Use these 6 tips to keep your dog cool while bird hunting.
We are heading into spring and summer training seasons and things are beginning to heat up, but bird dogs and high temperatures just don’t mix. Heatstroke is unforgiving and can happen very quickly, just ask the South Dakota pheasant hunters who had more than 100 dogs succumb to heat stroke one unseasonably hot opening day. With a few key points to focus on you can safely hunt and train your dog in higher temps while avoiding this kind of tragedy.
#1: How hot is too hot?
Without knowing your particular dog and what kind of shape it is in, a good rule of thumb is to be extra mindful of overheating and heatstroke when temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Some dogs can handle higher temperatures, some dogs can’t. Know your dog.
#2: Hunt water, not birds.
I try to plan my training sessions and warm weather hunts around water sources. I will travel from cattle tank to cattle tank or hunt parallel to a creek so that my dog has as many opportunities to have a drink or cooling dunk as he can get. Planning a death march, where the only water is what you carry, is a dangerous gamble. Hunting water works to my advantage since birds need drinking water just as much as the rest of us.
You can use google earth and a GPS to plan a route prior to your hunt, that will lead you to water. Keep in mind creeks and ponds can go dry and just because you see water on your computer screen doesn’t mean it will be there when you need it. This bit of extra research could save a life.
#3: Hydrate early, hunt longer.
It’s my experience that getting my dog to jump in a creek or cattle tank to cool off and hydrate within the first half hour of a hunt will greatly decrease his need for water throughout the remainder of the hunt or training session. This doesn’t eliminate his need to cool off or keep hydrated as the day wears on, but he seems to get the most out of that first cool down; it takes the edge off for the rest of the hunt unless temperatures become completely unmanageable.
#4: Teach your dog to drink from a bottle rather than a bowl.
Teaching your dog to pull water from a water bottle spout wastes less water than dumping water into a bowl. How many times have you poured the leftover water your dog doesn’t drink back into the bottle and spilled half of it? Not only is this wasting a precious resource but your own potential drinking water is contaminated with dog saliva. A good way to teach your dog to drink from a bottle is to let him get thirsty during a moderate work out and make sure the only water available is in your bottle. Most dogs figure it out quickly. As they become more comfortable drinking from a bottle, tuck the spout into the corner of their mouth and they won’t waste but a drop or two.
#5: Be Prepared.
Start working in cooler temps to prepare for hotter ones so your dog is physically capable of enduring lots of activity in the heat. Daily walks are not enough. Your dog needs to run. Hop on a bicycle and have him run next to you. This is a much better option to establish endurance. It may be best to take your dog to a pro trainer that offers conditioning. Although this is an out of pocket expense your dog will be healthier for the coming season.
If you have a long haired breed give him a close shave – but not so close that getting sunburn is a concern.
#6: My dog is showing signs of overheating, now what?
Your dog is panting rapidly and his tongue is swollen, lolling out and maybe his legs are wobbly or he is laying down. Thick saliva, foam, or vomit is coming from his mouth.
First get a leash on him – you don’t want him running off and getting even hotter.
Create a heat sink: After offering him drinking water, pour water on your dog’s back . If you douse their backs with water you must wipe it off after a few seconds. Water left on a dog’s back becomes the same temperature as the overheated dog (yay physics!) and does little good. After wiping the water away apply more cool water and wipe again. If you have enough water available continue this cycle.
Worst case scenario: You screw up big time. Your dog is overheating, dying before your eyes and there’s no water or shade in sight – what do you do?
Use whatever means you have available to scrape off the top layer of dirt on the ground to expose the much cooler soil underneath and make your dog lay in it. If all else fails this might be enough to drop his temperature and save his life. Use a boot heel, knife, or even disassemble your gun and use the barrel as a trowel to expose the cooler dirt.
It goes without saying that if your dog starts to experience heat prostration it’s time to end the hunt, leash him, and head to a veterinary clinic. Prevention really is the best cure since once a dog succumbs to heat stroke their chances of getting it again increases.