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Take care of your hunting dog this summer

During the summer, it is tempting to not work your four-legged hunting partner and let them lie in the shade. After all, with temperatures nearing 100 degrees last week, it would seem almost cruel to give your dog a workout, right? I disagree, with some exclusions, of course.

My opinion on the matter is that not working your hunting dog all summer long, and then expecting them to be up to par come fall, when you want a perfect retrieve or long, hard chase, is not only unrealistic, but probably mean, too. I will offer that I am NOT a DVM. However, I have had extensive experience with one of my dogs having heat exhaustion. This led me to consult several DVMs and read up on the subject to educate myself as much as I could.

Dogs, like humans, can get fat and lazy and out of shape if left to their own devices. The problem with not working a dog during the summer, is that few, if any, dogs have free run of the entire countryside, and therefore most are stuck in a kennel, on a line, in the house or in a pen where they get little to no exercise. That being said though, dog handlers MUST take precautions when exercising their dogs in the summer.

Before starting on any aggressive or moderate training regimen with your dog, plenty of water should be available. Second, all hunters that own dogs should have a rectal thermometer available for their dogs in the event that heat stroke or heat exhaustion is suspected. Some people prefer the digital thermometers with a flexible tip (so the thermometer is not accidently broken off inside the dog). A dog’s normal body temperature should read between 100 and 102.5 F. Some dogs may vary, slightly. Get a baseline for your canine partner before going to training. It’s good to know their normal temperature anyway.

Dogs can overheat faster than humans. We sweat; they pant. Panting is not very efficient. The best time to work your hunting dog during the summer is very early in the morning before it gets too hot. Some might argue that working them in the late evening is good. Often our summertime temperatures are still quite high even at 7 PM. Working a dog early in the morning provides for a cooler environment that has settled after hours of darkness. Not only is morning better for working a dog, but if you are training your dog away from your home or kennel, consider the ride back. A ride in the back of a pickup (IF your dog is trained to stay put) out of a kennel might be ok since the wind will help cool them off. But, if the sun is up, the metal in the truck bed will be hot.  Bedliners are also very hot and soak up heat. This can burn the pads on a dog’s feet. If it is hot, putting a dog inside a kennel is not a good idea, unless it is extremely well-ventilated. I don’t want to think about the smell of a hot dog inside a vehicle. However, putting your dog inside your vehicle if you have had the air conditioning running for a few minutes might not be a bad idea if they appear overheated.

Currently, we have a Lab that we are training, and she works hard. Working dogs, like hunting dogs, often don’t know when to stop. We used to have a Lab that would run until he literally dropped, just to please us. He never learned, but I sure did. We had to stop him. Know your dog. Some dogs will give you signs that they need a break. They may not show interest in the task at hand, they may slow down or they may simply lie down. Take these signals seriously. Let the dog rest, give them water and stop the training.

If you have plenty of water on hand, and you should, wash the dog down. Don’t use cold water; use cool water. A kiddie pool is excellent for this task as the dog can lie in it until they feel they are ok. The best place to cool off a dog is their underside, where there is less hair and fur. The neck area is also a good location for fresh, cool water. Some major arteries and vessels are near the surface of the inner quarters, too. If you have a hose, and you want to offer a stream of water to the dog, in which to put their mouth (to cool their gums), then do so. Don’t spray water directly into the mouth. It may end up in the lungs. A dog’s gums should be pink, but not red or dark-colored.

In summary, do take the time to work your hunting dog this summer. However, do it during cooler weather, like the mornings, on overcast days or days with lower humidity. Keep training sessions short. Water dogs, such as Labs, enjoy plunging in anyway, so schedule training at the river or in a pond. But, don’t assume that just because they are in the water, they won’t overheat. Take care to avoid letting them drink brackish water, as it has salt content with which to be concerned. Know your dog and let them tell you when they have had enough. Taking time to keep your dog in shape and tuned-up now will pay off big in the fall when you want to hunt. Lastly, be sure to check your dogs and yourselves for ticks. There are plenty of ticks out there this year.

Mark Fike

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