Dog Days of Summer … Literally

by Dr. Jeff Hookstead

By the time this reaches your mailbox, we will be starting the proverbial “dog days of summer.” It’s during this time of the year that I’m often asked by dog owners who hunt their dogs, “Doc what should I do to get my dog ready for the season?” Whether you are a waterfowler or an upland bird hunter, the basic recommendations are the same.

Quite often owners want to focus on getting their dogs in physical shape. While this is extremely important, it is not the only thing we need to be concerned with. Hunting dogs have a significant increased risk for contracting common diseases due to more time spent outdoors (especially for hunting dogs which are primarily house dogs) in the woods, marshes, tall grasses and around wild animals. These risks increase their exposure to such things as fleas, mosquitoes (heartworm disease), ticks, canine distemper, leptospirosis and rabies virus. Having your hunting companion protected against these common parasites and diseases will get them off to a good start.

Hunting dogs are athletes. For them to perform to their highest potential, they need to be in peak physical condition. Most dogs hunt 2-3 months of the year and are family pets the other 9-10 months. Because of this, physical conditioning needs to start slow. Going for walks, playing fetch, and jogging with your dog are all good ways to get them back in shape. Work with your dog either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Thus, staying away from the heat of the day. You will also need to make sure your dog has plenty of cool water and is allowed to drink anytime it wants. Keep training sessions short (15 minutes to start) and build slowly. Be aware of signs of heat stroke,
which consist of excessive panting, dry mouth, disorientation and in extreme cases, collapse. If any of these signs are present, place your dog in a cool, wet blanket and seek medical attention immediately.

Swimming is also an excellent way to get your dog in shape. It is low impact to joints and muscles and is tremendous for building cardiovasular and pulmunary stamina.

Basic obedience is another aspect to getting your dog ready for the season. I am not talking about hand signal and blind retrieve, but rather
“sit”, “stay” (“whoa” for pointers), and “come”. Having a dog under control will make everyone’s hunting experience more enjoyable.

Getting your dog ready for the season is more than throwing a ball in the backyard the week before the opener. It’s about getting them ready
medically, physically, mentally and nutritionally. Addressing these four areas will help ensure you’ll have a great hunting season (that is if you can shoot straight)