How to Keep Your Bird Dog Hydrated & Cool
It’s natural to ramp up training drills as the summer months peak and the hunting season looms ever closer. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it does pay to remember that August is the kind of month that can be dangerous to a hard-working dog.
The best strategy is to train at first or last light if at all possible. This ensures the coolest temperatures of the day, and will give your dog a chance to work without overheating. The problem with this strategy is, of course, life can get in the way.
Not everyone has the opportunity to get out at sunrise to toss a dummy for their dog, which means training happens when it can happen. That might mean the best window to get out for some drills is in the afternoon when the sun is baking down, which is okay if you prepare yourself and your dog.
Obviously, it’s up to you not to overwork your dog no matter what. This is important any time of the year, but crucial during times when it’s a scorcher outside. During these times, it’s best to have water handy at all times. Here’s how I do just that.
Sips From The Bottle
There are plenty of ways to get your dog some water in the field, but the best method for me is to carry a sports bottle that is fitted with a pull-up spout. This is easy to carry in my training or blind bag, or if I’m upland hunting, in my bird vest. But a dog won’t inherently understand how to drink out of this kind of container, so you have to train them.
I start with a smear of peanut butter on the spout. This will get your dog to start licking the bottle and learning that it’s the source of good stuff. After a little while, you can start to dribble water out while they are licking. Repeat this a few times during training sessions, and your dog will begin to fully understand where his source of water is and how to drink from it.
It’s simple stuff, and much easier than carrying around a collapsible water dish and a bottle of water. It’s also much more efficient than trying to pour water from a regular water bottle, because most of it will miss your dog’s mouth and end up in the dirt. Once your retriever is trained to drink from a sports bottle, you can have it with you during training and early season upland and waterfowl hunts to ensure your dog has adequate access to water.
The best dogs are those that live to retrieve and hunt, but the downside to a high-drive retriever is getting them to shut it down. If the sun is blazing and they are doing what they love, you’ll have to force them to take breaks and drink. Some dogs don’t want to do this, instead opting to get dehydrated in order to keep doing their favorite things.
When I’m dealing with dog’s like this, I usually put some of Purina’s Fortiflora in their water. Not only does Fortiflora contain probiotics, which contribute to positive intestinal health, but it also tastes good. A dog that isn’t willing to take a break for plain water will lap up water that is mixed with Fortiflora. It’s a simple trick that works to get them to hydrate well when they might not otherwise.
Hydration is obviously important, but so is understanding when to work and when to take a real break. Since dogs don’t perspire, they have to pant to dissipate heat from their bodies. This is why I often try to plan my training and early season hunts around water sources.
This is easy enough if you’re going to be duck hunting, but it takes a little more thought if you’ll be hunting doves, sharptails, or other upland game. A dog that can jump into a cattle pond and chill out for 10 minutes will cool off much faster than one that just has to sit in the shade panting away. Either way, make sure whether you’re training or hunting to sit down and signal to the dog that fun has been put on hold, so he’ll relax and actually take the time to cool off.
If you can’t find a good water source for your retriever to take a dip in, the next best thing is to wet down their head. This functions to allow them to expel the hot air in their bodies and inhale the cool air around their head, which helps to bring down their body temperature quicker.
When you feed your dog will affect how hot he gets while training and hunting as well. I prefer to train and hunt my dogs on an empty stomach, for a couple of good reasons. The first is that I can avoid any accidental gastric torsion (twisted stomach). This goes for all times of the year, not just during the hot summer and early fall months, and it’s important to note that twisted stomach can also result from consuming too much water and then exercising vigorously.
Aside from that, I want to ensure that my dogs have had at least a half-hour to cool off after any exercise before they are fed. Digestion takes energy, and if they are fed before working out, they’ll heat up quicker. This isn’t what you want. You want them relaxed and cooled off from their training sessions before they take in their daily calories.
Be Smart, Plan Ahead
It’s a no-brainer to provide plenty of water for your retriever while it’s working, but how you get it to drink—and how much it will take in—is up to you. In addition to addressing hydration concerns, you’ve also got to try to plan around the heat of the day and provide extra opportunities for your hard-working upland or waterfowl dog to relax, take a soak, and get back to normal temperature. Not only is this the right thing to do for the dog’s overall health, but it will help it train—and hunt—more effectively.