We have spent the long summer working with our new puppies and mature dogs developing basic training and perfecting skills and now it is pay-off time.

Here are several things to keep in mind as we head to the field:

Dehydration

Dogs dehydrate more easily in winter than in summer. We are more aware when the weather is hot about watering because we notice our thirst more. Dogs, as well as people, just don’t feel as thirsty when the weather is cold. When you don’t feel thirsty, you don’t drink as much, and this can lead to dehydration.

Dogs lose fluid primarily through panting, waste elimination, and evaporation through the pads. Cold temperatures alter the thirst sensation and reduce the physiological stimulus to drink. Cold temperatures can also increase a dog’s natural activity. These two factors dramatically contribute to dehydration during a hunting or training session. I spoke to friends that are Iditarod competitors for this article and they stressed that dehydration is the top threat to their dog team.

Know the warning signs of dehydration. The eyes could appear sunken and lack moisture.  The mouth, gums and nose may appears dry. Your dog may appear sluggish and disoriented. When you pinch the skin on the top of their back, it does not bounce back. In severe cases they may develop trimmers. Know your dog so when behavior changes you can identify if something is wrong.

A good way to monitor proper hydration is to examine urine output — the color should be nearly clear. You can also check the capillary refill of your dogs lip. Pull up the lip and look at the gums.  Pinch the lip and see how long it takes for it to become pink again. In a normal condition it should refill immediately. In a dehydrated dog the refill could take 3 or more seconds to refill. If your dog has signs of dehydration, he may need a trip to the vet for immediate replenishment of fluids.

Start re-hydration slowly. Let your dog take a few sips every few minutes.  Overdrinking can lead to vomiting which can worsen the situation. Don’t let your dog drink excessive amounts of water after strenuous exercise. Wait a few minutes then allow him to drink small amounts every few minutes. When in cold weather, you can warm the water to help stimulate the thirst sensation. For faster rehydration give him water mixed with electrolytes. While water helps in replenishing a lot of nutrients, electrolyte can work more quickly. There are various brands. I carry in my bag and recommend Rehydrate® brand.

So how do you carry enough water for you and your dog? There is a lot of great gear out there to help you carry what you will need while out in the field or on a walk. I use and recommend the “Bird Dog Vest” from Dogs Unlimited (www.dogsunlimited.com.) The pocket system in the back of the vest will carry up to a 3 liter hydration system, helping to balance the load and make carrying what you need easier. It is designed for hunters, but would be great on a long hike. BLACKHAWK® & Camelbak® make top notch hydration systems in various pack combinations. The important factor is to make sure it fits well so that you will carry it with you and use it.

Dog Food

Feed your dog a high quality dog food. There is a good reason that cheap food is cheap. When you feed a low quality food you will feed a lot more volume to maintain your dogs correct weight. Feeding a high quality food you don’t have to feed as much volume to maintain that same weight. With a high quality food you will have less waste because the dog will be ingesting more of the nutrition. This really means that low quality dog food costs the same as high quality food in the end.

Have you ever noticed your dog may like one bag, of the brand of food you are feeding one month and not so much the next bag? That is because dog food ingredient content can vary from batch to batch, mostly by the quality of the meals.  Many dog foods will change from #1 grade meal to a lower #2 grade because of commodity pricing. The ingredient label does not have to reflect that change. Dog food is big business and a lot of manufacturers will do what they can to cut costs, and that means reducing quality if necessary.

Feeding a dog food that is all natural with no preservatives is the way to go. Much has been said about corn and wheat and their contribution to allergies. Eighty five percent of allergies are environmental. That leaves fifteen percent which may be the protein source that is feed. If you think your dog has food allergies make sure you are feeding a single source of protein in the food. That includes any treats you may feed. Read your labels carefully. Many foods have multiple protein sources. An example would be; Salmon and chicken meal, in the same label. Chicken is the favorite flavor to most dogs. Lamb, venison and salmon are also alternative sources. Holistic foods and organic foods are also available.

Look for a food that only uses #1 grade meals. It needs to say this on the bag. That means every bag of food will be consistent in grades of formula. Meals are necessary to increase the protein levels. You want a food that has 100% proteinated minerals which are plant derived and more active in the body than sulfates and oxides. Selenium is very important for breeders, and helps to promote a health skin and coat. Selenium is usually derived from wheat and many companies have taken the wheat out of there formula due to the allergy question. Look to see that the selenium is a natural form. I think having digestive enzyme on the kibble is very important. Like the product Activia for humans, it quickly activates digestion. That’s important because you never know what your dog is drinking or chewing on behind your back. I confess, I forget to leave the toilet lid down sometimes. Direct microbials normalize the intestinal bacteria and prevent bad bacteria helping maintain a functional intestinal system under stress. Fiber, glucosamine and chondroitin, balance omega 3 and 6, and anti oxidants, are all ingredients that should be on the label. When reading the ingredients, once you start getting to the minerals and vitamins for example; proteinated minerals, potassium chloride etc., these ingredients only represent plus or minus 1 to 2 cups of volume in a 33 lbs bag. That means those first ingredients are the bulk of what you are feeding. I like to see a pure meat source as the first ingredient.

By feeding a premium food you are developing a healthy dog, which decrease visits to the vet and promotes a longer, stronger and healthier life. Take the time to really look at the ingredient label in your brand of food. Your breeder, trainer and veterinarian are a great source for information. Our kennel feeds and recommends NutriSource®.  Another comparable food is Wellness® brand. Dog foods can be regional in availability. Typically the better foods will not be carried in the big box stores. Discover your local pet food store. They are more likely to carry a quality food and can talk to you in depth about those products. The added advantage is that you will be supporting local business in your area.

Feed once a day in the evening, after the day is done. Make sure they have been settled down at least thirty minutes. Never feed then go out running. The air and food in the intestines can twist up and cause a serious blockage. Does your dog gobble his food? Try putting a little water in with his food. That should help slow him down. If that doesn’t work, there are bowls on the market that have fingers in the bottom that the dog has to eat around. My little Brittney female Maggie is a gobbler and water works great for her.

Don’t feed table scraps. You get into the multiple protein issue once more. Never let your dog have chocolate, onions, garlic, raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, avocado, pear, plum, peach or apricot pits, apple cores or potato peelings.

I hope this season has already yielded you good memories with your hunting partner and loyal friend, your hunting dog.

Remember, whether in the field, back yard or kitchen: Never miss an opportunity to train.

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