By Rhett Kermicle
One of the most exciting parts about hunting is the chance to travel to new areas in search of upland birds and waterfowl. Before you pack the truck and take off, however, it’s a good idea to review some of the basics of taking care of your hunting dog on such trips. This is especially important during the late season, when you might be hunting in colder weather than your dog is used to.
Pay special attention to your dog’s feet before, during and after each day’s hunt. Frozen ground is tough on a dog’s feet if the dog hasn’t been conditioned for it, and a cut pad will end your hunt. Dog boots are an excellent preventive measure against such problems, but most dogs don’t like wearing them at first. You’ll find your dog will quickly adjust to the odd sensation of having his feet covered, but be sure to get this “introductory period” out of the way before you leave home. Also, give each boot a wrap of duct tape around the top. Even the best-designed boots have a way of slipping off.
A proper feeding regimen on a trip is extremely important. Everyone knows a hard-working dog needs more food, but when you feed is just as important. I break my dogs’ feedings into three small segments throughout the day, rather than feeding all at once. A dog that’s stressed from the travel and extra activity, will sometimes turn into a finicky eater. I throw in a bit of canned food or other tempting flavor to keep the food appealing.
Another good trick is to mix the food with warm water. It’s easier for the dog to eat, and will help hydrate the dog at the same time. Speaking of water, make sure it’s always available, regardless of the temperature. Dogs can actually need more water in cold weather.
I also add a couple tablespoons of Karo syrup to one of the feedings, and again in the evening feeding. The syrup’s complex carbohydrates provide a source of energy a dog’s body can keep in reserve until he needs it.
One mistake I see hunters make is trying to hunt a single dog all day for several days in a row. Most people don’t condition their dogs in the off-season for such rigors, and it’s doubtful that after a couple days of this routine a dog will still be performing well. Rather than run a dog to exhaustion, try to hunt with a group of dog owners so you can constantly alternate dogs. Rest each dog while he’s still fresh. You’ll get more and better performance from him the next time it’s his turn to hunt. As a rule of thumb on an upland bird hunt, I suggest an hour to 1½ hours of hunting at a time for each dog.
Finally, it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Don’t forget a well-stocked first-aid kit. You might also want to check into the special dog aspirin now available. I’ve found that a dose of this wonder drug in the evening helps a dog shake some of the soreness he’d usually experience the morning after a tough day of hunting.
Another good idea is to look up the phone numbers and addresses of the veterinarians in the area you’ll be visiting, then put the list in your wallet. Long-distance hunting trips are a thrill, but when trouble happens, it usually happens quickly, and you’ll be glad you packed this item ahead of time.