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The Post-Hunt Tailgate Checkup for Gun Dogs

Do this quick exam at the end of each hunt.

The Post-Hunt Tailgate Checkup for Gun Dogs

Bird dogs have a tough life. They plow through freezing waves to retrieve ducks, burrow through briars to roust out pheasants and rip themselves open on barbed wire. All of which they’re willing to do. But it’s up to you to see after their well-being, and an easy way to catch small problems before they develop into large ones is with a tailgate checkup.

A tailgate checkup is a quick examination of your pup, noting any minor injuries he’s incurred. Most of the exam will be visual, but you’ll need a few basic tools to do the job right: a flea comb, a stiff wire brush or heavy metal comb for combing out burrs, and cotton swabs and saline solution. Keep them in a separate place in your truck so they’re handy.

I like to put my dogs on the back of my tailgate because it keeps them at waist height where they’re easy to handle. Then I run through my checklist: eyes, ears, teeth, toes.

Start with the toes. Examine the space between each toe and pull out any burrs or stickers that may have become lodged there. Your flea comb will do an excellent job of this.


Next, examine your dog’s ears, and do this step particularly carefully if he’s been running through foxtail or cheat grass. Pluck out any seeds you find.

Now examine your dog’s mouth. I learned this lesson from a friend, whose setter lodged a cactus spine in her gums which eventually migrated into her sinus cavity. Not pretty. Carefully check the gums where they meet the teeth for any debris that may have become lodged there.

Finally, examine your dog’s eyes. Pull down the lower lid and look for weed seeds and chaff. If you’ve got a droopy-eyed setter or spaniel, you’ll almost always find junk in your dog’s eyes that should be removed. An easy way to do that is to use a dry, not wet, cotton swab. Swab the lower lid between the dog’s eyeball and eyelid and, like magic, the chaff will stick to the swab. Finish up with a squirt or two of saline solution in both eyes.

Serious problems, of course, require a vet. But for everyday wear and tear, a tailgate checkup will go a long way toward keeping your dog happy and healthy.


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