Dove season is just around the corner and it is quite possibly the most dangerous time of year for many working retrievers around the country. Dogs have spent the summer lounging around and many have not seen any real work since the last day of duck season. Some have even spent most of these summer days in air conditioning designed for thier human partners. This is the recipe for an opening day disaster.
There are a few simple steps you can take to make sure your dogs opening day dove hunt this year is not his last. Check out http://www.smokingundogs.com for more tips and links as well.
1) Get them in shape! – Don’t let your dogs lay around all summer because you decide its too hot for them to exercise and get out. Make sure they get daily exercise during the cooler periods of daylight hours and make their routines strenous enough that they stay in shape. Swimming is a great morning or evening activity and many owners use this time to row a boat or take a fast walk/run as well. Multiple benefits to this one!
2) Hydration! – Make sure you take at least twice as much fresh cool water as you think you and your dog will need on your dove hunt. Dogs only sweat a minimal amount through the pads in their feet so they must cool themselves by panting. They also have a “built in” radiator called a rete mirabile, a complex system of intermingled small arteries and veins, located at the base of their neck. This acts to thermally isolate the head, which contains the brain, the most temperature-sensitive organ, from the body, which contains the muscles, where most of the heat is generated. The result is that dogs can sustain intense physical exertion over a prolonged time in a hot environment. However, cooling this area with cool or cold water is very important in temperature regulation. I learned a great trick from an old dove hunter one year where you use a clean 1 gallon pump sprayer. Fill the sprayer with ice water and frequently mist your dogs face, mouth, head and the “radiator” located at the base of the neck. My dogs have all learned to bring back a dove and open their mouths for a nice spritzing of cool water and a “feather” wash out. This old trick has worked like a charm for me and my dogs stay cool as a cucumber this way.
3) Find the Shade – Always hunt in a shaded area. I sit in the dove field almost every year watching folks bake their dogs in the middle of the field with no shade. I’ve also seen more than my share of dogs get into serious trouble that way. If you don’t have natural shade get a big camo golf umbrella like they sell in Lion Country Supply and use it. Shade makes a huge difference.
4) Don’t let your ego kill your dog – A well-trained high drive dog will do as you tell it. Don’t be the reason that your dog suffers a heat stroke in the field. Everyone wants bragging rights about the awesome retrieve that everyone saw, but recognize when your dog needs a break. Don’t push it or you and your pup will regret it.
5) Watch for snakes! – This one should go without saying, but in many parts of the country dove season marks a time of high snake acitivity. Don’t send your dog into “snakey” looking cover like brush piles or blowdowns. Be aware of what your dog is doing all the time. Watch for the tell tale (or tail as the case may be) of something isn’t right. Most dogs will first smell the snake and if they haven’t been snake-proofed they’ll show curiosity and generally poke their nose right on top of the “now not too happy” serpent. If your dog does get bitten take them to the vet immediately. You can cool them down with cold wet towels and administer benadryl on the way to the vet as a way to slow the venom effects until the vet can do an assessment (I always keep liquid benadryl in my truck for this reason and for humans who may encounter bees or fire ants as well).
I hope these little tips will help you when dove season rolls around in a few weeks. Remember, your dog is your best friend and you owe it to them to be their protector, handler and best buddy too.