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For so many of us, dogs are our best friends, pets, loyal companions, or pseudo-children. For some, dogs are also competitors and athletes. But there’s a large population of dogs that often goes unnoticed in the dog-lovers’ world, and that is the population of hunting dogs. Now, whether you go hunting with your dog or not, hunting season can represent a big safety issue for dogs in general.With many people out and about looking for moving game to shoot, dogs – whether hunting or just out for a cheeky run – can be in danger. Today, I’ve got a few safety tips for your dog when on a hunting trip, or when around hunters.
I personally have never hunted with a dog. I have been hunting (you can’t grow up in the Midwest without that experience at least once), but it’s just not really for me. That being said, I’ve been around hunting dogs all my life. From neighbors to relatives to friends, I’ve known more than a few people with hounds that hunted for raccoons, possum, ducks, geese, and more. And across the Pond, dogs are still frequently used for hunting small game as well. If hunting with your dog sounds like something you’d have a blast doing, there are some things you need to keep in mind to ensure your dog stays safe.
(1) Make Sure Your Dog Is Visible
The most important thing you can do for your dog’s safety during hunting season is to make sure that other hunters can see your him. Even if you are hunting on private property, your dog may get the scent of something and run off after it for miles. It’s much better to put your dog in a visible orange dog vest than to take the chance. Go with either orange or neon yellow, as these two colors are well-known by hunters, who will instinctually register this color as being something they should not shoot at.
(2) Update Your Dog’s ID
When you’ve trained a dog to hunt, you can’t always be sure that they will come to heel if they’ve got the scent of something irresistible. And some hunting dogs are trained to run off from their owners and tree or corner prey. In any event, it’s a lot more likely that your dog will have the chance to run off when you’re hunting simply because they aren’t usually on a leash. So be sure that your dog’s ID is up to date with your current information. Hunters will probably want to go with a slide-on dog ID that doesn’t jingle when the dog moves, or a collar with the name and phone number stitched into the collar rather than on a tag. You will also want to be sure that your dog is microchipped, and that the microchip information is kept up-to-date, in case their collar gets ripped off on a fence or by an animal.
When you are out hunting with your dog, chances are you’ll run into more than one type of wildlife. Depending on where you are in the country, you may need to think about predators, like cougars or bear, or you may just need to be concerned with things like skunk. Another thing to consider is ticks and fleas. Be sure that you know how you plan to protect your dog from whatever kind of wildlife you may encounter. If you are hunting somewhere new, be sure you do some research so you can know what to expect.
(4) Bring Water
Your dog will need water when they are out running around being active, no matter if it is hot or cold outside. Letting them drink from steams and ponds isn’t always the best idea – there could be worms or bacteria that make them ill in natural water sources. It’s best to bring some water that your dog can drink. Grab one of these dog-bowl water bottles to make it easier to hydrate them, or pack a collapsible water bowl. If you bring multiple dogs hunting, you may want to bring separate bowls to keep them from fighting and to make water breaks faster. If you will be out for a long trip and can’t carry all the water you need with you, consider stashing some gallon jugs of clean water at a specific spot that you can go back to for refills throughout the day.
It’s common sense, but even if you are an experienced hunter, you can forget to take this important step. Be sure to tell someone where you and your dog will be hunting. If you always hunt in the same place, just be sure that someone knows how to get to your spot, and let them know when you’ll be out there. Have a check-in time for when you usually get back in, so that someone knows to come looking for you and your dog if you don’t come back. This ensures that you and your dog will be searched for, in the event that something happens and you can’t call for help.
One thing that dogs can be susceptible to is extreme temperatures, and we often don’t think about it. We start the day off with layers, and remove them as the day heats up – but our dogs can’t do that. It’s important to think about your dog’s comfort if you hunt in an area where the temperature changes drastically throughout the day. You may want to start your dog off with a vest and remove it as the weather heats up.
(7) Take Breaks in the Shade
No matter if it is hot or cold, your dog can suffer sun stroke. The sun can be especially damaging in the winter if there is snow on the ground, because it’s being reflected back up from the ground as well as beating down from the sky. Any time you can, take breaks in the shade and let your dog rest. Being outdoors for most of the day with you hunting is fun, but dogs can’t tell you if they are feeling dizzy or uncomfortable from sun exposure. It’s up to you to ensure that your dog gets a break out of the direct sunlight. If you aren’t hunting in an area with a lot of natural shade, you’ll want to carry a tarp or a hunting blind so that you can create shade for the both of you.
