Dog Days: Beating Summer Heat

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You can work with your bird dog and train all summer long ... you just have to be smart about it. Here's how.

Story and Photos by Marissa Jensen

The dog days of summer are here, and with the sweltering heat comes the risk of hyperthermia and heatstroke. Heat related illness is one of every veterinary professional’s worst nightmares during the months where the sun shines the brightest. With a little thoughtful planning and learning your dog’s body language, you should be set to train in the summer and hit the field running in the fall. 

We invited Dr. Jennifer Kesler, DVM, Emergency Veterinarian from Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Care-South out of Indianapolis, Indiana to join us for a conversation on how to beat the summer heat with your bird dog.

“Exercising and training during the cool of the morning and when humidity is lower can be key in preventing heat stress, while also having fresh water available during these times,” recommends Dr. Kesler.
 
Additionally, handlers can seek out shaded areas to work their dogs or to utilize for breaks. If you have multiple dogs to train, try setting up a fan to keep those in-line or recovering from their training, cooled down. Areas with asphalt, concrete, and sand can provide a potential for contact burns. If training in areas where the footing is a concern, pick another venue or acclimate your bird dog to boots for their paws.

However, even with the best intentions, it’s important to know that every dog is different, and know what to look out for when training your dog during the hot summer months.

“Heat stress and exhaustion can be common in hunting and working dogs and knowing what to watch for is key in reducing risks and decreasing severity,” begins Dr. Kesler. Here are a few signs she recommends watching for:

•    Excessive panting
•    Bounding heartbeat - know your dog’s resting heartrate and working heartrate
•    Bright red mucous membranes/gums - normal color is pink, or even black pigmented gums
•    Elevate body temperature - normal range for dog’s is 100.5 to 102.5
•    Unsteadiness/lack of coordination
•    Lethargy
•    Refusing to move

Dr. Kesler advises that if any of the above signs are noted in the field or on the way home, owners should begin external cooling on their way to their local veterinarian. “External cooling includes using lukewarm water to spray them down/wet them. Drive with the air conditioner on or windows down and have water available for the dog to take small drinks. Lukewarm is the temperature recommended for the water so it doesn’t decrease their body temperature too rapidly, which can cause additional problems.”

Dogs can’t sweat, instead they lose heat through panting and different areas of their body such as paw pads and ears. Areas to focus on cooling with lukewarm water are the armpits, ears, and chest. It’s important to avoid draping a wet towel over a dog that’s overheated, as this traps body heat that’s attempting to escape.

It’s important to consider how our four-legged companions will handle those revered out-of-state hunt in the fall as well, knowing some areas can provide more challenges than others.

“If you are traveling to an area to hunt that has a different environment or climate, be aware that it takes your dog’s body one to two weeks to partially adjust and up to two months to completely adapt. Being in-tune with your hunting companion’s physical state and knowing what to watch for will help give you a stress-free and enjoyable time in the field and at home.”

With a little bit of preparation, and learning the unique language of your own bird dog, you will be set up for success to practice toward the ever-nearing, highly-anticipated opening day.

Marissa Jensen is Education & Outreach Program Manager for Pheasants Forever.