Don't wait until this fall to start your hunting preparations. In order
to make this season a success, follow these simple guidelines to get your dogs
ready for the upcoming hunting seasons and to minimize any injuries that might
occur in the field.
The hunting season shouldn’t start the moment we send Fido into thick, often dry, cover. Without proper preparation, we could be picking up our own birds while the best hunting tool we ever had is “benched” due to injuries that most often result from the lack of conditioning.
STYLISH RETRIEVES will be made easier and with less stress on both the dog and hunter alike if the dog has been prepared for hunting season. A combination of obedience training and conditioning workouts during the summer months will help ensure a good season.
Building fitness and memory skills can be combined in a fun exercise by taking our dogs for a walk and dropping a ball or dummy along the way. After traveling 100 yards or so past the ball, turn and send the dog back to retrieve it. When the dog is controlled and with us, it can only walk, but sent to retrieve the dropped ball or dummy, the dog goes at full speed. Such episodes of exertion give him a chance to build lung capacity and stamina. As he becomes more fit, leave the ball or dummy at the top of the hill then walk down the hill and send him back for it. Many professional athletes build their strength and stamina by running up stairs or steep inclines. The best time of the day to condition a dog is when it is cool. Remember, suddenly starting a dog on a intense conditioning routine is as dangerous as starting him suddenly in the field on opening day. Ease into exercise. Better yet, try to keep your dog active from the close of one season to the opening of the next.
Nutrition is extremely important. About six weeks before the season opens, start
to feed a premium diet that is high in fat and protein. Adequate protein is crucial,
as dogs really have no protein reserves. If a diet doesn’t contain enough protein,
muscle mass may be depleted, increasing the risk of injury. During the cold hunting
months, dietary protein should comprise at least 24 percent, and go as high as
40 percent, of our dogs’ total daily calories. Carbohydrates and fat are also
very important for maximum energy conversion.
TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE VETERINARIAN at least once a year for an annual checkup and whenever your dog has suffered a serious injury in the field. In order to minimize downtime for your most important hunting partner, keep your dog in shape and carry a basic first-aid kit in your vehicle when you go afield.
Always carry plenty of fresh water. If you notice heavy panting and signs of overheating, it is best to cool your dog immediately. Pour the water on the dog’s underside, tongue and ears while keeping it calm. It is essential that body temperature be brought back to normal. A dog that isn’t forced to cool down can go into a coma and die. Try to prevent overheating by keeping your dog hydrated as you hunt.
If you are running several dogs, cycle them by alternating the fields they work and limiting the duration of the hunts. Take shorter hunts on hot days and come back to the vehicle for rest and shade. Always carry a squeeze bottle full of water to hydrate your dog during the hunt. If you only have one dog, pick your hunting spot wisely and try to pick a spot that has a stock tank, creek or pond. If your dog has a safe spot to cool off, this will enable him to hunt a bit longer and certainly more proficiently. Common sense is probably the best defense against overheating.
Also, be careful about what water you allow your dog to drink, as a thirsty dog isn’t picky. Toxic blue-green algae colonies are common in stock dams and shallow ponds, especially in hot, dry weather, and the ingestion of toxic blue-green algae can result in liver failure and a loss of the blood’s ability to clot.
Shooting injuries can be devastating, and are usually the result of inexperienced
hunters in the party. If there are too many hunters or dogs for the situation,
it is far better to pass up the hunt than to be rushing your best gun dog
to the vet because of an accident.
If your dog happens to get shot, keep calm and immediately assess the injury. If the range at which the dog was shot was not close, the injury will likely not be life threatening.
While assessing the injury, be careful, as a dog that is injured may bite. Generally there will be only minimal bleeding, and sometimes none at all. Look for very tiny entry wounds made by pellets in the skin. Even if you think the wound is not serious, observe the dog closely. You may not need to make an emergency run to the vet unless the dog is obviously distressed, the injury is in a vital location, or the shot was from close range.
Unlike a bullet wound, most shotgun pellets penetrate only the skin and immediate subcutaneous tissues, often remaining there for the rest of the dog’s life. Antibiotic administration may be needed to prevent infection, but in general, the pellets do not need to be removed surgically.
Sporting dogs are running dogs, and are only as good as the condition of their
SHORT TOENAILS help prevent foot injuries in dogs, and nails can usually be cut at home. Using trimmers designed for dogs, start at the tip of the nail and snip a little at a time. Stop cutting when you start to see pale pink tissue (the quick) near the top of the cut edge.
There are many types of injuries that may occur to a dog’s feet, most of them involving their pads. Abrasions are probably the most common pad injuries suffered by sporting dogs. This is especially true for dogs that run in rocky country or where the soil is sandy, as the abrasive action of the foot against a rough surface keeps wearing away the tough lining of the pad. Rough terrain can also cause bruised pads – usually the least serious of the injuries, but one that can be misdiagnosed. Bruising can cause a dog to be lame, and the dog may show pain when pressure is applied to the pad. Puncture wounds can become infected because the depth of the injury allows foreign materials to remain in the wound. Cuts can be the most severe type of injury since they take the longest to heal, and deep lacerations may cause damage to tendons or ligaments. These injuries often occur in areas close to water, hiking trails or other places where people leave broken glass and other debris.
