Dogs need to get in hunting shape

by JIM RAMBERG/The Capital-Journal

Early-season training is necessary to get a dog in shape for the hunting season. A walk or a retrieving session once a day will do it.

Over the years, and I don't want to guess how many, I have had to spend a lot of money on my dogs, and I don't want to guess how much.

I've been privileged to own some fine hunting dogs, mostly Labradors, but also a couple of Brittany spaniels and an English Setter that was possessed by a devil.

They were all hunting dogs. All of them were fearless, which is to say they could be stupid at times. In fact, the nickname for the yellow Lab I have now is "Stupidhead."

Stupid things account for accidents in the field. On three different occasions, I have had to quit the day's hunt to go find a veterinarian to patch up a dog. It almost happened last year when Stupidhead, actually Tumbleweed, blended into a patch of high yellow grass so well that he got shot.

He came out mostly red all over but with a big smile on his face. He'd finally got into some birds, you see, and that was what the shooting was all about.

"You've got to get him into a vet right away," urged Bob Biedenbach, an old friend. "Don't argue with me. I'll pay for it myself."

I think Beaner thought an errant shot of his had hit Weed. But I held off. Back at the old farm that was our base, I gave Weed a cold bath. Most of the blood washed off. He'd been hit in the ear, which is kind of what I thought had happened.

Ear wounds produce a lot of blood and look ghastly, but, of course, are not fatal. It scabbed over quickly and Weed was back in the field after lunch.

But I've spent some bucks on getting torn dog flesh sewed up again. But it's worth it, just on the standpoint of listening to vets talk about dogs' health.

My vet is Mike Esau, a hunter himself. Here's a little bit of what he says about dogs, particularly hunting dogs.

"You have to get them in shape before the season," he maintains. "You can't take an athlete to a track meet and expect him to perform without training. Same with a dog."

Each year at this time, Esau treats the walking wounded.

"The most common injury we see is cuts from barbed wire," he said. "In most cases they are superficial and a dog can hunt with them. But it is best to get them stitched up quickly.

"We also see ligament damage to knees and rips on the dew claws. When those things happen, a dog can't hunt."

A few hunting dogs are diabetic, too, and prone to seizures.

"I had a setter that was diabetic," Esau said. "I do advocate bringing sugar along to bring them out of a seizure. I also carry a squeeze pouch of natural honey. The dogs can assimilate that better."

Esau hates to see a hunter bring in a dog that is coughing.

"It's almost always heartworms," he said. "We can cure that in time, but it takes months. And the hunting season only last a few months. That dog is done for the season."

Dogs, just like their owners, can hurt after the end of a day, especially if they are old (and I'm talking both dogs and owners here).

"I always bring some pills along," Esau said. "I prefer Remidal, but ordinary aspirin is good, too. For a larger dog, one adult aspirin 12 hours apart --- say, in the evening and the morning --- won't hurt them."

And, like humans, don't forget the water.

"Dogs need a source of water," Esau said. "If there are creeks or ponds handy, that will do. But bring some water along. It's been dry in a lot of places for a couple years."

Copyright 2002 Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved. Early-season training is necessary to get a dog in shape for the hunting season. A walk or a retrieving session once a day will do it.