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Scott Rall: Wishing for cooler weather

By Scott RallDaily Globe outdoors columnist How is that when it is freezing cold outside all we can wish for is summer? Then when we get summer all we wish for is the fall hunting season and ice fishing. I guess humans always want what they do no...

By Scott Rall
Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

How is that when it is freezing cold outside all we can wish for is summer?  Then when we get summer all we wish for is the fall hunting season and ice fishing.

I guess humans always want what they do not currently have. I don't wish summer gone by any means, but the humidity can sure get the heck out of here.

More often than not this time of year a hunter with a gun dog will look at their pooch and say, ‘Boy, it’s time to start working you out.  You gained a few pounds over the past off-hunting season.’”

I have a hard time with dog owners who let their dogs get fat. I say a fat dog is a dog owner problem and not a dog problem. A dog is better off a little underweight then it is overweight.

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A fat dog generally has more health problems than a slender dog.  The weight adds pressure on joints and adds extra wear and tear on internal operations.

I looked at the boys in my dog stable of four black lab males and made the opposite claim.  My boys are all lean and mean and could actually add a few pounds before the season starts.

They get three or four cups of food one time per day at 6 p.m. I see no need to feed a dog more than once a day.  

Other owners will feed their dogs two to three times per day.  I guess they just don't have enough to do. I feed in the evening because I want my dogs to settle in for the night.  I don't know about you but I know when I am done eating I often like a little nap or couch time.

During the heat of the hunting season, my dogs hunt the last legal shooting hour of most days and every weekend. During this time they will get their food intake increased to 6-7 cups per day and they will still lose weight over the next 10 weeks due to the amount of intense exercise they get hunting. I am asked, “If they are still skinny, why not just feed them even more?” Upping their food above this level will result in them either throwing it up most of the time or they will get diarrhea, and neither of these is an acceptable outcome. You should be able to see the last two ribs on the dog and they should have a distinct narrowing in the waist just behind the rib cage.

Feeding a dog is dangerous if this feeding time is just after strenuous exercise or just before the same strenuous exercise.  This can cause what in laymen’s terms is called a twisted gut.  Many dogs die of this condition.

Too much water too soon after exercise or just before exercise can cause the same issues.  

Dogs do not know enough to limit their food or water and at what time they should consume it.  It is the owner’s responsibility to take care to ensure nothing bad happens.

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When a dog is hot and really thirsty, meter out the water in the dog dish one inch at a time.  Let them drink an inch and then wait 5 minutes.  Then give them another inch and wait again.  Once the dog is sufficiently cooled down and no longer panting aggressively, they can have water to their fill.

In addition to making sure your dog is at the right weight, there are a few other things to do to make sure your dog is ready for the season.

They include toughening up the pads of their feet.  Walking around in the back yard or on the living room carpet all summer makes their foot pads soft. If you don't get them walking on hard surfaces and in the tall grass prior to the season opener, you will have a dog that either hunts at half rate or won’t hunt at all because their feet hurt.  Make sure there is no traffic and toss a bumper on a gravel road a few times a night for a few weeks prior to the season opener. Make sure their toenails are trimmed so they don't break off and cause a sidelined dog the week after opener.

Most folks are scared to cut their own dogs’ toenails. It really is not all that hard, and the key is to take it slow.

Most dog owners let the nails get way too long and then try to cut them to the right length all at one time. Try instead to make a trimming that you know is safe and then wait a week. As the nail is cut, the cuticle on the underside of the toenail will recede just a little bit.  Then cut the nail again and repeat every week or so until you have the nails back to the right length. If you can’t do it right, then let your vet tech do it so the dog does not have to limp around for a month because you cut the nail too short.

Make sure they are current on their shots. I no longer go with just the big three: rabies, bordetella/parvo and distemper. I add rattlesnake vaccine as I hunt in South Dakota in the fall.  I also add Lyme disease and a few others my vet recommends.

With a house full of dogs this is not cheap, but a dog dead from a preventable disease makes the owner irresponsible and also an idiot. Keep your dog current on its shots.

Get some ear wash and flush your dog’s ears with it.  It is easy to do and really helps prevent ear infections, ear mites and other issues. I have it mixed in a larger bottle and it is more cost-effective, and I am told it does not date out.

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They really don't like to sign up for an ear wash but I never liked eating vegetables either, and we know how good they are for you. I try to prevent ear issues by washing my dog’s ears about every other month in the offseason and every month during the hunting season when they are in the water a lot more.

Now would be a good time to get that first-aid kit either restocked or made up for the first time.  I have one just shy of the EMT that would come visit you will at a crash site. When you are on the road and far from help you need to be pretty self-sufficient until you can get to a vet if need be.

We all know about bandages, scissors, tape and the like.  What I add on top of that is a few bottles of sterile saline or contact solution.  Every night after the hunt I will gently add a little of this to each eye of each dog.  

I do so even if they are not showing any discomfort.  It is amazing how many times a grass seed and, in some cases five grass seeds, will wash out that you did not know was there.  

If the dog indicates discomfort I will gently rinse the eye about 4-5 times and repeat a few hours later if the discomfort is still obvious.

I can only imagine how good it feels to get those seeds washed out.  They certainly cannot do it themselves and this where a responsible dog owner steps in again to care for their animals.

When it is 95 degrees and the dew point is at 75 it is hard to think about cold temperatures. But now is the time to get ready this hunting season for those cold temperatures.

I struggle with guys whose dog lives in the house all year long and then I see the dog in dog kennel in the back of a truck at 5 below driving down the road at 65 mph. Imagine the wind chill on a dog, even greater if that dog is wet.  

For cold weather get a kennel cover with a zipper for the door.  These make all the difference.  With the cover zipped up, the dog’s body heat can keep them warm inside to a much lower temperature.

At the end of the day the dog is a dog and relies on the human to do what it cannot do for itself.  They can smell a rooster in the grass much the same as we can smell a skunk after it has sprayed. They can find a downed bird that you would not stand a chance at finding alone. This is what a dog can do without your help.  

The rest is up to you. Plan now to be able to care for your dog and do for them what only a responsible dog owner can, should and must do.

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