I live in Texas and love to hunt pheasants with my two pointers. Each year, for a few days, we make the trek up to Dodge City, KS to our favorite spots to do some bird hunting. I've learned a few things over the years that work for me that I'd like to share with new hunters, or future hunters that have a sporting breed that they want to, some day, go hunting with.
Remote hunting grounds bring a change of environment. As a result, your dog will need help to deal with new things that he's just not used to. Even a dog that is in great physical condition will have challenges in an environment he does not live in every day.
This is especially true if you live in a big city, and your dogs live with you in your home, as opposed to living in an outdoor kennel like many rural hunting dogs. No matter what you do, your dog will not be fully conditioned to the environment you are going to take him to, or the activity of hunting every day, even if it's only half days.
Here are some of the things that I consider before planning for a hunting trip:
A month before a trip, my dogs get at least 2 sessions of 40 minutes of cardio a day. And this won't be a enough. My go-to is frisbee in the park. You can see my favorite one at Amazon. Frisbees move slower through the air than a ball, so my dog's attention is on something flying instead of on my hand or looking for a bounce. Note, dogs can get injuries playing frisbee, so make sure the ground is even without large holes and discourage jumping by only rewarding a catch if all feet are on the ground.
I don't let my dog's nails get too long. The longer you let them get, the longer the quick gets and then it's hard to cut them back. Long nails can tear or break and can make it hard to put boots on.
Flea, Tick, Heartworm and parasite preventative needs to be effective during the duration of the trip. If your dog likes to eat deer, hog or cat scat then it may be a good idea to bring some Metronidazole with you, or something more wide spectrum for parasites as your standard anti-parasite medication does not cover Giardia or other certain types of worms that they can easily pick up in the field. Talk to your vet.
Snake avoidance and Snake venom vaccination. I have had days hunting in Kansas where the temperature was in the mid 80's, so I don't take chances.
My e-collars and whistle are in good working condition. I have experience using them and the dogs are conditioned to the collar and know what the different stimulations, tones and whistle patterns mean.
Finally, I drive to the hunting area two days before my hunting companions arrive. During this time, I only hunt the dogs for a couple of hours. The goal isn't shooting birds as much as it is getting them acclimated, having fun looking for and finding the birds, and getting them relaxed. One of my pointers is from an FTC field trial line and he gets so worked up that he needs to be worked a bit before I put him in a field I actually want to hunt.
Preparing for Emergencies
Always carry a dog first-aid and trauma kit and know how to administer immediate treatment for your dog for breaks, sprains, lacerations or heaven forbid, gunshots.
Most importantly - Always know where, and how far away, the nearest Vet is along with their hours. If you'll be hunting outside their business hours, find out if they have an emergency number or where you could find an emergency Vet. Accidents can and do happen, and if one does you will want to know exactly what to do and where to go.
Your dogs feet will get a beating. That's why I'm a big fan of foot/pad care for my dogs. The better you look after their feet, the longer and harder they can hunt.
I used Ultra Paws Durable Dog Boots from alldogboots.com the first two years. Partly because I also used these boots when they were swimming in the pool to protect their nails, and us from their nails.
Very convenient to put on and take off quickly
Dogs burn holes through the bottoms really fast - if they last one trip, be happy.
These boots are not vented
They will come off if you don't do them up very snugly. Even if you do, at least one of them is going to come off before the day is out.
When I found them, I switched to the Vented Lewis Dog Boots. Vented - b/c the only place your dog can sweat is through the pads of his feet.
Very durable and should last for years
Size them carefully for your dog
They need to be put on snugly or there is a large risk of getting blisters on the legs, so the next point is super important!
Make sure you follow the instructions below for putting them on. These are different than the instructions they come with! Do this before you leave home sure you know how to do it and you have the proper first aid wrap and medical or duck/duct tape and that you have trimmed the boots for the front legs properly.
It may be inevitable that your dogs feet get a bit tore up, or maybe you don't want to put boots on your dog. In either case, get some New Skin from Walgreens, your favorite pharmacy, or from Amazon. If you are not using dog boots, spray your dogs feet before and after they go into the field to hunt. If your dogs feet are beat up for some reason after a hunt, spray them when you are done.
Make sure you spray it in a ventilated area. It has an ultra strong nail polish smell.
Face and Nipples
Your dog's nose will also take a beating and there is nothing you can do about it. At some point during your trip you are going to look down at your dog and notice that her nose and lips are red and raw, maybe even bleeding. The same thing is likely to happen to her nipples. Apply some vaseline to all the sensitive spots. Your pup will thank you for it.
For actual cuts or if it's looking cracked or extremely raw I clean them with bottled water, if necessary disinfect with a cotton swab and hydrogen peroxide and then cover with Neosporin. Neosporin has antibiotics in the cream to prevent infection. After the cream has been applied I may put on a layer of vaseline.
