The Maine Sportsman - New England's Largest Outdoor Publication – Will be publishing my story below in their August 2008 edition. The article will be part of the magazines “special sections” (pg. 25-26) and will highlight how to properly care for your field retriever. For more information on the Maine Sportsman Magazine or to order a subscription click this link: http://mainesportsman.com/. The copy below is the unedited version.
Simple Steps to Protect Your Field Retriever by Steve Vose
As the dull morning light began to creep over the horizon, my black lab Onyx and I were sitting side by side in the duck blind quietly sharing a breakfast burrito and awaiting the first flights of the morning. Suddenly, distant shots rang out up-lake and to the north east of our position and following almost immediately after two green winged teal sailed over our blind like mini F16 fighter jets. I fired two quick successive shots at the lead duck and somehow managed to drop the back bird the number six heavy shot managing to magically find its unintended target. I looked back at Onyx to send her after the duck and she was already on her way swimming to the floating duck, hmmm I thought to myself going to need to work on that next Sunday. As she returned to the blind, I commanded her to “give” and upon inspection was impressed that she had managed to return the duck with very few bite marks. The drab and drizzly morning soon developed into one of those very rare occasions when the ducks were flying well and I was shooting fair and I could not have been happier with my little girl and her first time a field. As I looked over at my two-year-old retriever I could tell that she was having the time of her life. The energetic sixty-three pound black lab was completely at home in the duck blind and the apparent grin on her face seemed to indicate that she was absolutely loving every minute of it.
Unfortunately, things in the blind that particular morning did not continue as pleasantly as they had begun and this tale is not one of those hunting stories that ends happily with a satisfied limit or a beautiful on the wing double play. After a few short hours of hunting, I looked down at my feet and noticed several drops of blood on the floor of the blind. Trust me when I say the gravity of the situation hit me much more intensely than Onyx who was busy enthusiastically sniffing a recently expelled shotgun shell. After a through examination, I found that the cause was only a small slice in her right front paw but the situation could have been much worse and this fact got me seriously thinking about some of the possible accidents that could occur when hunting with a dog in the field. As any good sportsman knows, waterfowl hunting can be dangerous business; moving vehicles at the boat launch site, boat motor props, sharp sticks and rocks at entry points, decoy lines, improperly stowed firearms, ticks and even spicy breakfast
sandwiches can all pose possible hazards for your retriever. While it would be impossible to safeguard your canine against every dangerous scenario that could present itself, there are some simple steps that you can take to insure your dog returns home safely.
Before Season Preparations:
Every retriever possesses certain strengths and weaknesses, as a responsible dog owner you should be intimately familiar with these positive and negative traits. Having this basic understanding will help you to better design a training program that will work on weak areas before heading into the field where these issues could potentially lead to larger problems. My dog Onyx is anything but a polished field retriever, she is in fact a loving pet to my wife and infant son first and a hunting buddy second, but my understanding of her limits helps me to better insure her safety in the duck blind. Being conscientious about off-season conditioning is an easy no cost way to keep your dog in peak shape and it will help your retriever avoid physical injury during the hunting season. Other critical advanced preparations include making sure your dog is current on all required vaccinations as well as up to date on any additional medications suggested for your geographical area such as topical flea and tick preventatives, lyme disease vaccines and protection against heart worm and intestinal parasites. Also, an understanding of basic canine CPR and first aid may be helpful to know and could save your dogs life. The internet can easily direct you to the following printable guide: Canine First Aid and CPR - http://www.k9forensic.org/k9firstaid.html or take a trip to your local bookstore and ask for a copy of “Field Guide to Dog First Aid” – by Randy Acker, D.V.M.
During the hunt . . . the duck bag:
Before heading into the field with my black lab Onyx, I make sure that I have several items packed to insure that our adventures go smoothly. Among the items that take up permanent residence in my duck bag during hunting season and my backpack during the off season are food treats for a hungry dog that may be expending much more energy than normal, spare collar and leash, neoprene vest and doggie first aid kit. Though kits widely vary my basic kit is comprised of the following: small bandage scissors, alcohol wipes, tweezers, organic bug wipes, eye wash, medical tape, maxi pads (to stop bleeding), emergency space blanket, heavy gauze and several 1 gallon freezer bags all stored watertight within a recycled wide mouth plastic peanut butter jar. Other more advanced kits contain a wide variety of medications (ex. tablets for indigestion, anti-itch capsules, buffered aspirin and hydrogen peroxide) and more advanced equipment and supplies (ex. muzzle, hemostats, rectal thermometer, disposable gloves, neoprene foot covers, splints and ear syringe) that may be required for trips of longer duration, like a canoe trip on the Allagash or backpacking the Appalachian trail, when help my not necessarily be close at hand. A simple kit, however, will allow you to successfully weather most common injuries when help is a short distance away. Several commercial kits are also available and can be found online through various companies. Remember that a first aid kit is by no means a substitute for professional veterinary care and you should always consult with your dogs vet before giving any medications or providing upper level care.
During the hunt . . . what to watch out for:
Having an intimate knowledge of your intended hunting site including an understanding of tides and currents, weather and prepping water entry points so they are clear of debris and hazards will go a long way in assuring that a hunt progresses safely. Keeping animals under direct owner control near roads and at boat launch areas will also help protect your retriever. Lastly, having certain rules that all hunters are aware of before the start of the shoot will insure increased safety for example: firearms are off limits when the dog is in the water, only one person directs the dog with voice and hand signals, what each person’s role is should an emergency situation arise.
After the hunt:
After the hunt is completed a good owner should realize that a properly cared for dog still may require extra attention. Be sure your dog is properly hydrated, fed, ears dried with a cotton swab and/or flush with 50/50 white vinegar and water solution, dry and brush coat to remove burrs, check for ticks and be sure to examine pads for cuts and scrapes. If you encounter an injury, make sure to thoroughly flush it out, clean the area and apply antibacterial ointment. If your dog is a licker or a enthusiastic chewer a sanitary covering and a healthy dose of apple bitters may need to be topically applied to keep them from getting to the wound.
There are few things more rewarding to a Sportsman then hunting with a retriever that you have spent your own time and energy training. The pride that one feels watching their dog retrieve that first duck is hard to explain in words. Onyx and I have worked together as a team for several years, and I have taught her as much about hunting waterfowl as she has taught me much about loyalty, friendship and patience. It only makes sense to me that I would try and make sure that our limited time together is spent in situations where we are both safe and happy. While I would never profess to be a dog-training expert, I do take the steps necessary to make sure my dog is properly cared for while in the field. Onyx’s style may be far from polished and her manners frequently lacking. I don’t need her to be perfect for general hunting enjoyment, as long as in the end the overall experience is accomplished safely. By following these steps, you too will at least be able to protect your retriever against some of the basic issues that you may encounter while in the field and insure years of enjoyment with your four legged hunting friend.