Hunting Dog Travel Tips

Each year, valuable hunting dogs are lost, injured or killed due to poor pre-trip planning. Here's how to avoid hunting-trip disasters so you (and your dog) can enjoy a safe, productive hunting season.

A friend once commented to me that hunting over someone else's dog is like dancing with your sister. After several "dances" with other hunters' dogs, including some very capable canines, I now understand what he meant, and try to take my own four-legged partner along on hunting trips whenever possible.

That attitude forces me and like-minded hunters to drive to destinations that we'd normally fly to just to have our favorite four-legged companion along, and I am seeing more portable kennels containing hunting dogs on airport carousels each autumn.

No matter how or where you travel to hunt, getting your own dog to the destination doesn't have to be an ordeal. But you do need to prepare both the dog and, if you drive, the vehicle for the trip so that both can do their job when you get there.

For example, while cleaning rabbits at the end of a successful day, a battered sedan pulled into the parking lot of the state wildlife area I had just hunted. A faded Carhartt-and-orange-clad guy got out and introduced himself as a fellow cottontail hunter looking for places to work his dogs and saw me cleaning rabbits.

When I asked about his hounds, which I could hear but not see, he walked over and popped open the trunk of the ancient Chevy Caprice. Inside were half a dozen beagles baying their hearts out from a bed of old blankets and fresh straw.

"Rust holes give 'em plenty of ventilation," he joked, adding that every now and then he'd lose a smaller pup through one of the larger holes!

Granted, that was a radical case, but losing dogs from the vehicle they are being transported in represents a real threat to hunters and their hounds. I once had a golden retriever, which had never shown such an inclination, suddenly jump from the bed of my moving pickup truck. At 35 miles per hour, the pup did a roll when she hit the pavement and had the wind knocked out of her, but otherwise seemed fine. When I got her checked out by the local veterinarian, he said I was lucky.

"Most dogs that jump -- or fall -- from a pickup truck bed only do it once," he said. "The fall either kills 'em," he explained, "or scares them so bad they never come close to letting it happen again."

Since that incident, no dog of mine rides in an open bed without being confined to a crate, let alone a leash.

A dog that wants to exit a vehicle will go to extremes to do so, often exhibiting agility and acceleration you won't often witness when the same pet is asked to get off the couch.

Crack a door or open a hatchback and a dog that wants to escape will, and when traveling with your canine partner you -- and anyone traveling with you -- must anticipate each situation in which a dog can get out.

In SUVs, bars or grills made for the purpose may be used to separate the passenger cab from the cargo area, where the dog may be confined and will not be tempted to jump out every time a door is opened. Better yet, place a crate in the back and allow the dog to travel in its familiar kennel, which will help keep the animal calm during the ride.

Having the dog travel in a crate also helps contain any accidents that may happen along the route, a familiar -- and fragrant -- consequence of traveling with pups or dogs that are not used to being transported by vehicle. Most dogs drool and may vomit or empty their bowels when first introduced to over-the-road travel, which causes them to be motion sick.

The majority of dogs gets used to road travel and overcome their landlocked "mal de mer" if introduced to over-the-road transport with short trips and on a regular basis.

Until then, a towel or blanket that you don't mind washing after every trip should be placed where the animal can rest -- among other things -- on it.

The crate should be large enough to allow the dog to stand upright and turn around in without bumping into the top or side of the portable kennel.

I place a few squares of non-skid, snap-together flooring made for boats in the floor of my dog's crate, which offers the dog traction and keeps her off the bottom of the crate in case there is a bladder accident or she spills her water dish.

For the latter, I keep a broad-based, skid- and tip-proof watering bowl in the crate, which I fill less than halfway so that it does not spill under normal driving conditions. When flying, most airlines require a water bowl that attaches to the crate, usually snapping onto the medal grid on the door, to prevent spillage.

When traveling with a hunting dog, my car kit also contains a multi-tool, lead, and extra lead made of chew-proof chain, a stake-out spike, a roll of paper towels, scent-eliminating spray, a canine first aid kit, bottled water and extra food.

I make sure the extra food I keep on hand while traveling is the same she is fed at home, and I try to feed the dog at the same time and in the same proportions as we do at home.