If you want to use a vest while hunting upland birds, make sure it only covers their chest, and does not go around their whole torso - those are for duck hunting. If you have excitable fast moving dogs, any type of vest can make your dog overheat very quickly. My first year hunting I had a guide with over 30 years experience remark to me that if I had put a vest on my dog to protect his chest, he'd most likely have already fallen over dead. I prefer road rash to a dead dog, because most dogs with large drives do not know when to stop. This is particularly true of young, overzealous dogs or dogs from field trial lines.
Force your dog to stop and take a break
Take a 10-20 minute break every hour. How ever far you've walked, your dog has covered many times the amount of ground you have. When you take breaks, make sure your pup gets all the water she will drink and something to replenish her energy levels. More on this below. I will also pour water over a dog's head and ears if I think they are a little too warm.
One way to tell if she may be getting too hot is to feel her ears. If they are hot then force her to stop until they cool down. Other signs of overheating will be excessive panting, rapid breathing, shade-seeking, wanting to jump in a pond, lack of motivation, wobbly gait, gaping mouth, and a curled tongue. If you see any of these signs, stop immediately.
The risk of overheating should be low if you are taking enough breaks.
The other thing you are mitigating by taking regular breaks is exertional rhabdomyolysis, known as tying up or muscle cramps. It's the imbalance between the energy the muscles need what is available in fat stores. It can go from muscle soreness to major muscle damage and death. Here are the things to look for: changes in the way your dog walks - particularly in the hind legs, shaking, slowing down, a humped back, and muscles that are tender to the touch. If you see any of these signs, stop immediately and get your dog into a cool place. Provide small amounts of water and a source of carbohydrates. If your dog doesn’t revive in five to 15 minutes, go to the vet as soon as possible.
Energy and Allergies
The first day I hunted with my first dog we hit it hard. We were both newbies that were very excited. That night, my dog spent the entire night on the bed next to me licking himself and when he wasn't licking, he was shaking. His eyes were shut, his face was swollen and his nose was running. Neither of us got much sleep and I was extremely concerned, so I took him to see a Vet first thing in the morning.
This is what was going on.
He hadn't been eating enough since we arrived because he was too excited.
With the massive amounts of calories he was burning and not replenishing, he had become hypoglycemic. "Hypoglycemia, or a drop in a dog’s blood sugar level, can be a serious medical condition that is caused by overworking an underconditioned dog or allowing an overzealous young dog to be overworked." Also, remember what I said about exertional rhabdomyolysis?
An allergic reaction to the prairie grasses. He had never been in prairie grasses before and this is a classic example of not being conditioned to this environment. He had very angry red skin on his entire underside and under his ears, so red it looked like burns.
After discussions with the vet and some experienced hunters and guides, I've come up with the following strategies that I use with all my dogs now to prevent problems.
I buy Alpo and mix it in with the food of any dog that won't eat due to over excitement. Yes, Alpo is horrible, horrible, dog food, but when a young dog is burning calories like crazy and not replenishing them, getting as many calories in them as possible is the most important thing. It's a short term, 3-4 day, solution, it won't kill them. Just like any teenager who plays sports and is eating you out of house and home, it doesn't really matter what they eat, they will burn through it immediately.
GSP's and many working dogs don't have much in the way of fat stores to begin with. To keep the blood sugar levels up throughout the day, I enhance their water. Every day, I take 16 water bottles and add 2-3 tbsp of raw, unfiltered, unpasteurized honey into each bottle. Shake the bottle well so that the honey disappears into the water. According to the Vet, raw unfiltered, unpasteurized honey will go straight into the bloodstream, bypassing the liver, to provide instant energy. If you just try to add normal sugar, that will get processed by the body before making it into the bloodstream. Make sure your dogs drink this every time you take a break. I carry four 1 litre bottles of this honey-water mix with me at all times, in addition to at least one bottle of water for me and one to pour over a dogs head should it come to that. This should help to mitigate any possible occurrences of hypoglycemia or exertional rhabdomyolysis. To add more sugars and carbs I also feed my dogs candy/bars. There isn't nearly enough chocolate on most candy bars to hurt your dog. My dogs love Twix and Welch's fruit snacks.
To address the severe allergic reaction, the Vet gave my dog a shot, but the long term solution, and preventative, is to give a dog that has allergies benadryl, or something like it - the Walgreen Wal-Dryl works just fine. I administer it every day we are hunting in the morning and after the hunt. This has basically eliminated any issues with red skin, puffy eyes, eye discharge and runny nose. Benadryl is a safe antihistamine for dogs, but to prevent the allergic reaction it should be taken before the dog is exposed to the allergen so that it can bind to the histamine receptors in the body before the allergen can. Otherwise it will not be as effective.
If you are interested in reading more about exercise induced conditions that can occur in the field, Pheasants Forever published a good article that discusses many of the things in this article, but in a more formal way. I used some of their information in the discussion on exertional rhabdomyolysis.
I know that not everyone will agree with everything on this list. Dogs that are purposeful hunting dogs, live in and are conditioned to their hunting environments and hunt regularly may not need many of these precautions. However, for those new or occasional hunters from the city whose dogs live pampered lives on dog beds in climate controlled homes, like mine do, there may be some things here that y'all can use.