Basic Field Care for Gun Dogs

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Basic Field Care for Gun Dogs

by R. Michael DiLullo

Hard working gun dogs can face many hazards in the field; anything from the environment, the landscape or even wild animals can pose a possible threat. Knowing some basic canine first aid could prevent a small injury from becoming serious or could help to save your dog’s life!
Many years ago a high school buddy and I spent a Saturday afternoon working his German short hair pointer in a small woodcock covert located in northern New Jersey. Having very little luck, we decided to explore a new area in search of some grouse. Shortly after coming upon an old home site we noticed his dog favoring its front foot which was bleeding. An inspection of the big dog’s foot revealed a large gash just behind the pad. We immediately hiked back to my father’s truck, which was some distance away.

At the truck the dog appeared to be becoming weaker, I search the truck for a first aid kit but only came up with an old rag, some newspaper and a roll of electrical tape. We cleaned the wound with some water and the newspaper then wrapped it tightly with the rag and used the tape to secure the makeshift bandage. We raced off to the veterinarian’s office, being a Saturday afternoon we only hoped he would still be there. The vet was closed and just about to leave for the afternoon as we pulled into his driveway. The dog was immediately put under and received emergency surgery for a severed artery. I assisted the doctor, as his assistant had already gone home and my friend wanted to wait outside. The vet told me that the dog would have died had we not reacted the way we did or gotten him to help in time.

Ever since that day, I always carry a loaded first aid kit in my SUV. If we are going to be some distance from the truck, or out in a boat I will also carry a small canine first aid kit in my vest. Over those twenty some years I have rarely ever used it, but having a first aid kit along and knowing how to use it if needed provides confidence and acts as insurance policy should an emergency arise.

Anyone who spends time in the outdoors should carry some kind of first aid equipment, but even more important than the first aid kit is the basic knowledge of what to do in a medical emergency. Would you know what to do if your hunting partner (human) suddenly grabbed his chest and fell to the ground? Most people don’t know how to react, and with the exception of what they have seen on TV, would start beating on the person’s chest, usually doing more harm than good. Everyone, especially outdoorsmen, should take a basic first aid and CPR class at least once. Most of the first aid techniques you will learn can also be used to treat your canine partner in the field. The training will give you confidence and help you deal with an accident while afield. Many times people will panic at this critical time, known to Paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) as the “Golden hour”. In an emergency, you only have a certain amount of time to react to the situation in which the outcome can be effected. Your decisions, actions or lack of will determine that outcome. Along with the training you will gain the knowledge and confidence enabling you to take action quickly and hopefully be able to get your partner to the advanced medical care he requires.

EMT GelTM has become an essential part of the gundog enthusiast's first-aid kit.
Gun dog owners need to be aware of the hazards a hard working gun dog can encounter while afield. Environmental exposure, geographical and manmade elements of the landscape and encounters with other animals can all threaten your dog’s well-being. Proper field care should start long before the hunting season ever begins. Preseason conditioning can go a long way to preventing serious injuries such as muscle pulls or tears. Exercising and conditioning your dog will also help to acclimatize him to the type of climate you will be hunting in.

Hunting in extreme weather conditions can contribute to specific injuries and illnesses. In cold weather conditions hypothermia and frostbite symptoms can occur quickly. In hot early season conditions dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are common threats. Each environmental condition poses specific threats and dog owners must be both familiar with the symptoms of each and know how to treat them accordingly. Knowledge is always a key element in helping to prevent environmental threats. If you are hunting in cold weather, especially waterfowling, a neoprene vest is essential to helping keep your dog warm. Upland hunting in snow or freezing conditions may require the use of booties on your dog’s feet. At the other end of the spectrum, early season hot weather hunts will require more frequent rest and water breaks. Stopping in shaded areas will help your dog cool down faster and having a supply of water on hand is a necessity. However, water should always be carried afield while hunting.
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