As dog owners it is our job to keep our canine companions safe. There is possibly no harder time or place to do this than when hunting.
There are so many things that can go wrong when a bird dogs is at work in the field retrieving a downed bird. Whether you are hunting the great Canada Goose, teal, ducks or pheasants there are many hazards in the field that one might not even think of.
Here are a few of the possible dangers a bird dog may encounter while on a hunting trip.
Weather conditions can change quickly, often even during a single hunt. Early morning may be cool and crisp, by mid-morning it may be hot and sunny. If hunting in the late fall to early winter in areas where things get frigid be sure of the water conditions before you send or allow your faithful friend to venture in to retrieve that duck.
Ice- and Ice-cold water:
Icy water can be very dangerous to a dog. Not only the cold temperatures of the water but the speed and depth are both factors. Cold is going to take a lot of the dog’s energy. If hunting over a river the current may be very fast, and the dog may be pulled out into deeper water where the temperature overtakes them.
Ice is extremely dangerous. Dogs can not only fall through the ice but if that ice is on a river or even a slough they can be pulled under by the current and drown before you are able to get to them.
Be sure of ice conditions. Avoid shooting waterfowl over areas it is not safe for you to send your dog. If you aren’t safe, they are not safe either.
Not having enough fresh water to drink
- Bring water for yourself and your dog both.
- A collapsible drinking dish for your dog
Hydration is very important. A hard working bird dog can easily become dehydrated. If you think you have enough, bring more. ( I will talk more in-depth about this later.)
Tell someone where you will be hunting:
Just as with any kind of hunting always let friends or family know what area you will be hunting in. No matter how seasoned of a hunter you may be, problems can occur.
Know where to find Emergency help if needed:
If you have never hunted in the area before find out where all the local Veterinarian offices are, and the hours they are open. It would not hurt to know where the Veterinarian hospitals are in case of emergencies. Write the numbers down or save them to your phone.
Go out and scout the area before the first hunt. This may mean arriving a day early but it is well worth the time considering not doing this could mean you come back minus your trusted companion.
Know what insects are in the area:
This may seem unimportant, but these common pests can cause serious problems for your bird dog if they do not have the proper vaccinations for the area.
What large animals are in the area:
These can be hazardous to even the best trained bird dog. Coming across any other animal such as a bear with young or Elk, Moose or White-tail or Mule Deer during the rut can be dangerous as these normally peaceful animals may attack.
- Water Moccasins
Snake bites can be deadly to dogs as well as humans. They may be a bit slower to move out of your way when you and your bird dog are out during the Early Canada Goose season so better to be safe than sorry.
Remember that there are many plants that can also cause grave damage to bird dogs.
Some examples are:
- Poison Ivy
- Poison Oak
- Poison Sumac
These three plants cause problems because they contain urushiol, this is an oily sap which will cling to the skin or hair of anything passing through it. Dogs can not only get the itchy rash and blisters on the tender areas of their stomachs and inner legs but when you pet them it will be transferred to you as well.
Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria):
The results of a dog ingesting water containing Blue-green algae should be enough to scare you into bringing enough water for 5 dogs. This is nothing to fool around with. Water is usually contaminated during hot dry weather. Contaminated water will have a “pea soup” like appearance. Toxic blue-green algae contains liver toxins, neurotoxins or both.
The signs of poisoning are instant! Unfortunately, the results are as well.
Symptoms of poisoning may include:
- jaundice (yellow skin and gums)
Plain and simple this one is deadly and kills many hunting dogs in the US each year. Death from the liver toxin may take several days but the neurotoxin will kill them within minutes Treatment for the liver toxin is often unsuccessful and there is not time to treat the neurotoxin, so prevention is the only cure for this one.
Always, always have plenty of fresh water and offer it to your bird dog often.
Dogs love to eat things, everything. They are not immune to eating things they should not eat. Mushrooms are no exception. Many mushrooms a bird dog may find while out in the field are harmless to them, some can however be extremely toxic. One of the most dangerous mushrooms in the United States not only to dogs but to humans as well is the Death Cap or Amanita phalloides which can be found across the United States. It can be very difficult to properly identify a mushroom. Sometimes even experts have a hard time. Because of this it is best to consider ALL mushrooms toxic.
Do your best to not allow your dog to eat any mushroom.
Symptoms of mushroom poisoning include
- can vary depending on what kind of mushroom was ingested
- abdominal pain
Ingestion of mushrooms by hunting dogs generally leads to kidney and liver damage the amount of damage to organs is dependent on the toxicity of the mushroom consumed.
- Foxtail Barley
- Wild Rye
Yes, even grass can be dangerous. These types of grasses have a special kind of seed which is called an, awn. These seeds are sharp and have barbed hairs which point away from the spear end of the seed. Dogs can inhale the seeds of these grasses, when they do the seed heads will work their way through the tissue eventually ending up in the lungs this will cause thoracic cavity trauma and fluid build up in the dogs lungs. If this goes untreated the dog will most likely get pneumonia.
The symptoms are:
- a sustained low-grade fever
- ragged breathing
If your bird dog has been exposed to these grasses and exhibits these symptoms get them to a vet and let the vet know what plant or plants you suspect they were exposed to.
Plants and other wildlife are not the only hazards that exist in the field. Here are some other things to keep in mind when you do the pre-hunt scope-out of the land.
Sticks, broken trees and anything else that is sticking out of the ground on the shore could cause serious injury or death if a dog lands on it while they are heading out to retrieve a downed bird.
Do not feed your dog before going on a hunt. When the dog is done for the day that nice big meal will be appreciated and enjoyed.
Food before a hunt can cause the dog to have bloating of the stomach. Some people call this “gut twist”. What happens is the stomach can twist in the abdomen, gas will then build up and cause the food passage in the esophagus to be cut off. This will lead to a large drop in blood pressure and can result in death in as little as an hour if not treated.
The main cause of a twisted stomach is to much food being consumed before strenuous exercise.
Overworking / over-hunting:
Just working the dog to hard can be dangerous or deadly. If the temperatures are high a hard-working bird dog can easily succumb to heat stroke and exhaustion. If you are training young dogs with your older bird dog be sure that you keep in mind that the older dog will tire more quickly and need more breaks than the pups will. Pay attention to conditions and how your bird dog is acting. Heat stroke will kill a dog almost instantly.
So, as you can see much of keeping your dog safe is common sense. Some however is paying attention to the environment that they are hunting in.
In my next article I will outline some basic things that should always be brought alone on a hunt whether it is a few miles away or a few states away.
As hunters we need our bird dogs as partners. These partners need a bit of extra attention to stay safe and enjoy many years of hunting with you. Also, as hunters they are more than just partners, they often become our best friends so lets all take every precaution possible.