The fact is, it’s hard to freeze a working dog to death on even the coldest days. But it’s quite easy to accidentally kill a hard-hunting dog on even a mildly warm day. — Brian Lynn
Every year, right about now, hunting publications everywhere run articles warning hunters about the dangers that early season heat can pose to hard driving gundogs. And I've done my best to heed those warnings, even up here in the great white north were anything above zero is considered a 'mildly warm' day.
But last year, despite our best efforts, Henri gave us a scare. We were in North Dakota in late October hunting pheasants. The days were cool and nights were down right cold. Since the dogs were spending nights in the truck, we put insulated covers on their kennels to keep them warm. And the covers worked like a charm. Despite plenty of frost on the pumpkin outdoors, I always found the dogs comfortably warm inside their kennels each morning.
During the day, as we ran one dog, we would leave the others in their kennels. We kept their kennel covers on but we cracked the windows on the truck to make sure things didn't get too warm — even though the outdoor temps never got above 5 degrees (40F). Again, it worked like a charm. Every time we got back to the truck, we found comfortable dogs eagerly awaiting their turn to hunt.
And then Henri's eagerness got the better of him, and of us.
On day three of the hunt, we decided our first stop would be a small patch of great looking rooster cover. Since Uma
is our closest working dog, she got the nod. 45 minutes and three roosters later (Uma was on FIRE!!), we were back at the truck. As I opened the tailgate I saw our dog Souris
in her crate fast asleep, shivering. Next to her was Henri
in his crate. But he wasn't asleep, and he sure as heck wasn't shivering. He was laying on his back, panting, wide eyed. His bright red tongue was hanging out like he'd just run a marathon in the desert!
Henri was showing the classic signs of heat stress. We needed to cool him down, fast. Fortunately, the grass right outside the truck was cold and wet with melted frost. So I opened Henri's crate, picked him up, put him on the ground and said "down!". He was more than happy to oblige. He plopped down and began to roll in the grass as we poured an entire jug of cool water on his belly, under his arms and inner thighs.
In a couple of minutes Henri was up and around, seemingly no worse for wear. We dried him off and took him for a short walk just to make sure he wasn't woozy or wobbly or suffering from any lingering effects. And right there and then we decided that 1. Henri would not hunt that day. We'd give him some time to recover from what was probably not a severe case of heat stress, but what could have easily been much worse and 2. from now on, when we leave any dog in a crate while we hunt with another, it is better to be cold than sorry.
Henri overheated in a cold truck on a cold day. He was in a crate that was covered with an insulated jacket. And such a setup is designed to keep a dog relatively warm when it is sleeping or just chillaxing waiting for its turn to run. Unfortunately, when we started the day with Uma instead of the usual 'first stringer' Henri, well, let's just say that he did NOT take it lightly. Henri did NOT sleep or chillax. In fact, it seems that while we were in the field with Uma, out of sheer frustration and indignation, Henri decided to paw at the bottom of his crate like he was digging to China. There is no way of knowing how long it took for the crate to heat up, but as Henri threw a tantrum, heat up it did. And heat stress suddenly became an issue.
And there is also no way of knowing what would have happened if we'd been in the field with Uma for longer than 45 minutes. Clearly, Henri had stopped doing whatever he was doing to heat things up before we got back. His brain said 'cut it out you idiot!" and forced him to just lay there and pant. So would he have recovered on his own just by being still (and panting his tongue off)? Or would the temperature have remained high enough, for long enough, to cause permanent damage...or worse?
We will never know. And we never want to find out.
Since Henri's near melt-down, we've installed wireless temperature gauges in the crates so we can monitor them from the cab of the truck as we drive. And we've decided that from now on, when we are in the field with one dog we will leave the others in kennels with all the cover flaps off and all the windows open. The dogs will just have to get used to shivering. It’s hard to freeze a working dog to death on even the coldest days. But it’s quite easy to accidentally kill a hard-hunting dog on even a mildly warm day.
Stay safe everyone!
Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals