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With opening days for grouse, quail, pheasant and other upland birds already passed or imminent, the time for training is over — it’s time for the real deal. When you head to the field to pursue birds now, it’s all about staying on top of the little things because they will keep your dog safe, healthy and hunting like a pro.

1. Maintain Standards
Allowing your dog to bump birds, fail to back, work out of range, not deliver to hand or chase birds are just a few things that an excited dog in a wild-bird scenario might do. And these are some of the things you might let slip in an exciting wild-bird scenario.

Don’t do it. Maintain your training standards (even at the sake of taking a shot or two) in the beginning and your dog will respect that and likely rise to them for rest of the season.

2. Trim Toenails
This is one area that I dread; cutting Kona’s toenails is like wrestling an alligator. But, keeping a dog’s nails short will keep them from splitting or being torn off in the field — something that will put your dog on the shelf for a couple of weeks. Use a pair of good clippers for the big job and a Pedi Paws for maintenance (and some styptic powder just in case you cut too close).

3. Continue Flea/Tick/Heartworm Preventative
Even if you live in the northern half of the U.S., your dogs should be on flea/tick and heartworm preventative at least until freezing weather becomes the norm. However, year-round protection is the best move as even days that warm into the 60s can activate fleas and ticks.

4. Bring Water and a First Aid Kit
Pack a first aid kit that can be used for both you and the dog. Be sure to bring plenty of water along, especially during the hot early season days.

5. Stay in Shape
Hopefully your dog is in shape to hunt long and hard. If not, don’t push him beyond his limits, take plenty of rest breaks and make water readily available. Work your dog, but don’t overdo it, and then engage in a conditioning program during the week — you’re behind schedule but it can be done. Keep your dog safe under all conditions.

6. Use ID Tags
It doesn’t matter if you use a tracking collar, a GPS, or a microchip, having an ID tag with your phone number on it is probably the fastest way to recover a lost dog. Plus, it isn’t dependent upon batteries, range, terrain or weather.

7. Locate the Local Vet
If you travel, bring a copy of your vaccinations and a list of medications; should something happen, that info can be of use to a vet. Additionally, you should have an idea of where the veterinarians are located wherever you visit.

Several Android and iPhone apps put all that information at your fingertips — health records, licenses, health insurance policies and the ability to search for vets (and receive turn-by-turn directions in some cases) based upon your current location. Check out PetCentral, which does it all but costs $3.99. If you’re looking for a free app, consider Purina Pet Health (iPhone; Android), which stores your dog’s medical records, schedules appointments, and can locate local vets for you.

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