Much is made of providing adequate water for our dogs during the heat of the summer months, and while it’s important, vital even, it’s just as important to make sure they continue to drink water while working during the cold months of hunting season. Here are some tips that will help keep fluids in your pooch, even if he doesn’t feel like drinking.
While it’s cold outside, it might seem like a time that dogs don’t have to drink as much, that’s a fallacy that can be very dangerous. All living creatures need water to live and the harder you’re working the more you need; it maintains and influences every system in our body and without adequate levels those systems become impaired and compromised.
The fact is, many hard-working dogs–upland, waterfowl, coon dogs, etc.–naturally reduce their water intake while hunting. This places tremendous strains on their body as metabolic activity increases. The low humidity of winter just adds to the problem by leaching more water molecules from the body as a dog pants.
While talking with Eric Morris, a nutritionist with Fromm Family Foods, for the Dec/Jan issue of Outdoor Life Magazine (the one-page article is on winter feeding tips), I asked about hydration and he had some great tips to ensure your hunting dog keeps drinking–even if he doesn’t want to cooperate.
1. Add water to feed: You can do this at a 1:1 ratio and do it immediately before putting the bowl down for Fido to eat. I use this method quite frequently.
2. Cold soak: Again with a 1:1 ratio of food and water, add water to the bowl an hour before feeding time and allow the kibble to absorb the liquid. Morris says most dogs find this a palatable option.
3. Bait the water: Add kibble, burger or blood to flavor the water and induce your pup to drink.
4. Drink from a squirt bottle: Teach your pup to take water from a pop-top bottle that you can carry afield with you. During breaks in the action or after your dog retrieves a bird, you can rinse the feathers out of his mouth and give him a quick drink.
5. Use a large dish: Morris says that they’ve found a dog is likely to drink more water from a larger dish. Additionally, he says that you don’t need a ton of water in it; about an inch will, for some reason, induce your dog to drink more. “It’s one of the easiest tricks to get a dog to drink more. Put about a half-inch to an inch of water in a larger bowl,” he said. “Yes, I know it’s a hassle to take a bigger bowl with you when hunting and traveling, but it’s worth it.”
6. Train them to drink: Morris says you can train your pup to drink. This idea goes beyond just the simple idea of providing water or food for you pup and telling him to drink. It gets into habituation and almost compulsion. By providing a substance your pooch wants (by baiting the water) and then linking a command to it, over time you can almost make your dog drink (I wonder if this would work for the proverbial horse…).
With those half-dozen tips to keep your pup hydrated as arctic weather sets in across the country, there’s no excuse for them to be dehydrated. But how much water is enough?
Morris says that a 50-pound dog should drink between 2- to 4-quarts of water per day as a baseline. That increases in direct relation to how hard they’re working.
Also, keep in mind that proper hydration occurs before you’re in the field. “It starts way ahead of time,” says Morris. “If you want your dog running on Sunday, then water intake has to start by at least Friday.”