figure 1 on the above article, which clearly shows how the temperature of artificial turf (control – yellow) increases, how lower the temperature of “real” turf is (blue)  and how frequent water irrigation can help keeping the artificial turf temperature down. Also, one can see from table 1 that when the air temperature was 75F (23.8C), at 2:30 pm , the artificial turf had reached its highest temperature for that day, of 155.7F (68.7C). Already at 11:55 am the non watered artificial turf (control) temperature was 143.6F (62C), while the air temperature was only 70F (21C). It is also interesting to note that at 3:30 pm, 30 minutes after the cloud cover established itself over the field, the non watered artificial turf temperature had dropped significantly to 124.9F (51.6C) while the air temperature was higher than at 2:30 pm at 78F (25.6C).

The article also indicates that turf temperature is dependent on how the sun rays hit the surface. On a sunny but relatively cool day with no cloud cover the artificial turf will likely be hotter than on a warmer day where there is a cloud cover or a significant amount of haze.

The above may be misleading as one may think the day is sunny but not hot and not be prepared for a high artificial turf temperature.

Another good image can be found on this article and it shows clearly how between natural grass, sand, cement (pavement) and artificial turf, the latter reaches the highest temperature on a given day: http://turf.uark.edu/turfhelp/archives/021109.html

As for burns, according to AntiScald Inc., at 55C one can develop a second degree burn in 17 seconds and a third degree burn in 30 seconds, while those times go down to 2 seconds and 5 seconds respectively at a temperature of 60C (http://www.antiscald.com/prevention/general_info/table.php). They are referring to human skin and not dog paw pads. But it is still an indication of the potential danger of a hot surface.

Because of the above,  I wonder what the AAC Nationals organizing committee means by “no danger”.

Not only the scientific data indicate that outdoors artificial turf can overheat and become an issue. But the recommendations I received from fellow competitors who have experienced trialling or working with their dogs outdoors on artificial turf on a sunny day are not those one would get if there was “no danger”.

I asked questions on the Agility Europe Facebook group, as I know that in Europe they trial on many different surfaces and I sent a private message to a Facebook friend who is very active in agility and plays at a very competitive level.

My post on the Agility Europe Facebook group can be found here:


Kristýna Hrazdilová comments on my post on the Agility Europe Facebook group: “We had a third qualification competition (2 days) on artificial grass in conditions you describe (temperatures about 35°C) – Impossible to step on the grass barefoot, but during the 2 days just several dog paws were hurt. It was very important to keep dogs in shadow, wet and minimize the time spend on the grass. So it is possible (and possibly safe) to compete in such conditions, however not optimal”

Monika Rylska  comments: “plus remember to wet your dog but keep his paws dry – wet paws plus hot artificial surface will surely scratch skin off”

Susan Fallon Paulsen comments: “Yes, our nationals in the USA for USDAA was like that. It can get very hot so wet your dog down. Also, the turf can get very slick.”

My Facebook friend, in a private message, told me that he has done a 3 week-ends camp on 3rd generation astroturf. Air temperatures were 30-35C. They would do a maximum of 4 minutes on the turf, and only from early morning till 11 am. Then they would pause till 5 pm when the sun was starting to set. From 9 am on, they watered the field every hour to cool it down. They also wet the dogs every time they went on the field. With those precautions, a few dogs got minor burns, likely due to a combination of hot temperature of the turf and friction.

Because of all of the above, the statement “There is no danger for burning pads due to the heat.” by the AAC Nationals 2016 organizing committee appears to be a gross misrepresentation of what things could really be like at the 2016 Nationals on an outdoor artificial grass field, given “unfavourable” weather conditions like a bright sunny day. I was hoping the field was provided of an automatic irrigation system, but I just received confirmation from the organizing committee that there is none.

Had I not gone through this exercise, I would not think of the necessity of watering down my dog before a run on artificial turf when the air temperature is, for example, 25C, when the day is pleasantly sunny and not humid. I would not know that the artificial turf, if my run is at 2:30 pm, may be at a temperature close to 70C. I would not know of the need, in such conditions, to minimize contact of my dog’s paws with the artificial turf. And my dog would still risk burning his pads because of the turf temperature and the friction on that surface. Had I not gone through this exercise I would believe, because of the statement by the organizing committee, that everything is fine. Until stepping on that surface, for the first time, on a bright sunny 25C day. That would also likely be the last run my dog would run at that event. Because he would likely burn his pads.

