A couple of years ago, I spent a day hunting chukar on a rimrock north of Madras. An early season hunt, we were all a little out of shape. The dog most of all. Confined to a backyard for the summer, the extra pounds she carried were slowing her down. By the end of the day, her paws were cracked from the brutal use they were put to on the unfamiliar terrain. We had to quit when the dog was spent, about an hour earlier than we’d hoped for.
Ideally, preparing your dog for fall and winter days afield should start several months before. Taking the dog on a daily walk or run will condition them for the rigors of the hunt. If the dog is kept outside, add calorie-rich fat as the canine requires more energy to maintain core body temperature. Make any changes to diet gradually, as changing too fast could cause digestive problems. As the season approaches the dog will be in top shape, ready for action.
When the days turn colder and ice forms in the dog’s dish, give water in the dog’s food, served at room temperature. Extremely cold water will lower your dog’s body temperature and his body will be forced to burn calories to bring it back up.
Take a look at the doghouse. It should keep out the wind and provide insulation to hold the animal’s heat. Keeping the wind out is the easy part. Four walls and a door will do it. A door can be fashioned from a piece of rubber or a blanket, split in two to provide access to the interior. To reflect heat, the house should be about a third larger than the dog. Much larger and it won’t hold the heat. Provide enough bedding that the dog can burrow in. Change the bedding on a regular basis to keep dirt and moisture from matting it down.
Before a cold-weather hunt, let the dog sleep indoors. You don’t want her using all her energy up the night before just in keeping warm.
As you prepare for the day afield, be aware of the way different environments affect your dog. Cold weather brings ice which builds up in balls on the hair of your dog’s paws. Vaseline applied to the paws can slow down the ice but it will eventually wear away.
Weed seeds and burrs can cause problems with some breeds of dogs. I hunted this past fall with a fellow who tapes his dogs’ ears shut. He hunts with three english springer spaniels. Their floppy ears and long hair seem to attract burrs. A burr too far down the ear canal will not only ruin a hunt but it can mean a veterinarian’s bill as well. Starting with a two and a half inch roll of masking tape, my friend winds the tape completely around the dog’s head. The ears are securely held against the head and the tape, behind the jaws, does not get in the way. His dogs don’t seem to mind and it doesn’t seem to affect their hearing at all.
When hunting or hiking in different terrain, be mindful of your dog’s paws. For a dog not used to putting on a lot of miles, even a few hundred yards over rocky soil will hurt. If there is any lava rock around, you need to protect them from it. There are boots available for around $30 that will protect your dog’s feet and allow them to enjoy more fully the time afield.
Some breeds are made for cold weather. The heavier-coated dogs can withstand miserable conditions and enjoy it. Short-haired animals are better off inside when it gets really cold. In general, if the weather is bad enough that you shouldn’t be out then you probably shouldn’t be running a dog out there.
Fall and winter bring all sorts of outdoor pleasures that you can share with your four footed friend. They also bring special concerns for every dog owner. Working snow-covered fields, icy shorelines or rimrock trails can play havoc with a dog’s feet. Cold weather can sap his strength before you even start. A little preparation before going afield will make the outing as enjoyable for Fido as it is for you.