Travel Tips For Hunting Dogs

Even at a distance, there was no mistaking the gleam in Lozen’s eyes as she spotted the stuff of German shorthaired pointer dreams. Ah, a half-dozen picnic tables covered in a thrilling array of hotdogs, macaroni salad, chips, hamburgers, and various other picnic items, all of it guarded by a dozen or so Girl Scouts, none of them paying close attention.

When you stop at an interstate rest stop with a couple of friendly dogs, people sometimes want to pet them. I’d run into the Scouts and their leaders while I was walking my youngest dog, Lozen, then eight months old. I had her on a flexi-lead and let it out as her wagging tail disappeared into the mob of scouts who had leapt from their benches to pet the puppy.

Too late, I saw Lozen’s head emerge on the other side of the group, her eyes fixed on the unguarded feast. In mere seconds she gulped down four purple pickled eggs and inhaled two hotdogs, neatly and deftly, sans buns. Half her muzzle was buried in a vat of macaroni salad by the time I got my hands on her collar. Well, I thought, at least we were on the way back from and not to South Dakota, if Lozen was going to have an upset stomach.

Hours later, I bolted upright in the camper’s bed. What was that? Nearby, Lozen stretched contentedly in peaceful slumber, and I heard it, a sound as if someone deflated a raft, seconds before the second onslaught of pickled egg fueled canine gaseous emissions smothered any good air left in the camper.

Soon I was driving down the entrance ramp and back onto the expressway east, windows rolled down, lesson learned. Keeping your dog from appropriating picnic lunches is a no brainer. But what else can we do to keep our dogs’ stomach healthy when they travel?

Take Breaks

I’d left Pennsylvania bound for South Dakota at 10 p.m., planning to drive through the night, missing traffic and making time. Even towing a camper, my Chevy truck goes about four hours on a tank of gas. Usually, bathroom breaks for me and the dogs coincided with gas stops. I thought driving four hours between rest stops would be OK for the dog

I’d been wrong about that.

“I understand that a good many veterinarians and others in the know recommend hourly stops,” said Bob West, director of B.E. marketing, Sporting Dog Programs, Purina Nestle. “Being practical, I often make the first stop in an hour or less, assuming they’ve had a good airing before we start.

“After that quick stop early in the trip, we usually hit around two hours between stops,” he added. “I believe the concern is kidney function, along with circulation, and I assume boredom fits in there somewhere.”

Snacks Are OK

Do you ever wonder if dogs somehow wrote the text for the side of dog biscuit boxes, the part that reads, “For maximum benefit, dogs should be fed eight biscuits a day”?

At home, Lozen and my other shorthair, Josey Wales, have perfected the soulful look, enhanced by slight drooling. Oh, the look says, “if I can’t have a bite of those French fries, Cheeze-Its, Pretzels, cheese slices, etc., I shall faint.”

It’s OK to offer a snack during a break when we’re on the road, as long as it’s something that’s normally included in the dog’s diet. Now’s not the time to give into those soulful looks, and potentially cause a bout of diarrhea, which could put the skids on your hunting trip.

Feed Them During A Break

Most sporting dog owners feed once, or twice a day; my dogs get their meal once, in the evening. What should you do when you’re traveling?

“Hopefully your dog trailer or vehicle provides a pretty smooth ride for your dogs, but I’d be a little concerned about a full gut bouncing around, and the lack of ability for normal motion,” West said. “I recommend you time the feeding with one of your longer stops, follow that with a good lengthy airing before traveling on, and time another stop in around an hour.”

Carry Drinking Water

Dogs will slurp gleefully from a water-filled depression in a cow pasture, and charge into a pond on a hot day. We have to be on our guard against these things, because those behaviors can be extremely dangerous, even fatal.

“Dogs can pick up a lot of bugs and problems from the water they drink, and even die from it,” West said. “You may have spilled antifreeze in the puddles around farms, which can wipe out a dog’s kidneys in a hurry.

“When normal green pond algae deteriorates, taking on a blue color, it’s often an indication of a type of bacteria being present that can wreak havoc with the digestive tract and even cause death,” he continued. “A few years back, well over 100 dogs died during the first few weeks of Sharptail season in South Dakota, and the bacterial infection resulting from ingesting this blue algae was determined to be one of the causes.

“I recommend you carry all the water you think you’ll need, while you’re traveling and when you head out to go hunting,” West added. “And while you’re hunting be conscious of monitoring your dog for any signs of heat stress, such as body animation, tail action, facial expression, level of panting, respiration rate and body temperature.”

My dog Prairie had always been reluctant to drink from a water bottle in the field, until I learned this tip from Retriever Trainer Tom Dokken.

dog eating hotdog
The author’s dog found a delightful snack on a recent road trip.

“Simply dab some peanut butter on the tip of the water bottle,” Dokken said. “Do this a few times and he’ll always come after the bottle when he sees it. From there it’s a simple transition to fill the bottle and get him to drink from it. With this accomplished you don’t always have to rely on having a water bowl to get your dog to drink.”

An Ounce Of Prevention

Late in 2009, Purina launched a product called FortiFlora, a nutritional supplement for dogs, available through your veterinarian. FortiFlora contains guaranteed amounts of live active cultures needed to promote intestinal health and balance. It comes in a powdered form about the size of an instant coffee packet. You just sprinkle it over the dog’s food.

Although you’re in the front seat, singing along with CDs and shedding worries like a lab sheds its winter coat heading to your hunting destination, your dog may be feeling the stress of travel due the disruption of its normal routine. Even if all things remain as normal as possible — you’ve carried water from home and the same dog food — your dog can unpleasantly surprise you with a bout of diarrhea.

FortiFlora contains the probiotic Enterococcus Faecium, which restores normal intestinal health and balance. It works by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria, which promote a positive balance of microflora in the dog’s stomach.

Can’t you just give your dog yogurt? That’s old school now. Although yogurt contains active live cultures of good bacteria, it’s been scientifically proven that a number of them are unable to survive passage through the dog’s gastrointestinal tract and thus unable to provide beneficial effects.

Each packet of FortiFlora is guaranteed to contain 100,000 live micro-organisms. Purina has tested the product extensively and guarantees that the microorganisms in each packet will be alive when they are fed to the dog, and also alive when they arrive in the dog’s intestinal tract.

Although the researchers at Purina aren’t comfortable with guaranteeing a quick fix, field trial enthusiasts and sled dog drivers who have field-tested the product said they’ve seen it work overnight. Another benefit not listed on the label is the palatability of FortiFlora. When you have a dog that’s tired, seemingly not interested in its food, or distracted, keyed up by the excitement of the travel, add the FortiFlora and he’ll be licking the dish clean.

At The End Of The Day

After a day of hunting, your No. 1 priority in dog care is rehydration. The best time to feed the dog is within an hour or two, post exercise, according to Brian Zanghi, Ph.D., a research nutritionist for Nestle Purina.

“Hydrate first, then feed within two hours post exercise and if possible, at least 12 hours before working the dog again,” Zanghi said. “Research has proven that dogs with an empty colon have two times the endurance of dogs which have been fed four hours before exercise.”

Before you hit the sack, take your dog out for a last stretch and potty break. Make sure water is readily available to him if he wakes and feels thirsty during the night. You should also have a water bottle at the ready on your nightstand.

It takes time for fluids to process in a dog’s body (and in ours). Waiting until morning to drink may not allow us, and our dogs, enough time to gain the greatest benefits from the water and keep our bodies at a constant level of hydration.

Keep up with the latest tips on Guide Outdoors. Make sure you visit Sportsman’s Guide and keep your hunting dog happy with our assortment of hunting dog supplies.

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