I understand the attempt of the AAC Nationals organizing committee to have all competitors run on the same turf, not on a turf that deteriorates due to unfavourable weather conditions as more and more dogs run on it. However, I do not think they solved this problem. Between the first dog running an event at 8:30 am and a dog running that same event on that same turf at 11:00 am, the turf will still be the same in terms of evenness of the surface . However, the turf will be at a much higher temperature for the latter dog, potentially so hot as to cause burns due to heat + friction or heat alone, depending on the atmospheric conditions. How is this any better? And, how is this the same turf for all competitors?

What I really dislike, however, is the false sense of security that the AAC Nationals organizing committee is giving to competitors. I certainly hope nothing will happen, that the 4-7 of August 2016 will be all overcast breezy days and no sun rays will hit the artificial turf of the six agility rings.

And, I wonder which value would have a waiver signed by competitors under the misleading information publicly given by the organizing committee that “there is no danger of burning pads due to the heat”, if anything happened…

I have been criticized for spreading some of this information on my Facebook wall, I have been told that anything can be made look scary, that the 10 seconds hand test is a well accepted test, that if I can hold my hand for 10 seconds on pavement my dog can walk across it.

However, my Facebook wall is mine to do as I please. I did not offend anybody. I just stated my concerns and some of my early findings. One may take it or leave it. Or just read it and remain indifferent, or of course comment on it. Nobody is forced to read the stuff I post on my wall. Or to take it at face value.  As for making things look scary, I disagree. I am just putting together whatever I found out there. Both from scientific sources and from fellow competitors who answered my questions.

My job, that pays for my agility, consists on finding out information. Both from scientific sources, blogs, patents. Anything I can find about a certain topic, made available to the public in any possible form. And what I posted here is out there for anybody wanting to look and read it.

I am a chemist. I do understand what I have read. I may not get much about politics or economics, but I do understand heat, conductivity and temperature and polymers and so on, even if at first I had not paid much attention.

I also understand that my dog will not be trotting on cement. He will be running full speed ahead on a possibly very hot surface, a surface likely hotter than cement (see above article from Arkansas U). He will be weaving, doing tight turns, accelerating and decelerating. There will be significant friction with a surface that can already inflict friction burns when cool. And while the hand on a surface for 10 seconds may be considered as a good empirical way to see whether a dog can walk on a hot surface, I do not consider it a valid test to determine whether it can run and decelerate abruptly and turn sharply on the same hot surface.

I now have a much better idea of the potential dangers of outdoors astroturf on a sunny, not necessarily hot, summer day.

And I have also read carefully the recommendations of my fellow competitors.

As far as I am concerned, when I will decide whether to go to Nationals, I will have made an informed decision, not one based on what, so far, to me looks like a wrong and dismissive “no danger” statement, which does nothing more than spreading a false sense of security. Because us commoners, without looking into the issue, with just that statement, would only consider the usual precautions we take when running our dogs in conditions of extreme heat. We would not think that a surface we run on can be at 68.7C when the air temperature is a pleasant 23.8C as shown by the folks at the Centre for Sport Surface Research of Penn State University.

A last thought goes to the judges of the event, and to the volunteers, who may be faced with sitting or walking for several hours on a surface that can heat up to 70C on a nice ordinary sunny day. The organizing committee mentions that “the committee acknowledges needing to find ways to reduce the discomfort caused by the heat floating off the turf in the waiting areas and for the volunteers who will be there for hours.” I am looking forward to their solution, especially for the judges. As this type of event has been run on outdoors astroturf abroad, I am sure it can be done also here. I just cannot see everything stopping every single hour to water down the whole soccer field at an event where about 500 dogs need to run 2 courses every day, if the need arose. After all in Sussex they did not stop during the downpours unless, like during my gamblers run, the scribe was unable to hear the judge…

Regardless of what I will decide to do, hopefully all the stars will align in the universe and August 4-7 2016 will be 4 great overcast days in Montreal.


As an aside, the city of Barcelona (Spain) public agility field is artificial turf. But there is an automatic irrigation system (according to the info I found online). This appears to be the best way to dissipate the heat and cool this type of surface.


A short summary with recommendations from Penn State U:


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