Cold Weather Care
By Ryan Eder
Hunting season is finally here! The past offseason has been geared towards training dogs and hopefully keeping them in shape to prepare for the upcoming seasons. However a major difference is the fact that spring and summer temperatures are much warmer than what the late fall and winter bring…the majority of the time. Now it’s time to think about preparing for the brisk winter months ahead as we will most definitely be working our dogs in some very tough and cold conditions.
To start, sporting breeds were bred for some sort of hunting, and are very durable when it comes to weather tolerance. That being said here in Iowa we have some extremely cold and brutal weather and should really do our best to protect our dogs from it as much as possible. Dogs are not indestructible machines and react to harsh conditions just like all living things do. A few preparations that should be done are as follows:
If you keep your dog outside in a kennel, it is vital to make sure your dog has the very least a dog house of some sort that can completely block the wind and precipitation. It is also ideal to have a roof on the kennel that protects the dog from rain or snow when outside of his/her house. This can also aide with cleaning the kennel too. For winter months, they will also need some sort of bedding (straw, heat pads, dog bed, etc.) to give them a little help retaining heat inside the doghouse. Make sure your kennel is blocked from the strongest, coldest winds by placing the kennel on a certain side of your house, garage, or fixed structure. It is also wise to place a windproof tarp of some sort on the sides of the kennel to reduce wind from entering other sides. If push comes to shove you can crate dogs at night in the house or garage to keep them inside during the coldest parts of the day.
Remember that if you transport your dog in the back of a pickup truck, where they are not protected from the wind and outside temperature, it is imperative that you invest in a plastic crate as well as an insulated crate cover. These covers are reasonably priced and can really help keep you dogs kennel warmer for them while you drive to your hunting location. This is a much more reasonable alternative for many hunters who do not have a need for insulated dog transport boxes or trailers. If your dog travels with you inside your vehicle, a regular crate or wire cage is absolutely fine.
Also make sure and tie down your kennel during transport. Injuries can happen if a kennel is sliding or tipping all over the place in the back of a truck. Not to mention it is just plain uncomfortable to a dog. The ride should be enjoyable and not feel like a roller coaster ride.
During cold weather and harsh conditions your dog will burn more calories simply to heat their body. Compensation in their diet needs to happen and extra calories need to be provided. Don’t forget they will burn a lot of calories while in the field too. It is not a bad idea to add a cup or two of food to their daily intake. Dogs that hunt on a regular basis throughout the winter months may even require their food intake to be doubled. Hydration of course remains important as well. Just because the temps are low doesn’t mean a dog won’t get dehydrated. Some dogs will eat snow in the field to obtain water, which is fine, but make sure they get plenty of water before and after a hunt. This is particularly important for kennel dogs that live outside because unless you have a heated water bowl, or an indoor portion of your kennel that does not freeze, feeding time may be the only time a dog can obtain water.
Dogs That Hunt Over Water
Anyone who waterfowl hunts in Iowa has seen a dog make retrieves in water this is freezing cold, literally. Neoprene dog vest are a must once we hit the time of year to help the dog maintain a warmer body temperature. Also make sure and bring plenty of dry towels with you to the blind to dry off the dog after a retrieve. Simply take the vest off and wipe off excess water once the dog does his own shaking, then reposition the vest. This prevents very cold water from getting between the dog’s skin and vest, and being held there by the vest causing the dog to get cold much quicker.
Vests also provide upland dogs protection against poky weeds, ice, and in some cases barbed wire fences. It is highly encouraged no matter if you waterfowl hunt, upland hunt, or both to invest in a vest.
If we are conscious of making sure our dogs are cared for properly in their kennel, during transportation, in their diet, and while a field we can maintain great performance in the field and have a happier companion. Best of luck to everyone and their dogs in the upcoming seasons.