Canine In-Field Safety by Gary Adair
Hunting with and caring for our gun dogs is a full-time proposition. It’s definitely a 365-day a year endeavor for me. Aside from training, feeding and the overall well-being of our four-legged companions, there are multiple concerns for their safety while in the field. Some are avoidable, some are not, but being prepared can keep accidents to a bare minimum and stressful situations more subdued.
Working an aspen thicket in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula on a late-September afternoon, two grouse would bust out ahead of my dogs. With Cinnamon and 6 month-old Sage scouring the area of the find, three more birds would be forced to the air in a hurried, but staggered flush. Two would make it to the bag as a result of Jason’s gun and mine.
Heading in the direction to where the other birds had flown I heard an unmistakable yelp from Cinnamon a short distance away. After a couple failed attempts to call her to my side, I approached her and found a horrifying sight. Cinnamon was covered in quills and had a porcupine in her mouth. As she turned to bring the quill pig to my hand (I don‘t think so!), inquisitive Sage clumsily bumped into it. I now had two dogs — one seriously — covered with quills. Thankfully I was somewhat prepared.
Although a first-aid kit is something all hunters should have access to while afield, what’s in that kit is of key importance. When hunting porcupine country or areas with cacti, Gerber’s, pliers or tweezers (I use scissor-type) are a must for extracting quills and cactus needles from our dogs. A snakebite kit is paramount when hunting snake country, since avoidance (or snake training) is not 100% reliable. And don’t forget a bottle of saline solution for removing cheat-grass — when hunting chukar country — and other seed-type debris from our dog’s eyes. Basically, just know what encounters might be expected while hunting and stock your kit accordingly.
In addition to the bumps, cuts and bruises that our dogs can endure while afield are some potentially dangerous obstacles. Barbed-wire fences, badger/prairie dog holes and vehicle traffic close to our hunting areas each can inflict serious injury (even death) and one needs to be aware of what’s out there before releasing their dogs to hunt. Knowing our dog’s whereabouts at all times and learning the area beforehand is the best insurance.
Although hunting in the heat is not a factor during most of the season, one can encounter these elements during the early-season and beyond. Although my dogs are well conditioned long before the season opens, I still use vigilance when hunting under such conditions. Early morning (or evening) hunts are the rule at this time and need to be cut short when the mercury rises and temps becomes too hot. As always, water should be on hand or nearby and a constant monitoring of our dogs should be in place for any signs of discomfort. Hunting our dogs in the heat is doable; we just need to be conscious of their well-being. Accidents while afield are going to happen, but awareness and responsiveness goes a long way in keeping such situations to a minimum. Although I’ve been extremely lucky with my dogs (other than a few porky encounters), I’m still prepared for most of what might happen while in the field. I think we all owe it to our dogs to be so astute!
Speaking of porcupines, the above encounter (our worst to date) ended for the best. Although my buddies and I extracted in excess of 700 quills from both dogs (most from Cinnamon), they hunted the following day like nothing happened. They’re much tougher than I am!