The desire and willingness to travel in search of upland adventure has never been stronger than it is these days. The availability of information on potential hunting spots combined with the opportunity to experience new species in new places is enough to get many of us to plan at least one hunting trip every season.
This is a good thing for us and our dogs, but it doesn’t come without some considerations for our retrievers’ needs. This is especially true when you acknowledge that a lot of the planning will revolve around simply daydreaming about how productive the hunting will be; and hopefully, your trip pans out exactly that way. However, it’s also a good idea to plan for what can go wrong with your dog on a road trip, and how you can be as prepared as possible to address those issues. This preparation, although not as fun as daydreaming about limits of roosters, is really the foundation for a trip that goes as planned.
Traveling and crates go hand in hand, so it goes without saying that if your dog isn’t comfortable with his kennel, things could get rough. This is why we always start crate training with puppies to develop positive and safe behaviors with kennels that are crucial at home and on the way to and from the field. In consideration of the latter, I always try to think about what my dogs will need when we do hit the road.
I’ve got a firm rule that about every four hours, we are going to stop and let the dogs out to exercise a bit. This usually coincides with refueling my truck, but that doesn’t mean the dogs can run free just because we stopped at a gas station. The first thing on my mind when the four-hour mark is coming is not where the best fuel prices are, but where the dogs can safely air out. Even then, I usually keep my dogs on a check cord whether they are just in some green space next to a truck stop or maybe we’ve stopped at a rest stop along the interstate. Absolute control in an environment that might have heavy traffic nearby, is a necessity.
This is also the time when I offer up water to my dogs, because I don’t like to leave them with water in the crate. However, I will feed my dogs in their crate to keep them on their consistent, evening feeding schedule.
It wasn’t that long ago when you could pretty much count on most motels allowing dogs. Things have changed over recent years, no doubt due to bad experiences with pet owners. Now, before you even put a mile on your truck, you should find out where you can stay with your dog. It’s a bad idea to assume you can just hit the road and find a pet-friendly place to spend the night, because you might find they are few and far between.
When you do find a motel that allows dogs, it’s time to think about common courtesy. We do this by bringing some king-size sheets with us to cover furniture and beds. This keeps most of the dog hair under control and doesn’t leave housekeeping with extra work. We also pay close attention to barking. Your dog might not be overly vocal at home, but when you get into a hotel and the dog can hear other guests, or maybe the opening and closing of other doors, he might light up. This can be particularly problematic if you and your hunting partners are out grabbing a burger and the dog is in the room by himself.
Knowing this is a possibility, you might want to order in so you’re with the dog the whole time or employ a bark collar if you need to leave your retriever for any reason.
Travel Gear & Dog Management
Besides a good crate that also has an insulated cover if the weather is going to be chilly, I have a few essentials I won’t leave home without: plenty of water for the dog, a quality first-aid kit, wire cutters for traps, a check cord, and an extra e-collar. This might seem like overkill, but if for example, your primary tool for controlling and keeping your dog safe in the field is his e-collar, you don’t want to suddenly find it not working in a place where the nearest sporting goods store might be 200 miles away.
Another thing I always travel with is Purina’s FortiFlora, which is a probiotic that does wonders for a dog’s intestinal health at all times—but particularly on a road trip where diarrhea is a real possibility. I use it in the weeks leading up to, and throughout the trip, to ensure my dogs steer clear of any intestinal issues.
All of these things are essential to keeping a dog healthy and in control, but you should also consider how to manage your retriever throughout your trip. It’s easy to get amped up for five days of pheasant hunting, but if your dog isn’t in great shape or is at an age where periodic rest is necessary, be mindful of that.
Manage your dog’s output on a daily, and even hourly basis, to ensure the whole trip is a winner—not just the first day.
Rarely is the best quail or sharptail hunting located close to an emergency veterinarian clinic. Before you head out to your destination, do some research on where you can get 24-hour care for your dog if you need it. If something goes wrong in the field, you do not want to waste valuable time trying to get a signal on your smartphone so you can Google the nearest clinic. Have that information ready before you ever leave.