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7 Tips for Keeping Your Duck Dog Warm While Hunting

Hunting breeds like Labradors and Chesapeakes seem impervious to the cold as they swim across the icy lake to retrieve your downed bird. However, they’re being affected more than you think. Under the right circumstances, even the healthiest duck dog can suffer from hypothermia. Don’t take that risk. Use these seven tips to keep your duck dog warm during a hunt.

Tip 1: Adjust Them to the Cold

Before you begin your hunting season, you need to make sure your dog has had time to adjust to the cold. Think about it like this. If he’s been staying in the house during the off-season, he’s gotten accustomed to warm air, like living in Florida. Going hunting is like going to visit family up in Alaska – freezing compared to the warmth of home.

It would be cruel to take your pet from his toasty bed at home and make him jump into freezing water without having the time to acclimate to the temperature change. Before you leave for your hunt, let your dog spend some time outside so he can prepare for the cold weather.

Opening day should not be the first time your dog experiences the low temperature and cold water. You should have been doing practice runs before hunting season opened, so he had time to adjust to the weather change. Depending on the breed of your retriever, low temperatures may not faze him at all. Labs have an oily undercoat, which protects against the cold and water. They’re almost water-resistant – for short periods.

Tip 2: Let Him Warm Up Before He Goes Hunting

On the trip to your hunting spot, let your dog enjoy a chance to be warm. He’ll have more energy to start with if he’s not already negatively impacted by the cold. One good idea is to put a kennel cover over the top of his crate. Pick a sturdy fabric that will protect your canine from wind, rain, and ice.

Some hunters like to put straw at the bottom of the cage, while others may use a pillow or soft blanket. If your dog isn’t kennel broke, you may not want to put in anything that he can destroy. You don’t want to waste time cleaning up a mess instead of cleaning birds.

If the temperature is too low, some experts recommend that you let your hunting assistance ride in the cab of your truck with you. Consider the wind chill factor in addition to the actual temp. Sometimes the wind is a more significant danger – especially when it’s coming out of the North.

Tip 3: Neoprene

You can find anything to put on your dogs these days, and a life jacket is no exception. Your local hunting goods store should have a decent selection of neoprene vests specifically designed to help keep your retriever warm while hunting. You could even invest in a pair of neoprene boots to protect Fido’s feet from the elements and the ground.

The neoprene needs to be form-fitting around the chest and stomach. If the vest is too big, it can gap, which allows water to get inside and stay trapped between the material and the dog’s skin. Neoprene is waterproof, so if you’ve bought a vest that fits properly, your dog’s core will stay dry.

Other than the feet, the core is another vital area that needs to be paid close attention to if you want to prevent hypothermia. Neoprene has insulating properties, so by having a properly fitting neoprene vest, your dog can stay warm using his body heat. If you’ve slept with your dog, you know they’re a walking heater.

A neoprene vest will also protect your dog from getting injured by running through the woods or across rough terrain. This material is also tear-resistant. And it has buoyancy, which helps your dog float in the water. He’ll have to exert less effort to swim when retrieving birds, meaning he’ll have plenty of energy for a full day’s hunt.
Tip 4: Limit Exposure to Water
Long haired retrievers are more resistant to water and the cold than breeds with short hair, such as spaniels or other non-traditional duck dogs. However, even the most experienced retriever can still suffer from hypothermia if you aren’t careful. It’s recommended that you limit exposure to water that is less than 40° to less than three minutes.

While Rover isn’t retrieving ducks, he should have a dry place to sit and wait. It doesn’t matter if he’s in a boat or posted on land three feet behind your back. As long as his feet, legs, and stomach are staying dry, he should stay safe from hypothermia. Some hunters prefer to bring along a commercial platform to keep their dog elevated out of the marsh.

Give your dog breaks in between retrievals so that he has time to dry off. Let him shake off the excess water when he gets back on land, even if it means you get a little wet too. If you send him into the water too many times without resting, you’re increasing his vulnerability to the cold water.

Tip 5: Keep Him Dry

Each time your dog is through retrieving birds, you should use a towel to dry him off. Never leave your hunting dog wet throughout the day. Doing so can put him at risk for hypothermia. Pay close attention to your retriever’s feet. Poor foot care is the most significant factor in dogs that have been diagnosed with hypothermia.

Once your dog has finished getting in the water, use a towel to rub his feet briskly. Not only are you drying the fur, but you’re also increasing blood circulation, which helps provide warmth. Get the hair between your dog’s toes (which you should keep trimmed short so ice can’t form) and the pads of their feet. Watch for cracks or cuts, which can occur when traveling over frozen ground.

Don’t also forget to dry his legs, belly, and tail. As soon as he comes out of the water, let him shake dry. After he’s through, use a dry towel and scrub up the dog’s legs and belly using fast, jerky movements. You’re not just removing the water – you’re also warming him and yourself up.

Tip 6: Use a Heater

It’s not uncommon to see a lot of hunters carrying a portable buddy heater. And who can blame them? Sitting in a blind might not be that uncomfortable when you’re dry. But what happens if you get wet, which let’s face it, happens quite a lot when you’re duck hunting?

Using a small propane or electric heater on your boat is a great way to keep you and your dog warm while hunting. Once your retriever gets out of the water, and you get him dried off, turn the heater his way for a few minutes. But don’t let him use it for too long. The repeated hot/cold pattern can make him sick.

Tip 7: Keep His Body Prepared For Winter Conditions

Most hunting dogs are less susceptible to winter and cold water, which is why they make such excellent duck dogs. But to keep them in prime condition for retrieval, you need to make sure they’re getting the appropriate diet.

Increase your dog’s intake of protein and fat in winter months. He will need the extra body fat to help keep him warm. And the extra protein will keep his energy levels up while on the hunt. You might even want to take a high protein dog snack with you if you’re going to be on an all-day trip. Look for a food that has ingredients for a healthy coat as well.

Your dog’s hair is what keeps him warm in frigid waters. If you don’t take good care of his coat, he won’t be as protected. A lot of hunters stop giving their duck dogs baths midway through the year before the season even begins. Using soap on a hunting dog’s fur can strip it of the essential oils he needs to be “waterproof.”

You also shouldn’t cut your dog’s fur during the hunting season. You want him to have a long, healthy coat to keep him warm. However, you do need to be sure and keep his fur dry when it’s cold; otherwise, his hair can turn into icicles.

Keep Your Dog Warm and Safe While Duck Hunting

A good duck dog can be expensive, so you want to provide him with excellent care. Remember, if it weren’t for him, you’d be out there freezing your butt off while you picked up your birds. It’s not hard to keep your retriever warm while you’re hunting. Following these seven crucial tips should prevent your dog from experiencing hypothermia.

Keep a close watch on your hunting dog while you’re out. If you notice any of these signs, end your hunt and get him into a warm area. Failure to do so can cause your pet to get sick or even die.

  • Signs of hypothermia
  • Extreme shivers
  • Confusion
  • Disoriented
  • Curls up in a fetal position
  • Lack of enthusiasm for the hunt
  • Disobedience
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Unable to open eyes
  • Weakness