other By: Pheasants Forever, Author Steve Hickoff | October, 21
Every bird dogger runs into extreme conditions. When temperatures threaten to soar and, perhaps, humidity fills the air, it’s time to consider your dog’s health and well-being while safely fitting in a jaunt or two in the field. Think early-season prairie grouse hunting, maybe a dove hunt, and yes, even a summery day in the first week or two of pheasant season. Add summer training and conditioning to that list.
I caught up with Dr. Seth Bynum DVM, hardcore bird hunter, veterinarian, member of the Purina veterinary ambassador team and German Shorthair person, who offered common-sense advice on running dogs when conditions start to simmer.
“The most effective strategy at keeping bird dogs safe is tempering your own expectations,” Dr. Bynum says. “We’re all excited for hunting season to begin and attempt to shake off the long off-season in the first outings. I’m as guilty as anyone.”
Problem is, hunting in the early season heat can affect a dog’s ability to nose up birds.
“Let’s be honest, the early season can provide an abundance of young, naive birds. But as the day warms, scenting conditions deteriorate, and our dogs struggle to find game anyway,” says Bynum. “As enthusiastic as I am about getting out early in the season, I want to set the dogs up for success in pointing coveys and finding wounded game. Hot, dry conditions certainly hinder the bird-finding ability of a dog’s nose, and I tend not to enjoy the outing as much when the dog work is marginal.
” So, what adjustments should we make? “Focus on short-and-sweet hunts that start early in the day or begin late in the evening,” Bynum says. Quit when the dog poops out. “Also, pads take time to condition to the rigors of the hunting season, so that’s another reason not to push it too hard early on.
” Bottom line? Take joy in the time you and your dog do get. Ease into the season. Live to hunt another day.
Bynum emphasizes dehydration and overheating as serious considerations in the early season heat. He also says these issues are preventable. “Douse the pads and ears in water,” he says. “These areas work like radiators to keep a dog cool.
Plan accordingly. “Hydration is a huge consideration. It’s nearly impossible to pack too much water,” this serious bird-hunter / veterinarian says. “I like to plan early season and really warm-weather outings around water sources, so that midway through the hunt the dogs have the option to immerse. Evaporative cooling through wet hair and skin offers the most bang for the buck. Swimming, or at least laying down in water, is a key to staying cool on hot days.”
And if this doesn’t help? “There are obvious signs such as weakness or collapse,” he says, “but often dogs show subtle signs they’re gassed. If you wait until they quit, you’ve waited too long.” Read that again: If you wait until the dog quits, you have waited too long.
Excessive panting and slowing down will tell you when to rest. Timed water breaks are key. “Set an alarm on your phone to check in every 30 minutes,” he recommends.
Bynum says, “Most dogs are aware you’re their main water source. Other dogs may require some coercion to encourage them to drink. You may need some help slipping a squirt bottle in the side of their mouths. Flavored water with a canine-friendly electrolyte supplement may help entice them to drink.
” It’s worth saying again: Carry as much water as feasible.
Weather also offers a solution. “Pick a rainy or overcast day,” Bynum says. “Even in September you can catch a break from the summer heat.” Even if it’s warm out, a dog will likely stay happy longer without a beating sun.
Even pheasant hunters hit hot conditions on occasion. And many of us hunt early birds too, such as sharptails and chickens on the prairies, ruffs and woodcock in the jungly woods, or doves in the sultry farm fields of September. The key to canine happiness and safety is appreciating what time you and your dog do get in the field, hunting smart by staying attuned to your dog and watching its queues, and putting water at the top of your hunt plan.
Steve Hickoff hails from Maine, but it gets hot there too. His bird dog Alphie is an English setter.
This story originally appeared in the Summer 2021 Bird Dog Issue of Pheasants Forever Journal.