No matter if we're traveling to a neighbor's farm or across country for the hunt of a lifetime, the safety of our dog(s) must be a priority. A quick review of some key considerations when planning a trip should help us avoid forgotten items or oversights that can cause either simple aggravation or, as my friend Pat says, "big trouble" when traveling to hunt.
Let's begin with something obvious but often overlooked, a visit to our veterinarian.
Make A Vet Appointment
A general health check before your trip is a good idea, giving your vet a chance to assess your dog's overall health and fitness for the hard work of hunting, bring his vaccinations up to date if necessary and make you aware of any concerns the vet may find.
Remember to ask for a health certificate, particularly if you will be crossing state lines, in which case a health certificate from your veterinarian is required by law.
Don't forget to go online for the address and phone number of a veterinarian near your planned hunt area so you have it close at hand in case of emergency.
Understand Your Dog's Crate
Familiarize your dogs with crates or trailer long before the trip.
Travel in itself can be stressful so anything we can do to familiarize or precondition our dogs in a positive way reassures and promotes their remaining relaxed and calm during travel. Most gun dogs are used to travel for training or exercise programs so they look to the crate as a familiar second home and a means to good times in the field.
If your dog hasn't had much time in a crate in a moving vehicle I highly recommend you practice this before extended travel. The first step is introducing the crate on the ground then in the car or truck, followed by short trips to fun places. Giving your dog this positive experience gets you beyond motion sickness and helps your pups understand this ride is a good thing leading to field work.
Also, take time to get your dog used to tie-out stakes. A secure tie-out provides added safety during airing breaks, at feeding time and for cool-down periods after the hunt. Even the best-behaved dog can get in trouble when allowed to run free during these times.
Check Kennel Ventilation
This a concern in all cases, particularly if you're traveling in a pickup truck. Be certain the crate is lashed down solidly so it doesn't slide around. Crates must be well ventilated but at the same time draft free, meaning clean fresh air is a must while cold direct wind can rob body heat. Another key concern with all travel kennels is being extra sure no exhaust fumes are present.
Provide a Comfortable Bed
Good clean bedding goes a long way toward added comfort and protecting your dog's joints during travel. Even on smooth roads, hard kennel floors offer very little comfort while adding a soft kennel pad or some sort of bedding really makes the ride better.
During the hunt, bedding can "wick" moisture from your dog's body and provide warmth, supporting a good night's rest and resulting in a better prepared dog for the next day in the field. Check bedding regularly and change it out if damp.
Take Frequent Breaks
Most veterinarians and animal health experts recommend "airing" every two hours, some more often. This is even more of a concern for your pup's first travel experience, as extended travel can lead to discomfort, the chance of a messed-up kennel and the beginning of a bad habit.
Before beginning a long trip take time to be sure your dog relieves himself completely, and once on the road it usually pays to make your first stop after only an hour or so. Pull over at a safe place for a quick break and while you air your dogs, check their kennels, ventilation, other equipment and luggage. From there you can travel with more peace of mind that your dogs are safe and comfortable and all else is shipshape.
Secure Your Kennel
Already mentioned but this deserves another reminder. In the case of a sudden stop or collision, your dog and kennel will become a missile, crushing anything in the way and at the very least causing injuring to the dog. So please take time to secure crates; most SUVs and all pickups have plenty of tie-down clips available.
I'm hoping we're beyond discussing dogs not kenneled at all and running loose in the car or truck. This is an obvious recipe for disaster.
Provide Plenty of Feed
There are many different containers available, but be certain your container is bug- and moisture-tight and large enough for several days on the road. My recommendation is that it's filled to the brim with Purina Pro Plan Performance but in any case, be sure Fido's food of choice is designed for the hard-working dog.
Nowadays most agree on feeding once a day, usually in the evening. Our goal is to give our dog adequate time to digest most of the food and the opportunity to empty out before exercise, training or hunting the following day. I feel it makes sense for our dog's comfort while traveling as well.
This stands to reason, as traveling on a full stomach and gut might be uncomfortable, especially on some of the rougher secondary and gravel roads we travel while training or hunting. So, plan to feed in the evenings after travel or a day in the field when our dog has had time to rest before the meal.
Another recommendation is to float the food in water just before feeding, as this helps digestion and hydration.
Pack enough dog food for the trip and bring water from home if you have room.
Keep Your Dog Hydrated
During airing stops, offer you dog adequate but limited amounts of water. We have to be certain to support proper hydration yet we don't want our dogs gulping large amounts of water that would likely cause discomfort during travel.
Don't Double Up
When traveling with a group we might be tempted to double up dogs in crates to save room but I recommend against doing it. Even the best dogs with the very best temperament often end up in a squabble when confined in a small space.
10. Don't Forget Medical Supplies
Bring a first aid kit and grooming supplies and any special medications you dog is on.
Good luck on your trip and safe travels!