While the cooler temperatures of autumn are starting to settle in across much of the country and upland hunting seasons are kicking off, warm afternoons can still arise. For us, these warm, sunny days offer some of the most comfortable shoots of the season, but for a working dog they can be deadly. Take some precaution during the early season to protect your pooch from overheating and exhaustion.
Every year there are countless dogs that die from heat exhaustion during the opening weeks. If your dog is out of shape and/or packing a few extra pounds, it’s in even more danger to succumb to the heat and sudden stress of physically demanding work (…as are you).
Pay attention to your dog, his drive, gait, tongue and ability to perform, and give him plenty of rest and water to combat the rigors of warm temps and hard work.
A dog that slows down, isn’t working as diligently, has a large, lolling tongue that becomes cupped or that exhibits coordination problems (no matter how small), is telling you that he needs a break. Only his desire to please you and his drive to find game keep him going; dogs, they’re the consummate team player.
I always pack along two big squirt-top bottles of water in my upland-hunting vest. Sometimes I take a pull off one, but they’re primarily there for the dog. I also try to take advantage of any clean, cool streams or ponds I come across, and give Kona time to drink, swim or just lay around in the shallows. If he is reluctant to do so, I’ll just take a break and wait him out. Usually after a couple of minutes, a dog will fill his needs when he understands that nothing else is going to happen. If that doesn’t work, I’ll often just soak him down by hand anyway.
Taking plenty of breaks like this is vital during warm early season days. Just find some shade and stop. Take a seat and let the dog lay down, too. Wait until his breathing has slowed and his tongue returns to a normal size.
If you have two dogs, consider alternating them. Let one range ahead and search out birds while the other walks at heel. After a bit, change the working dog out and let it regain its composure while walking beside you.
After months and months, it can be very exciting (for both you and the dog) to be out hunting again, but you have to keep a level head and recognize your dog’s body signals and know its physical limits. They’ll just keep going until they drop, so it’s up to you to keep them reigned in and safe.