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Into the Outdoors: Hunting Dog Fitness

Before we get to the “meat” of this week’s column, I’d like to point out an interesting phenomenon that my son and I were talking about recently. This summer, we have seen very few butterflies, no Junebugs, no wasps or grasshoppers and very few lightning bugs. Also, robins are getting really scarce. E.R. Dewey, a prominent resident of the area believed that everything operates in cycles, including nature. Maybe he had something there.

I know I say this all the time, but I just can’t believe how fast the time goes by. It’s now the time when a lot of hunters are about to get their dogs in shape for the upcoming season. A lot of folks also like to take their dogs for a jog, etc. For that reason, it’s time for a look at the subject of dog fitness. Personally, I haven’t had hunting dogs for many years, but I know a lot of hunters who do. With a few common sense precautions, a lot of problems can be avoided.

Before beginning to train your dog, it’s a good idea to take it to the vet for a physical exam, to detect any hidden health problems. When training is actually begun, it’s important to increase the dog’s exercise gradually, allowing him to get back into shape, just like a person.

The weather has been a bit goofy this summer, but we’ve had some really hot stuff already, and we’re almost certain to get some more. Just like people, dogs are also susceptible to the ill effects of heat and humidity. Their owners must take some precautions to protect them. The experts at Ralston-Purina offer some valuable tips.

Some dogs are more likely to suffer from the heat than are others. Some of the high risk categories include puppies and very old dogs, dogs with a history of problems with the heat, short-nosed breeds, which have difficulty breathing and panting, overweight dogs, dogs with cardiovascular or respiratory disorders and dogs which have recently received short haircuts, as they may get sunburned.

Heat stress takes a number of forms. The first is heat exhaustion. This can happen after heavy exertion. Its symptoms are fatigue, muscle weakness and circulatory collapse. The risk is especially high for dogs with cardiovascular disease. Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms caused by a lack of salt coupled with heavy exertion. Heatstroke, also called sunstroke or hyperthermia, can be fatal. It comes on rapidly, and is often associated with exposure to high temperatures, humidity and poor ventilation. Symptoms include panting, staring or anxious expression, failure to respond to calls and commands, warm dry skin, extremely high fever, dehydration, rapid heartbeat and collapse. Also, excessive salivation and vomiting may occur.

The first aid for heatstroke involves, basically, cooling the dog down by bathing him in cool, but not cold water. Also, applying ice to the head and neck can be helpful. The dog should be moved to a cool place at once. Bear in mind that any type of heat stress calls for prompt veterinary attention to head off further complications.

A few common sense precautions can go a long way toward the avoidance of heat-related problems. Never leave a dog confined in a car or other poorly ventilated enclosure during warm weather. A study has shown that when the outside temperature is 78 degrees, a closed car parked in the shade will reach 90 in five minutes and 110 in 25 minutes. Avoid excessive exercise of dogs during hot, humid weather. The best times are early morning or late evening. Keep fresh, cool water available to the dog throughout the day. Provide some access to shade. When I had coonhounds, I would sometimes tie them under a shade close to the creek at the end of our yard. They loved to lie right in the water and cool off. Also, and this is one a lot of people, including me, might not think of, and that’s to paint a doghouse white if it’s in an area where it tends to get hot. The temperature inside a white doghouse can average from 15 to 20 degrees cooler than that of a black doghouse.

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