Keeping Them Coolby R. Michael DiLullo
Keeping your hunting dog cool and hydrated, especially during late summer training and the early portion of the hunting season, means recognizing the signs of heat-related illnesses, knowing how to prevent them and what to do if your dog succumbs.
Each September thousands of hunters and their dogs go afield and begin their hunting season. In many parts of the United States, particularly in the southeast, September is the opening month for mourning doves, teal and resident Canada geese. September also means shooting preserves across the country will be opening their doors to wing shooters looking to get an early start on the season. With temperatures in the nineties not uncommon, all hunting dog owners need to be familiar with the dangers a working dog can face in these conditions.
Most hunters and their four legged partners lead sedentary lifestyle during the off-season. The average gun dog owner doesn’t train or condition his dog as often as he should. In fact, most of us will wait until just prior to the season and work out a quick refresher course or just start out hunting, assuming our dogs will simply pick-up where we left off last season. Like any athlete, you and your hunting dog need to get into shape and acclimate to the environment long before opening day. With little conditioning or training for seven or more months, both you (the hunter) and his dog are at a very high risk of succumbing to a heat-related illness.
Most veterinarians and professional gun dog trainers place a high emphasis on working your dog throughout the year, especially during the spring and summer months. Because many bird dogs are also family and housedogs, during the heat of the summer they spend a lot of time in air-conditioned homes. You have to acclimatize your dog to spending time in the heat of the day, especially if he is going to perform high exertion activities, such as he does when hunting. Pre-conditioning is the best way to avoid heat-related problems in the field. Ideally, training and conditioning should be a year round activity, with workouts in the warmer months being completed before the heat of the day. Both younger and older dogs are usually the most susceptible to heat-related illnesses, while overweight and out-of-shape dogs are at an even higher risk of succumbing to heatstroke.
Many professional gun dog trainers recommend a warm weather training regiment of an hour in the morning and another in the evening. Run your dog and work on retrieving drills, building slowly as you go. Just as when you are starting a fitness program, workouts should start out slow and easy. Make the workouts fun and if needed take frequent rest breaks allowing the dog to have some water. As in any training process you want to increase the duration gradually as the dog increases his endurance and becomes accustomed to the heat. Also, just because your dog is acclimatized in one region of the country, don’t assume he will be okay running in another. A dog that lives in a cooler climate like Maine for example, will not perform as well in a warmer climate like Georgia, without time to adjust to the warmer weather.
The onset of heat related problems can be quite subtle, so it is important to keep a watchful eye on your dog while training or hunting in warm weather. The symptoms can also be very inconspicuous and difficult to detect, if you don’t know what to look for. The different types of common heat-related problems that may be encountered while training and hunting are: Heat stress, Heat exhaustion and Heat stroke.
Heat stress is when, due to increased body temperature, your dog is not performing at his normal level. He may be slow in reacting to your commands, will usually be panting and may simply lay down and not want to get up. Get him out of the sun and into a shaded area, allow him to rest and give him water in small quantities frequently.
During the early part of the hunting season, all gun dog owners need to be aware of the dangers a working dog can face in warm weather.
Photo by: Author
During heat exhaustion, which is also called heat prostration, the dog becomes physically exhausted due to the exposure to heat, and the resulting depletion of his body fluids. The dog will appear weak or tired with an anxious or listless expression; he may just stare into space and be unresponsive to your commands. Usually, the dog will be panting heavily, will have a rapid heart rate, and may vomit or salivate excessively. Also, he may be unsteady on his feet and stagger while attempting to walk, the dog may also collapse. Get him into a cool area, if there is a body of water nearby get him in it, you have to try and cool his core body temperature down. If your dog will drink “Gatorade” or ”Pedialyte” or one of the new specialized canine sports mixes, give him a small amount, this will help replace electrolytes. If not, give him water in small amounts and allow him to rest until his breathing and heart rate are normal.