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Hunting Dogs Not Immune To the Cold

Boise, Idaho — Wind blew whitecaps on the Snake River, and it was so bad there was no way we could float the river and jump shoot ducks.

Bummed. That’s all I can say about our canceled hunt last weekend.

I had monitored the weather and river flows before heading out. The wind was supposed to be going downstream, which would have helped with the momentum of the drift boat.

The temperature was supposed to range somewhere between 10 and 15 degrees, but once it gets below 20 degrees, everything feels the same anyway.

When my son and I finally got to the river after driving snowy and icy roads all the way, my jaw dropped.

A flag at a nearby service station was blowing straight out - and it was pointed upstream.

There was no way I could row that wide-bowed boat against the waves and wind for five miles. We’d end up being on the river until midnight. We canceled the hunting trip.

With the wind chill probably somewhere below 10 degrees, it got me thinking about how much cold can a hunting dog take? The question came up again the next day when I took our retriever on a short chukar hunting trip.

It was 8 degrees, and the wind was blowing like crazy. My nose was starting to frost, and I only lasted an hour.

But the dog was happy. It was rolling in the snow. It was sniffing for birds in the creek ravine and under sagebrush.

At what point do conditions get too drastic for your hunting dog? I talked with Mike Koob, who is a hunting-dog owner and avid hunter. He’s also a veterinarian at the Idaho Humane Society in Boise.

Koob says Labs and long-coated retrievers, like my dog Phoebe, can pretty much take what Idaho has to dish out.

His main concern with hunting dogs are their feet.

“Feet are what suffer the worst from the cold, snow and ice,” he said. “If you see bleeding, it’s time to head back.” You and your dog both need lots of water while hunting, even in cold weather.

“If they’re eating snow, give them some water,” he said.

Hunting in cold weather with your dog takes common sense and vigilance.

On the chukar hunt, I kept thinking Phoebe’s nose was going to get frostbite. After all, my nose was tingling.

Koob said he has never heard of frostbite on a dog’s nose. He says the tips of ears of dogs can get frostbitten in kennels in backyards during frigid temperatures.

Waterfowl hunters need to take extra precautions because their dogs will be constantly wet during cold weather.

A dog can get hypothermic being wet in cold and windy weather. I heard of one case this season.

Shivering is OK, but if your dog shivers incessantly and starts acting unresponsive, hypothermia could be setting in.

Hypothermia is when your dog’s body temperature starts falling. During the first stage of symptoms include uncontrolled shivering and the dog will become lethargic and tired.

During the second stage, the dog will no longer be able to shiver, and it may stagger, seem clumsy, and may even lose consciousness.

Obviously, you want to avoid letting it happen, but if it does, warm the dog as soon as possible. If you can’t get the dog into a heated vehicle right away, get it out of the wind and try to dry it.

Here are some other tips I’ve gotten over the years:

∎ Prepare your dog for the hunting trip with lots of calories before and during the hunt. Take high-energy dog snacks along.

∎ When setting up your duck blind, make sure there is a dry place for the dog. Your pooch shouldn’t be made to stand in cold water long this time of year. You could build up a nest of dried reeds. Try to keep them out of the wind, too.

∎ Let your dog shake off thoroughly after each retrieve. Take them for a walk around the island, or up the river bank every so often to get their blood flowing.

∎ Be aware of the distance of retrieves. Long-distance retrieves in a swift, icy river could be tiresome, especially for older dogs.

Also, take these steps to take care of your dog in cold weather.

∎ Before the trip home, towel your dog off prior to putting it in the kennel. Phoebe gets to ride in the heated station wagon.

∎ Kennel covers offer good protection for the dog in its kennel in the camper shell of the pickup truck. If conditions are extreme, keep the dog inside the cab.

∎ Never turn a wet dog outside in the yard after a hunt. Even if your dog is used to sleeping outside at night in freezing weather, give it a chance to dry off and warm up inside.

∎ A pet owner has to decide when it’s too cold for a dog to be outside overnight in freezing weather. A lot depends on the breed.

Some dog owners have heated outside kennels, but bring their dog in when the temperature is in the single digits.

∎ If your dogs are outside during the day, make sure they have a constant supply of water. A heated dog bowl is a must this time of the year.

∎ Make sure your dog’s house is protected from the wind and is dry and draft-free. It should be large enough so the dog can sit or lie down, but small enough to hold the dog’s body heat.

∎ Straw is an excellent insulating material for a dog house, but you can also use insulated pads.

∎ Sometimes dogs get wet outside in the yard and track the moisture onto the bed in their dog house. Check the insulated pads every once in a while in case they become wet and frozen. I rotate pads with one constantly drying out and defrosting in the garage.

∎ The dog house should have some insulation between it and the concrete.

∎ The doorway of the house should be covered with a weatherproof flap.

∎ If your dog is staying in the garage at night, make sure it has enough insulation from the concrete floor.

∎ It’s a good idea to hang a thermometer in the garage to make sure it’s not getting too cold.

It’s the time of the year for extra TLC for your hunting dog. If you’re cold and tired during the hunt, your dog is too.