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Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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“Obviously, there are variations of injuries according to the type of surface, amount of time and activity of the dog,” Gillette says. “The decision by owners or trainers to treat injuries themselves or to seek veterinary help should be carefully weighed, always erring on the side of seeking veterinary help.”

“A trip to the veterinarian is always needed when there are deep puncture wounds or gashes because of the damage that may have occurred underneath the pad,” Reynolds says. “But generally whenever a dog is limping, I think it is a good idea to have the dog evaluated by a veterinarian because it may be more than just the foot causing the problem. If there’s a joint or muscle involved, you have to be really careful bringing that dog back into service.”

Modern medicine as well as time-tested remedies can speed healing of paw pad injuries, Gillette says. Cleansing wounds with soaps like Nolvasan or Betadyne and applying antibiotics may be used in combination with aloe and Epsom salt. As important as treatment, however, is allowing dogs time to heal.

“Injuries such as an abrasion have such an effect on the movement of the dog,” Gillette says. “Often it is better to pull the dog out of its working routine, use a product that reduces healing time — maybe even splint the foot so the pad doesn’t touch the ground for five to seven days — then bring the dog back to work. In general, this technique allows better healing than applying something daily to a wound and continuing to work the dog.”

Conditioning to Avoid Injuries
Paw pad injuries cannot always be avoided, but conditioning dogs’ paws to the terrain in which they most often work does help. “There is a biophysical law that the body will adjust itself to the forces placed upon it. This means if you increase the force placed upon the tissue of the dogs’ pads, the pads will alter themselves somewhat so they can handle a higher level of impact or greater number of impacts over time,” Gillette says.

Reynolds explains that you can make dogs’ pads more resistant to injury by putting them on dry, mildly abrasive surfaces such as fine gravel, concrete or sand or working the dogs on rough terrain for short periods of time. A consultation with your veterinarian will help you determine the safest method. Reynolds cautions against placing dogs in situations where their paws are often wet, since moistures causes softer pads. “A dry foot is a healthy foot,” he says.

Booting is another way to protect dogs’ feet, although there are varying opinions about its effectiveness. “While some handlers feel the boots prevent injuries, others think dogs may sustain more injuries because the dogs can’t feel the ground,” Gillette says. “That means they can’t feel sharp or pointed objects. Instead of drawing their foot back, they put their full weight down, forcing the object deeper into the paw.”

Rabidou compares the importance of healthy paws to that of well-tended hooves on horses. “If you’re going to work or run a horse, you won’t get much if it has unsound feet,” he says. “Sporting dogs are running, working dogs, and they are only as good as their feet — which means you’d better keep your eye on those pads.”

The Case Against Long Nails
Although some dog owners and trainers feel long nails give dogs better traction, Gillette and Reynolds advocate short nails to keep dogs’ paws healthy. “The pad plays a much greater role in gripping surfaces than the nail does,” Gillette says. “So keeping the nails long has little benefit but a lot of potential for injury.”

He explains that a longer nail acts like a fulcrum, which increases the detrimental forces placed upon the paw’s bone and ligaments. This predisposes the toes to fractures, dislocations and nail injuries. Another problem is how a long nail affects the foot itself, changing its angle and putting dogs too far back on their heels, which can be hard on their pasterns.

Other problems associated with long nails are lateral splits in the nails, exposing the quick, and the potential for dogs tearing off or splitting nails by catching them on objects, which can lead to nail bed infections.

Some active dogs wear their nails down naturally and don’t require a lot of nail care. Most dogs, however, need their nails clipped frequently. Reynolds suggests keeping the nail trimmed to within two millimeters of the quick. On dark nails where the quick is not visible, this can be accomplished by looking at the underside of the nail. The part of the nail containing the quick is grooved. Where the two sides of the groove come together is the section of the nail without quick.

A practice suggested by Gillette and Reynolds is to begin handling dogs’ feet when they are puppies so they don’t become “foot shy.” Otherwise, trimming the nails of an adult dog can become a “real rodeo,” Reynolds says. In any case, prior to trimming a dog’s nails for the first time, you should first talk to your veterinarian to learn the safest method.

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