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Cold-Weather Preventatives.


IT was a harrowing situation, and one I could have prevented. But it was in the waning days of a waning season, and I wanted to get in one more hunt.

My friend, Chuck, and I were hunting Huns an hour's drive from our homes. The temperature was in the low 20s, and the wind was howling. But we'd driven a long way, and we decided to put the dogs out anyway--his Brittany, and my English pointer.

We hadn't been hunting long when I noticed that my pointer, Suki, was acting strangely. She would run no more than a dozen yards from my side and then return, anxiously scanning my face. Whenever she was close, I noticed she was shivering.

As anyone who hunts over English pointers in the northern half of the country will tell you, a shivering pointer isn't unusual. Their thin coats were never meant for hunting in bitterly cold weather, but despite her obvious distress, I tried to ignore her.

Soon, however, I could no longer dismiss the messages she was sending me. She was cold, dangerously so, and I needed to get her back to the truck.

When I got Suki back to the truck, I put her inside and crawled in behind her and found immediate relief from the wind. But I didn't have the truck's keys, so I couldn't start the engine and turn on the heat. Instead, I took off my insulated vest and wrapped Suki in it. And there we sat, shivering, until Chuck returned 45 minutes later. Suki was fine, but she was done hunting for the day.


There are three weather conditions that, when combined, are dangerous and sometimes fatal to dogs: wind, wet, and cold. Two were present in the episode I've just described, and despite knowing better--I write about this stuff, for God's sake--I initially ignored them both. Nonetheless, the best way to deal with all three is to be aware of them before you hunt, and then take the necessary precautions.

An interesting side note is that on the day that Chuck and I were hunting, his Brittany was fine. Her thick, dense coat kept her warm. But even long-haired dogs can suffer distress. Knowing the limits of your own dog is important. Like people, some are more resistant to the cold than others.

Even so, problems happen. Years ago, another friend of mine was hunting over his English setter on the day following a light snow. It was above freezing--normally not a problem, even for my thin-coated pointers--but melting snow from the night before soon covered his dog, and in short order she was soaked to the skin. She began shivering violently and then went down. He picked her up and ran her back to the truck, at one point carrying her through a waist-deep irrigation ditch to get there. He saved her life, but it was a close call, and a clear message to those of us who heard his story: If your dog is cold, it's cold. Do something about it.


Probably the best preventative and cure for a cold dog is an insulated dog vest. I've tried several kinds. Howling Dog Alaska (, a manufacturer that makes gear primarily for sled dogs, makes insulated, blaze-orange dog vests that I've used extensively and that work quite well, despite the fact that they don't cover the dog's belly. They're lightweight and relatively inexpensive. I've also used neoprene vests--the same kind the retriever guys use--and found them to be effective, too. Since they completely encircle the dog's back and torso, they offer more warmth in extremely cold weather. Unfortunately, both styles tend to tear when hung up on barbed-wire fences. Whichever style you choose, invest in a roll of duct tape for repairs.

Hunting in the snow sometimes means hunting in snow that has melted and refrozen, which means crust. And crusty snow--too much of it, anyway--is bad news for just about any dog.

A few years ago, on another winter hunt, I was running my oldest pointer, Tango. A warm spell had been followed with typical (for Montana) sub-freezing weather, and a thin, icy crust had formed on top of several inches of old snow. Tango would run for several hundred yards and then plunge through the crust, and every time she did so I cringed, wondering how many times she would fall through before tearing a hamstring, blowing out a knee, or worse. I finally couldn't take the worry anymore and stopped the hunt. I walked her back to the truck at heel.

Theoretically, boots should stop a dog from tearing up its legs on shards of broken crust, but I've found that dog boots, for all their effectiveness on rocky terrain, are virtually worthless in more than a few inches of snow. No matter how well they're secured, no matter how many times I wrap them in place with duct tape, a dog that is continually plunging through crusty snow (and sometimes un-crusted snow) will eventually pull them off.

But running unbooted dogs in snow also presents problems. Long-haired dogs collect snow between their toes. When I owned setters and Brittanies, I tried shaving the hair between their toes as well as greasing their toes with Vaseline, neither of which seemed to make much of a difference. In shallow snow depths boots are still a potential remedy, although the dog's traction then becomes so poor I typically don't use them.

Most bird dogs are tough. I'm amazed at how often my dogs have been torn and beaten up, and still continue to hunt. But choosing to let a dog suffer when you can easily alleviate that suffering is heartless. If your pup is cold and shivering at the end of the day, let it ride inside your truck where it's warm. Sure, a dog that is forced to endure a long, cold ride in a crate exposed to the elements may suffer no long-term harm, but isn't the point to minimize any suffering? He just hunted his heart out for you, ignoring his own discomfort. Now that the hunt is over, treat him like the respected and loved member of the team he is.



There really is no easy method to stop ice balls from forming between your gun dog's toes. However, you can take some preventative measures that may help during the season. That involves conditioning your dog in the preseason to toughen their pads, and then applying a foot-protection product such as Musher's Secret two to three times a week.

The wax was originally designed for sled dogs, and forms a breathable barrier for paws. Musher's helps to condition pads, and also relieves dry and cracked pads. The paw protectant creates a semipermeable shield that absorbs into the paws to allow perspiration to escape. Before a cold-weather hunt, rub Musher's on the pads and in between the toes to help prevent snowballinq.
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Title Annotation:POINT
Author:Carty, Dave
Publication:Gun Dog
Date:Dec 1, 2019

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