Winter Conditions Require Special Considerations
Throughout much of the country snow and colder weather add to the hardships facing our gun dogs during late hunting seasons. Winter maintenance requires dogs to be properly conditioned, healthy, free of parasites, housed properly and provided a good high energy, nutrient dense diet. Faced with the added demands of hunting, these considerations become critical for our gun dogs.
Knowing that most of you plan to hunt whenever possible throughout the season, I feel a review of information on cold weather care will be very helpful. So with the dog's health and well being in mind, let's do what we can to insure enjoyable and productive days afield.
Health care should be paramount on the list. Although most dogs receive a preseason check, one at midseason is often overlooked. Yet if we think of what our dogs are exposed to while hunting, a check-up makes good sense. There are the gamebirds or animals we hunt, other dogs, domestic and wild animal droppings and contaminated water; and contact with any of these can result in parasite re-infestation or other health-related problems.
Couple this with the stress of cold weather and performance can go out the window. On the other hand, a short visit with your veterinarian can help keep your dog on track.
(As a side note, always keep an eye on your dog around farm machinery and storage buildings while going to and from hunting areas, where anti-freeze and/or chemical spills can be very inviting to a thirsty gun dog.)
Our next consideration is feeding.
Cold weather hunting may nearly double your dog's energy demands. To explain, let's think of the dog's food as fuel and a source of energy, measured by calories.
We should realize that the number of calories per pound of body weight depends on three major factors: the dog's size, level of activity, and environmental conditions.
From the standpoint of caloric needs, hunting dogs rank very high. Not only do they use energy working cover during long days afield, they also have increased demands for calories just to maintain body temperature because of winter conditions.
A study illustrating the influence of environmental temperature on caloric needs of adult dogs was conducted at Nestle Purina's Pet Care Center. As a result, it was shown that during the coldest months of December through February, 30 percent more calories per pound of body weight were required than during the summer months of June through August.
These studies confirmed that dogs that are housed outdoors require, on the average, about 14 percent more calories for each 20-degree drop in temperature.
Now let's look at how hard work influences our dogs' caloric requirements.
Additional studies by Purina's Pet Care Center illustrated the influence of increased activity of dogs. Resulting data indicated that average caloric requirements increased 25 percent for moderately exercised dogs, and extremely hard-working dogs like hunting dogs have increased caloric needs up to 50 percent more than do less active adult dogs during normal maintenance periods.
With this information, we quickly see how a hard working gun dog, hunting late season winter days, can require around 80 percent more calories per pound than it does during the summer while at rest.
If we're feeding a high quality, complete and balanced dog food yielding 1800 to 2,200 digestible calories per pound, this simply means increased portions. But we must remember never to feed immediately before or directly after periods of heavy hunting.
In fact, many top trainers recommend feeding normal, healthy working dogs once a day in the evening or early afternoon, allowing plenty of time for the dog to digest the food. The dog also gains the added safety and comfort of having an empty digestive track during work the next morning, which benefits both attitude and performance. Studies have shown that dogs hunting on an empty colon can have twice the endurance over those with a partially full digestive track.
Fresh, clean water is also important. Hunting dogs should be given small amounts of cool water often while working, then once rested, free access to fresh water should be available at all times.
The dog's body utilizes water for all body functions, digestion, excretion, transporting nutrients, building tissue and helping to regulate body temperature. Most of us realize the dog's need for water during summer activity but we sometimes underestimate winter requirements. Yet we can see the digestive process alone, because of increased feeding, demands more water.
Getting back to feeding, a question often asked is, should we use additives with the dog's feed while hunting? In most cases the answer is no; supplementation of a complete and balanced diet, particularly one designed from actual feeding studies for the active dog by a reputable company, is usually not necessary. Of course, I'm not saying you shouldn't give your dog a piece of your sandwich when you break for lunch!
However, it is very important that our dogs eat full portions and that can be a problem, especially on extended hunting trips. Hard working gun dogs often lose their appetite and would rather sleep than eat at the end of a hard day.
In this case, supplementing as a means of increasing the palatability of your dog's regular food is a good idea. It can be as simple as warm water poured over the food to free the fat coating, causing a pleasing aroma and warm soft feel, or a spoon full of cooking oil or grease to enhance palatability and add a few more calories.
Our objective here is to encourage the dog to eat enough to maintain body condition and stamina while not upsetting the delicate balance of nutrients in the normal diet. Nor do we want to create a finicky eater.
Some hunters give their dog a small snack along with water at midday break, after they've rested. Depending on the snack there's some nutritional benefit, but just as important is spending the quiet time together, when good dogs as well as good hunters can appreciate and enjoy each other's company.
Although health care and feeding are our primary subjects, let's share some thoughts on winter housing before closing.
Special attention should be given to your dog's outdoor housing and kennels used while traveling. Key concerns are drafts and moisture. Dogs provided with clean dry bedding in a small draft-free dog house can endure some pretty low temperatures.
Winter houses need only be big enough to allow the dog to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. The door opening should face sou
th or east, and a flap or commercial door is helpful protection from the wind.
Houses should be raised off the ground and have a slanted roof to protect them from rain and snow. Even better is a roof that is removable for easy cleaning and checking bedding.
At the same time some ventilation is important. Without it, moisture from the dog's breath will collect on inside walls and drip down on bedding.
The same holds true with travel kennels and trailers. Be cautious of drafts and exhaust fumes. Change bedding as often as necessary to keep it dry and clean, as gun dogs often drag mud or snow into their kennels as they go in and out.
If our dogs are expected to be up and at 'em in the morning, they need a relaxing night's sleep in a clean, dry, comfortable and draft-free kennel.