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Beat the Heat:
Warm Weather Safety Tips for Gun Dogs
By Steve Deger
Whether you're field training, running your dog in a hunt test, or enjoying an opening
day dove hunt, heat poses a serious threat to your AWS. But by following these common
sense tips, both and your dog can safely enjoy warm weather field activities:
- Condition your dog. Dogs that are in good physical shape will have an easier time
dealing with warm weather. But you can't wait until July or August to start---conditioning
is a year-round activity. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, field training, jogging, etc.
are all ways to keep your dog in peak condition year round.
- Learn to read your dog. This basic tenet applies to warm weather safety as much as
it does to any other aspect of dog training. Working your dog year round hones your skills
of observation, giving you a clearer picture of your dog's stamina under various
conditions. The signs of overheating that too often escape the eye of the inattentive
trainer--- lolling tongue, sunken eyes, fatigue, etc.---are less likely to be overlooked
when you learn to observe the subtle aspects of your dog's behavior during off-season
- Take it easy. During cool weather, your dog may hunt for hours without showing signs
of overheating. But it may take only a few minutes to overwork a dog when heat and
humidity are a part of the working environment. Shorten your training sessions
considerably. Limit field activity to the early morning hours, when temps are cool and the
sun is low in the sky. If you are doing both upland and water work, do the upland work in
the morning, and move to the water when the day progresses. Give your dog plenty of rest
in between periods of working the field. And when excessive heat and/or high humidity
are part of the weather forecast, skip field work altogether, and wait for a better day.
- Seek shade. Where possible, work your dog within the shade of a treeline or
shelterbelt. Take your breaks in the shade---but don't ever put the dog in the vehicle
with the windows rolled up or with the air condition off.
- Hydration is key. Make sure your dog is well-hydrated before an anticipated day in
the field. In the days before a scheduled hunt, training day, or hunt test, I flavor my
dog's water with kibble, which leads her to drink the entire bowl. I do this at about five
5 p.m., allowing me three or four opportunities to take her outside to empty her bladder
before putting her up for the night at around 10 p.m. That way the time the anticipated
day rolls around, I know I won't be starting out with a dog that is already a little
dehydrated before she hits the field.
In the field, make sure you have plenty of water on hand for drinking. Some people put
electrolytes in their dogs' drinking water, but since dogs don't lose electrolytes through
their skin the way humans do, effectiveness of this is questionable.
Keep your dog wet, particularly his or her stomach/chest area (ever notice how dogs lay in
a puddle when hot? They rarely roll around to soak their entire coat.) Dont put a
wet dog in a crate---the air circulation inside the crate is limited, and a wet dog can
turn a crate into a miniature sauna. Instead, put the dog on a tie-out stake until he or
she dries off.
- Clip your dog, but not too close. Removing excess hair will prevent warm, dead air
from being trapped against the dog's skin. But if you shave the dog too close, it may lead
- Use some of the "tricks of the trade". Dog enthusiasts have come with all
sorts of gadgets and techniques for keeping dogs cool. Battery-operated fans are available
that clip to the grates of a crate door. Use a wire crate, rather than a plastic airline
crate, as the open design allows air to circulate better. Some handlers turn the metal pan
of these crates upside down, and put ice cubes underneath to keep the pan cool.
AWSFA member Jeff Kraynik once shared a helpful tip on the BROWNDOGS discussion list---buy
a pair of those orange "tummy saver" dog vests they sell in outdoor catalogs.
Soak them in water and freeze them overnight. Put one on the dog before warm weather field
work, and bring the other along in a cooler to switch to after the first one thaws.
- Dont second-guess yourself. Sometimes, we look forward to days afield so much,
we let our own enthusiasm cloud our judgment of our dog's safety. Maybe its a hunt
test you've been waiting for all summer. Or maybe you've already had your gun club owners
plant training birds in the field, and you don't want to waste the money by quitting
before they are flushed and retrieved. Whatever the case, pause to look objectively at the
situation to determine if these are conditions you would normally otherwise hunt your dog
in. If not, scratch the test, pick your dog up, or leave the unhunted gun club field for
some other lucky flushing spaniel owner. Dont jeopardize your dog's health for any
reason, least of all reasons of vanity or frugality!
What to do when you run into a problem
- Keep a first aid kit with a thermometer---heat stroke occurs when a dog's temperature
reaches 104 degrees or more. If you reach this point, you'll have to get the dog's
temperature back down quickly.
- Rubbing alcohol can be used on the dog's underside for its evaporative, cooling effect.
Running water (such as from a garden hose or a creek) is better than placing the dog in a
tub of water---in a tub, the water around a dogs skin quickly warms and creates an
insulating, rather than cooling, effect.
- Don't force the dog to drink---that may worsen the problem, and the dog will eventually
drink again once it cools.
- Check for lodged objects in the dog's throat or mouth, to make sure it can breath and
- Finally, and most importantly, get the dog to the vet ASAP for prompt attention.
Although heat is a serious threat, it doesn't have to keep you from enjoying your field
dog year-round. With a little preparedness and a healthy dose of common sense, you can
enjoy even more days afield with your curly brown companion.