(8) Pack a First Aid Kit for Your Dog
I know that when you’re hunting, you already have a lot to carry. But if you can grab a pocket-sized pet first aid kit, which includes things like gauze, first aid tape, some antiseptic, and perhaps a styptic pencil to help stop bleeding, it’ll cover most of your immediate concerns if your dog gets injured. Basically, you just need a few things on hand to control bleeding until you can get your dog to a vet. Your biggest concern on a normal hunting trip will likely be a torn toenail, or a cut from a barbed wire fence or something similar. Being able to stop the bleeding and control it will ensure that your dog is safe from the most common concerns.
Anytime you take your dog into what could be a dangerous situation, you should be able to immediately contact emergency services if necessary. If your dog is going to be around wild animals, who are unpredictable and could lash out at your dog if cornered and scared, then there is a chance they could be injured. Have your emergency clinic or local vet on speed dial so that you can quickly let someone know that you’re heading to their clinic for help, should you need it.
(10) Watch Your Dog’s Health
Some hunting dogs are prone to certain types of illness or injuries, so be sure you keep an eye on your hunting buddy’s health. For example, Labrador retrievers are prone to a condition called “hunting dog hypoglycemia”, which means their blood sugar can drastically drop seemingly out of nowhere. It’s very important to bring water and snacks to feed a dog throughout the hunting trip, to keep their blood sugar regulated. Other issues that can plague hunting dogs include joint problems, which can be very painful and even debilitating. Be sure that your hunting dog is regularly seen by a vet and that you keep a close eye on their behavior for changes.
(11) Watch What Your Dog Eats
This last tip is probably one of the most important. Hunting dogs are going to be exposed to things that they should not eat, but they’ll have the most opportunity to do so. If they are running ahead of you, or you’re busy focusing on taking a shot, your dog could easily be getting into something that could be very bad for their health. The two biggest concerns are toxic plants, and dead animals.
There are many toxic plants that dogs shouldn’t eat, but if you are hunting in the woods, the main concern is mushrooms. Proper identification of mushrooms can be very difficult, so it’s best to not let your dog eat any mushrooms you find. Toxic mushrooms can cause vomiting, pain, seizures, diarrhea, liver damage, and kidney damage. Another problem is algae, which is usually consumed by drinking stagnant water. Toxic blue-green algae can cause seizures, weakness, jaundice, collapse, vomiting, and even death. Treatment options for eating toxic algae are very limited – they frequently fail. So in this case, it’s best to not let your dog drink water from natural sources unless you are 100% sure it’s clean.
Dead animals can be another big concern. They can carry things like rabies and worms, and can also just be very bad for your dog’s stomach if the meat has gone bad. Keep your dog away from any dead animals, even the one you just shot. You never know if the animal has worms until you’ve inspected it thoroughly.
Another problem that some hunters have found is that their dogs can get serious liver and kidney damage if they ingest pieces of a clay pigeon. If you are using clay pigeons to practice shooting, and your dog is a very curious dog who likes to eat things, be careful that they don’t ingest any part of a clay pigeon. These contain lead, tar, and other metals, which are toxic to dogs.
There are many other things that you’ll need to watch out for when it comes to dogs and hunting. For example, scatter from buckshot can injure a dog if they aren’t trained to stay well out of the way of a shot. This is just one example of what can happen if your dog isn’t trained properly to hunt. In order to ensure that a novice hunting dog stays safe, and learns quickly, it’s best to train a new hunting dog with an older, experienced hunting dog. If you don’t already have one, and don’t have friends who hunt with dogs, you may want to look for a club or a trainer in your area that specializes in hunting. Make sure your dog has the opportunity to learn what they need to know to stay safe.
Overall, hunting with your dog can be a lot of fun. It’s something that dogs have been doing with humans for centuries, and there are many parts of the world today where dogs still primarily act as fellow hunters for man. But in order to keep everyone safe, it’s important that you keep these safety tips in mind.
Once your dog is well trained to hunt with you, you’ll likely find that the two of you work like a well-oiled machine, and you don’t have to keep such a close eye on them. But until that point, be sure that your dog is always under your supervision to prevent any bad accidents.