The multi-tool has seen plenty of use over the years, removing thorns from footpads, opening battery compartments in beeper collars and cutting out burrs. The most dramatic use it's seen, however, came just last season when my setter encountered her first porcupine and I employed a method shown me by a Montana guide.

I used the wire-cutting feature on my Leatherman to snip the end off each quill. This releases the tension on the barb that anchors the "working" end of each quill. By pushing the quill slightly in, the barb folds back into the body of the quill and with the source of the tension cut off, stays there, allowing the quill to be removed with a minimum of damage to the dog.

The trick saved me a long trip to the vet, lots of pain for the pup, and the better part of a day of hunting for both of us.

The number one threat to the health of hunting dogs that are being transported by land, air or sea is temperature, according to Dr. Katharine Hillestad, a staff veterinarian for Doctors Foster & Smith, a popular provider of products for pets and whose

namesake owners are avid hunters and keep bird dogs.

Hillestad said that while traveling, dogs should be treated with the same care as infants as far as temperature is concerned, and that utmost care must be taken to keep the dog from overheating by being left in an enclosed vehicle.

"Cracking a vehicle's window an inch or two is not acceptable. It just won't offer the correct amount of ventilation to keep the interior cool on a warm day," she warned. "Dogs can suffer heat stroke without proper air circulation and hydration."

That goes for dogs traveling by air as well as land. All commercial airlines have strict rules concerning the type of crate that may be used to provide for a dog's comfort during the flight. Most airlines also offer pressurized, temperature-controlled cargo areas for transporting pets and some separate crated animals from the regular baggage areas, securing the kennels to keep them from shifting during the flight.

"Those are the types of questions you should ask when deciding on an airline to use to fly with your dog," suggested Hillestad. "You want to know if the area where the dog will be secured is pressurized and temperature-controlled.

"We also discourage people from sedating their dogs before flights," the vet added. "The medication can impair the dog's ability to respond to even minor changes in temperature and air pressure, which can be dangerous to a dog's health."

All major commercial airlines require passengers flying with dogs to show a health certificate documenting that the pet has been checked, its vaccinations updated, and given a clean bill of health by a veterinarian no more than 10 days before the departure date.

The certificates typically are valid for 30 days, so the same document may be used for the return flight. A current rabies vaccination certificate may also be required.

"Each airline has its own rules regarding pet travel," advised Hillestad. "It's very important that you study the fine print and know what is required before you select the airline, let alone before you arrive at the ticket counter."

For example, in most cases the crate must offer cross ventilation, be large enough to allow the pet to stand and turn around, be clearly labeled with your name, address and telephone number, and extra food and water must be available to be given to the dog if needed.

Remember that your mood and the attitude you project, as well as the destination of each ride, will influence the dog's experience.

Whether traveling by land or air, it's a good idea not to feed or water a dog immediately before a trip. Some airlines ask that you leave at least four hours between feeding the dog and the flight. While traveling by car or truck, it's important to allow the dog to get out and exercise and relieve itself at regular intervals.

As with all other types of training, it's important to be patient when introducing a dog to auto travel. A dog's first experiences riding in a car or truck will affect how well it travels on hunting trips in the future.

For a few days in a row, introduce the dog to the vehicle with the engine off, putting it in its crate in the car, truck or SUV for a few minutes at a time, praising the dog and offering it a treat. Once the dog appears comfortable about being put in the vehicle, turn the engine on while it eats, chews on a rawhide bone, plays with a new toy or just sits in the cargo area or in its crate. After the dog seems comfortable about being in the car while the engine is running, begin taking it for short car rides around the block or down the street and back.

Gradually increase the distance of your rides over the following few weeks. The entire process and duration of time needed to properly acclimate a dog to auto travel varies according to each animal. Some dogs will enjoy going for rides immediately, while others may take a few weeks of being introduced to riding in a car before they feel comfortable.

Remember that your mood and the attitude you project, as well as the destination of each ride, will influence the dog's experience. Handle each driving situation calmly and choose a destination that your dog enjoys, such as a nearby park, woods or fields, so that it associates car rides with going somewhere pleasant.

The bottom line in hunting dog travel is that you want to make each trip to and from your hunting grounds as enjoyable and comfortable as possible, so that the next time you pop open the tailgate and say "Hup," your dog literally "jumps" at the opportunity!

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