Pad injuries cannot always be avoided, but you can make your dog’s pads more resistant to injury by keeping him on dry, mildly abrasive surfaces such as fine gravel, concrete or sand.
Booting is another way to protect your dog’s feet. If you are going to be hunting in sand burrs or cacti, Cordura boots will save your dog’s feet and will allow him to hunt again tomorrow. Short toenails promote healthy paws. The pad plays a much greater role in gripping surfaces than the nail, so length of nail is not important to the dog’s ability to gain traction. Long nails predispose the toes to fractures, dislocations and nail injuries. Other problems associated with long nails are splitting and severing, which can lead to pain, lameness and infection.
Cuts are very common injuries in hunting dogs. Briars, barbed wire, broken glass,
dogfights or even sharp broken saplings can slice a dog’s skin. Appropriate field
care of wounds can decrease healing time and make the veterinarian’s job much
Remember the key words are flush, fill and bandage.
Flush: Fresh cuts may look quite clean, but tiny fragments of debris and certainly microscopic bacteria are usually present in even the cleanest-appearing laceration. Use hydrogen peroxide for minor cuts and sterile saline or distilled water for
A GOOD FIRST-AID KIT that is designed specifically for hunting dogs is essential. You can get most of these items from a drug store, or from your local veterinarian. You can use an old fanny pack to keep them with you in the field during extended trips away from the vehicle.
Fill: After initially cleaning by flushing, wounds can be protected from field debris by filling them with a harmless gel such as Neosporin or another wound gel.
Bandage: Lacerations on the legs, tail and ears should be bandaged. The key is to avoid placing dry bandage material directly on the wound. Dry material adheres to the wound and then damages the wound edges when the bandage is removed. A small kit containing some nonstick bandages and a larger piece of absorbent cotton can work well to stop bleeding. Normal clotting time for healthy dogs is between two and three minutes, but dogs that have been running hard may take up to five minutes for bleeding to stop. Direct pressure from your hand is the best way to stop bleeding. Cuts on the tip of the ear or the tail are especially troublesome. As the normal clotting process proceeds, the dog tends to shake its head or wag its tail, which causes renewed bleeding. Many times, these cuts look much worse than they really are due to the amount of blood produced. Cuts on the chest, back and muzzle are not easily covered.
Most dogs never encounter a porcupine. When they do, they are immediately curious
and will usually get a snout full of quills. Porcupine quills are extremely painful
to the dog during the removal procedure. Usually it is best not to attempt the
procedure yourself unless you have a VERY steady dog and heavy gloves. The chance
of breaking a quill is good, which will allow it to migrate into the dog’s body.
It is much safer for you and the dog when a veterinarian removes the quills while
the dog is under sedation.
Burs, Cactus and Seeds
Because hunting dogs spend most of their time running through weeds in search
of game, they are very susceptible to getting particles in their eyes, causing
irritation and discomfort. An easy remedy is flushing the foreign objects from
the eyes with saline solution. Use the same solution you are carrying for flushing
Foxtails and cheatgrass also pose problems for dogs. Longhaired dogs are susceptible to seeds wedging in their hair and forming cysts. Brush your dog thoroughly after returning from the field to remove all the seeds from his coat. Trimming the hair between his toes will prevent seeds from gathering there and causing infection.
Rattlesnake bites are rare, but they occasionally occur. In the event of snakebite,
the most important thing to do is get the dog to a veterinarian as soon
as possible. Try to restrict your dog’s movement and keep him comfortable.
The sooner treatment is started, the sooner the dog is likely to recover.
A rattlesnake bite vaccine is currently on the market that decreases the
severity of the symptoms if your dog happens to be bitten. Check with your
veterinarian about this vaccine if you are interested. The best medicine
is trying to avoid the snake in the first place. If you encounter a snake,
exit the area the same way you came or take a wide berth around the snake
with the dog at heel or on a leash.
First-Aid Kits for Dogs
Even the most careful hunters occasionally have problems with their dogs.
A first-aid kit designed specifically for hunting dogs is essential. Carry
a multi-tool plier in your game bag for removal of cactus needles or burs.
Eye drops or eye cleansing solutions are a good idea. A good field first-aid
kit would also include a hemostat, pair of small scissors, tweezers, liquid
tissue adhesive, Neosporin gel, a bottle of hydrogen peroxide for superficial
wounds, a bottle of sterile saline for more significant wounds, a squeeze
bottle and nonstick bandage material.
It is a good idea for all hunters to carry a sport bottle filled with water mixed with a little powdered glucose. It doesn’t take long to burn up energy and calories during a hunt and your dog’s sugar reserves can be depleted to the point of collapse. The glucose water helps keep energy levels up.
The health and fitness of your dog is important if you want a good partner for the entire season. Together you will have a great season. You owe it to him to make sure he is ready to hunt and that you are ready for any emergency that may occur in the field.
Ron and Libby are active hunters with their dogs, participating in AKC and UKC hunt tests as well as educational events. They own and operate Heartland Animal Center in North Platte, and they breed and sell Labradors under the name DuckDawg Retrievers.