An expert hunting dog trainer explains how to keep your retriever safe in frigid weather
Whether your dog is jumping into frigid water to retrieve a downed bird or running through wet grass to flush a winter rabbit, it’s vulnerable to the potentially lethal effects of hypothermia. Dog trainer and hunter Shawn Arney of Oakridge Retrievers offers advice on how to keep Fido safe on cold-weather hunts.
Most hunters think their dog can handle cold weather, says Arney, but it really can’t unless it’s in good shape. He says you must keep it active all year long and practise drills in the same kind of weather you’re going to be hunting. “You have to condition him in the cold if he’s going to be running in the cold.”
When waterfowling, Arney dresses his retriever in a neoprene vest. Not only does the material keep the dog’s core warm, it makes the dog more buoyant so it can keep its head higher to see downed birds. As well, Arney immediately dries the dog with a towel when it’s out of the water.
Your dog needs nutritious food to provide the energy needed to perform on cold days, Arney says. As well, the food should contain the oils required to give the dog a healthy coat, which helps to repel water.
Don’t push your dog past its limits, Arney says, or send it into the water to retrieve a bird you can get yourself. Always mind the weather, and keep an eye out for signs of hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering, pale or blue gums, shallow breathing and lethargy. If the dog exhibits any of these symptoms, dry it off, keep it wrapped up and get it to a warm place as soon as possible. And don’t let your dog run on top of ice-encrusted snow—it could break through and injure its legs. Says Arney: “You get longer life out of your dog if you protect him from square one.”