How to Keep Your Gun Dog Healthy and Fit
September 20, 2018
Fall is right around the corner, which means it is almost time for Fido to earn his keep. Most states across this great nation open up their small game seasons in early September. About that time, most hunters pull their dog off the couch and head for the woods and the water. Like many Americans, most dogs don’t get much exercise. As a result, when hunting season rolls around, man’s best friend isn’t fine-tuned and ready for the season ahead.
To make matters worse, it can be extremely warm in early September, which can cause dehydration or stroke in dogs. If a dog is in bad shape, it is even more likely to have health issues when running for miles in hot weather. In 2003, an estimated 100 dogs died on the opening weekend of South Dakota’s pheasant season.
I spend a lot of time hunting birds in the fall. Like many hunters, my dogs are always outfitted with Garmin GPS collars. The GPS keeps track of how many miles my dogs walk and run. On a consistent basis, my dogs run three to five times more on a hunt than I walk. Imagine how tired my dogs are after a long hunt!
Most hunters love their dogs almost as much as they do their own kids, but unfortunately many of the things listed above aren’t thought about by hunters before hunting season. Keep in mind it is in the best interest of every dog owner to get their dog physically ready for hunting season the same way they would prepare themselves for a backcountry elk hunt.
Roger Sigler from Antler Ridge Kennels in Missouri spends a lot of time training dogs for the woods. He is best known for training antler dogs that are also great at retrieving waterfowl and other game. He makes a point to train his dogs several times a week all year but says the best thing any hunter can do if they are short on time is to get their dog in the woods or water on a regular basis, starting 60 days before hunting season opens. “My favorite way to prepare dogs for hunting season is by taking them for a swim,” Sigler said. In fact, swimming is a great exercise for dogs like it is for people and can quickly help a dog drop extra weight. Taking dogs on a swim several days a week starting in mid-July is a great way to prepare them for fall. If a dog doesn’t like water, take him for a hike in the woods several days a week. A healthy, fit dog will be happier and a better all-around hunting dog than a dog that sits in a kennel until a few days before season opens.
John Engelken, better known as Tracker John, is a full-time blood tracker who spends his fall tracking big bucks across the Midwest. He believes if you want a top-notch hunting dog that can perform at the highest level, the dog must be in shape. “When the rut hits and I am tracking many deer, I need a dog that doesn’t run out of gas,” said Engelken. “I train all year so my dogs can work hard all season.” Many hunters brag about their dogs being awesome hunters. In most cases, if you want to have an awesome hunting dog, being in shape is a must. “A dog that is out of shape is not going to be able to cover the same amount of ground as one that is in shape. An out-of-shape dog won’t likely find as much game as a dog that gets a lot of physical activity in the off season.”
Nutrition plays a role in a dog’s ability to stay in shape, hunt hard and live a long life. Tracker John feeds his bloodhounds a diet high in venison and doesn’t give them much processed dog food. “I believe their overall health is much better as a result of feeding them a diet high in meat. They have a lot of energy and don’t carry around several extra pounds.”
Wilderness Athlete’s head formulator Rich Scheckenbach knows a lot about dog and human nutrition needs. Scheckenbach and Wilderness Athlete recently developed a nutritional product line for dogs called K9Athlete. “Dogs really are amazing athletes and when people are working out or walking a lot of miles, they often think about their own nutritional needs but forget about the needs of the dog,” Scheckenbach said. “If a dog is working hard all day, giving them an extra boost can really help keep them healthy and help them perform better.”
Dehydration is often a dog’s worst enemy. In mild cases of dehydration, a dog starts to lose energy so his hunting performance might suffer and his muscles might ache. In severe cases, a dog might have to be seen by a veterinarian or could even die. Hot fall days can bring a dog down fast. One reason dogs get dehydrated is because many dogs resist drinking when they are running around in the woods. “Wilderness Athlete offers a K9 Athlete product called Hydrate & Recover that is similar to powdered drink mixes for people, but it is formulated for dogs,” Scheckenbach noted. “It tastes good because it is bacon and butter flavored so even dogs that resist drinking will drink it.” When they do, they get a lot of other nutrients that will help their body bounce back after running in the field for long periods of time. Like people, dogs need electrolytes. Hydrate & Recover will give them that. The product also contains l-glutamine for sustained mental energy and it delivers L-glutathione to support proper cellular respiration. The product was developed to encourage increased fluid intake to prevent dehydration and protect kidneys. In addition, the product contains Leucine which is a branch chain amino acid. This is really important because it stimulates protein synthesis in muscle so it helps a dog preserve its lean muscle mass and prevents the breakdown of lean muscle. It can be used by the muscle to produce energy.
In many homes in America, a dog’s nutrition isn’t considered much. Dog owners go to the store and buy a dog food and don’t really think about their dog’s health beyond that. It is important that a dog eat a high-quality dog food but a dog owner shouldn’t stop there. There are many products on the market including those at K9 Athlete that can give dogs valuable nutrients to help them perform at a higher level and round out their diet.
Few things are as rewarding as watching a dog you trained retrieve a dog a grouse or an antler. Keeping a dog fit is a must if you want your dog to perform at the highest level and live a long happy life. Research shows a dog sleeps about half of his life. Make sure the other half is spent staying in shape and hunting.
Beware of Exercise-Induced Collapse
Labrador retrievers are by far the most popular hunting dog in America. Research shows that close to 25 percent of labs have the EIC gene. EIC stands for exercise induced collapse, which means when the dog is running a lot or working hard, it might just collapse and not be able to get up for a short period of time or in some cases, die! If a dog has the EIC gene, it won’t likely be a very good hunting dog. Before buying a puppy, ask the breeder if the parents have been tested to see if they carry the recessive gene.
Choosing the Right Dog Food
You don’t have to look very hard to find an overweight dog. Like humans, many dogs are overweight. When we eat, we often feed our dogs. It is safe to say most humans eat too much and so do our dogs. Not over feeding them is the single greatest thing we can do to keep them fit for the fall hunting season. Another is feed them a high-quality dog food. Many of today’s most popular brands of dog food are loaded with grains and other things that aren’t very good for a dog. If you can afford it, purchase a dog food that has meat as the first ingredient. It is important to note that many dog food companies weigh the meat that goes into their food before cooking it so it includes the added water weight. After the meat has been cooked, it weighs much less and would appear much further down the ingredients list if its actual weight was calculated after it was cooked.