Prep For This Season: First Aid Overview For Sporting Dogs

By Ryan Eder

As I sit down to collect my notes for this article, I must reflect and share with you my experience this past week on a hunt I went on. It is nuisance goose season, an early time period prior to waterfowl season where hunters can legally hunt local geese at a five bird per hunter limit. Just this morning we shot over a dozen geese, but it wasn’t the same without my dog in the layout blind with me. Colt, a three-year-old black lab male is my right hand man in the field. He has earned his UGA Advanced Flusher title, and is only a couple of passes away from his AKC Master Hunter title. Needless to say, he is a talented dog that was sidelined from his favorite game this week due to injury. We are at that time of year when we begin to shift activity with our dogs from the training field, hunt tests or field trials to full blown hunting. I felt it very important, especially considering my personal experiences as of late to provide an overview of important first aid materials to have with you in the field (at least in the truck) at all times when competing in field trials, running hunt tests, hunting or training with your dog.

Bear in mind, the type of hunting you do, your dog’s unique tendencies and even geographic location can influence how we “build” a first aid kit for our sporting dogs, but I do feel there are common injuries and factors to consider for all of us that can occur regardless of what or where you hunt. It is also important that I tell you that this article is more of an overview with a few “quick considerations and recommendations”, but there is a significant amount of fantastic information out there (books, videos, articles) regarding first aid care of sporting dogs. Today, there is no excuse for any of us as sporting dog owners to not be aware of how to prepare for and treat several possible injuries that occur in hunting situations for our dogs.

Prior to any hunt (or training session, exercise session, hunt test, or field trial) it is always a good idea to inspect your dog head to tail. Look for any cuts, soreness or other obvious injuries before you work them. Do not forget to look in the ears, and definitely check their paws (pads, between the toes, make sure nails are trimmed and maintained). This is a great way to notice injury or issues before working the dog so that further injury or complications do not occur. Often times, injuries are worsened during a hunt and do not originate there. It only takes a few minutes to stay in tune with the condition of your dog.

A few basic essentials for first aid in the field are bandages, tape, vet wrap, tweezers and/or forceps (pulling out thorns or quills for example). With these items, you can at least cover a wound safely and effectively, as well as remove anything that can cut or pierce your dog’s skin. Saline solution is also very important in order to clean a wound and flush it prior to bandaging it. Hydrogen peroxide is also an option, as it cleans and disinfects. The only downside is the burn of alcohol and discomfort it may cause. Cuts and gashes to the paws, legs and chest are very common injuries in both upland and waterfowl hunting scenarios. Our dogs are running on various terrain with constant threat of something cutting their paws or legs, and occasionally can run through thick enough cover or objects that can cut their chest or other areas of the body. The ability to clean a wound and bandage it properly is crucial.

Other items such as scissors will prove useful to cut tape or bandages to size. Styptic pencils are also something we should all carry in our kits, as they can stop bleeding on smaller, minor cuts on the ears or even torn-off toenails, both of which are common occurrences in the field.

These basic items prepare you to handle almost any common injury to a sporting dog in the field. This is not to replace veterinary care, rather, to at least begin proper treatment to prevent worsening of an injury. We invest significantly into our hunting dogs, not only in terms of money and time, but the emotional attachment and bond that we have with them. With just a few basic items we can help take better care of our hunting partners and help reduce risk in the field.