Now we are in full swing – and the weather in our area has decided to return to its normal pattern of only raining on shoot days – it’s probably a good idea to do a bit of planning to ensure the comfort and wellbeing of our working gun dogs.
The first thing to consider is how it’s transported to the shoot and home again. I use a purpose-made gun dog box that ensures the animal is contained safely in the back of the car and, at the same time, prevents the wet and mud getting all over the interior!
If you intend to go straight from the shoot to a shoot dinner, or even to the pub for a quick drink, consider the dog’s comfort before your own. Don’t rush off inside to warm yourself by a roaring fire while your dogs are left wet, and cold, in the back of the car. Make sure they can dry off and keep warm.
The best way to do this is by putting plenty of shredded (unprinted) paper in the dog box. Unfortunately, if it’s a windy day this can tend to make a bit of a mess if it blows out of the car, so I usually only put a small amount in the box for the dog on the drive to the shoot. The plus side to this is that if I’m actually using the vehicle on the shoot, the dog doesn’t cause a mess by dragging miles of paper in and out of the box during the course of the day.
I also take an old sack stuffed with clean, dry paper with me which means I can provide the dog with a nice, dry bed at the end of the day’s shooting. If you know it’s going to be a wet day, take a spare bag with you ? you can then take out the wet bedding and stuff it in the bag before creating a new bed in the box for the drive home.
You could use straw or some other type of bedding, but be wary of leaving towels or blankets that a younger dog may decide to chew – if unsupervised they could choke. I tend not to use straw, even though it’s natural and cheaper, as I’ve found in the past barley straw gives my dog lice.
Don’t rely on the paper (or any bedding for that matter) to dry off a dog before taking it on a long journey. The same applies if you’re leaving the dog in a vehicle for any length of time. I always carry a large towel to dry off the dog before putting it in the box.
Also remember to carry a plentiful supply of clean drinking water, and a large, non-spill drinker in the car so you can give the dog a drink.
As the weather gets colder it’s worth remembering that a dog will use up 40% of its daily food intake just to keep its body temperature stable.
If a dog’s working hard all day it can lose an enormous amount of body heat overnight, so it’s worth considering some form of heating in the kennel.
We use what I call an infra-red ‘pig lamp.’ These units are readily available from a local farmers’ co-op and usually have either a red or a white lamp fitted (you can also buy the unit with an ’emitter,’ which gives off heat but no light). These ‘heat lamps’ will keep your dog sufficiently warm overnight, and can help prevent the animal from waking in the morning with stiff joints.
For kennel bedding we use shredded paper, mainly because it can be disposed of relatively easily. Alternatively you could use one of those manufactured dog blankets, or vet beds, which are made from a sort of imitation wool. These are good and pretty effective, but not always ideal as most dogs enjoy having a good scrape and rummage before settling down. As a consequence, a dog often tends to ruck-up this type of blanket bedding into a lump in the corner of the kennel – and then ends up lying predominantly on the floor rather than the bedding!
During the shooting season I always find it an advantage to feed some type of flesh to a dog that’s working really hard. We use minced tripe, and give, say, around half to one pound a day to a dog, along with a small amount of a good quality complete food.
At this point there’s a word of warning about ‘complete’ foods that are high in protein and fat content – by this I mean 30% + protein and 15% + oil content.
Although these foods are generally good quality, they do tend to make some dogs very active. This can mean that the dog will often be what most people consider ‘over active’ for up to the first hour of work – and then be so blown as to be virtually unable to work thereafter! Another problem I’ve encountered with this type of food is that it can make some spaniels hyperactive in the kennel, the result being you can’t hold any weight on the dog under any circumstances.
Although it looks like we may have a relatively wet shooting season, I really recommend that you still carry clean drinking water and a small bowl for your dog when he’s working. Always deter a dog from taking from puddles or still water. Speaking from experience, to see a dog die from Leptospirosis – spread by rats urine – is not a pleasant event.
Unfortunately most shoots now have game cover in the form of maize/sweet corn and this seems to attract rats like nothing else. Once the rats are feeding on maize it makes poisoning them with proprietary rat bait ineffective. I’m told this is because maize contains vitamin K, which is actually an antidote to the poison! Although every responsible dog owner will have their dogs vaccinated against Leptospirosis, it does seem that this vaccination is now becoming less effective at protecting our dogs against this common disease.
Tony can be contacted at Tawnyhill Gundogs. Telephone 01795 886046, or check out his website at: www.tawnyhillgundogs.co.uk