Hunting Your Dog in Extreme Conditions
Any type of hunting situation can become cold and extreme for your beloved partner whether it be upland or waterfowl. It is important that we remember our dogs need protection just as we do. You don't want the experience to deplete your dogs energy causing harm to them physically or mentally. If your introducing a young dog to these extreme elements for the first time and don't take precautions they may lose interest in participating the way they should.
It is necessary to keep in mind a few important tips that will lead to having a happy, healthy, and willing hunting dog to take out on these intense days. Preparation and the right gear will make the hunting trip something both hunter and dog can be excited about.
First, before the season even arrives make sure that your dog is accustomed to the conditions. If your partner is use to his/her warm cozy place at the foot of your bed its time to get them outside. The dogs body needs to have exposure to the elements before you start hunting them in it. Slowly get them use to the cold by starting with 1-2 hours outside or in a garage/building that is not heated for a couple days. Then increase that time and take away the shelter area. That may sound cruel to some people but the dogs body will be fine and use its fat stores to produce energy to stay warm. Don't be extreme and leave them outside for 12 hours when its -50*....just use your judgment! I would recommend increasing the time to 4-5 hours considering that would be an average hunt time for us.
Second, for a Lab (as well as other breeds) you should not use shampoo baths to clean them pre-season. They have natural oils in their coat to repel water and its vital for them to keep dry. You want them to have a thick shiny coat for hunting season, so too much brushing will lessen the amount of fur to keep them warm as well.
Third, keep them fed with a high-fat/high-protein food that is proven to be easily digested. This will ensure that they have built up a fat content that will be converted to energy to stay warm on the hunt. There is no harm in them being a tad overweight for the start of the season because they are going to quickly and easily burn it off. If you see your dog shivering it means their body is working harder than normal to produce heat and keep up circulation. You don't want them burning all their energy trying to stay warm and not be able to go after downed birds to retrieve. Which is what brings us to the next point....
Fourth, there are many items out there to help with the safety of your dog. Purchase a water stand for keeping them up and out of the water between flights of birds. Even finding a natural perch for them is sometimes an option such as a fallen tree etc. Also, don't forget about vests. There are many different thermal insulated vests and believe me they work! They are great for keeping in some of the dogs body heat as well as for protection of getting cut or injured from debris in the water or on land. Check to make sure it is a good fit for your dog. You don't want it to be loose and allow dampness in or have an area under the neck for something to enter and puncture the dog. Keeping your partner out of the water as much as possible is crucial and that includes sending them after birds by land if that is a more direct route than water.
When the hunting is over and the day draws to an end your hunting dog will appreciate everything you have done for them in order to make it an enjoyable experience. Keep safe, warm, and happy hunting!
Want to learn more about hunting in hot weather? Read Hunting Your Dog In Hot Weather By Ed Hall