It was my first hunt in eastern Oregon with my dog, Echo. She was eight months old. By now she had two months of hunting in western Oregon, behind her, but the terrain and habitat we hunted in the Umatilla Valley of eastern Oregon was different than anything she’d experienced. Here, it was dry and rocky with lots of different grasses.
The valley was laden with pheasant and valley quail, and we found chukars higher in the hills. There were plenty of ducks on the river, which we jump shot and Echo retrieved. We had a good hunt and I learned a lot about taking my pup into a new place for the first time.
Whether you’re embarking upon your pup’s first hunt, or heading to a new destination this season, there are certain things to consider.
Echo is a pudelpointer with a medium length coat. Before the hunt I plucked the long hair from inside her ears in order to prevent grass seeds from getting caught and potentially burrowing in deeper. I started plucking her ear hair when she was a puppy, so she was used to it. It’s something I still do every few weeks, and she’s nine years old now.
If you have trouble grabbing the hair inside the ear canal, get a hemostat. With this you can grab the hair and twirl it around the end of the hemostat, just as you’d twirl spaghetti on to a fork. The hair should pull out as you roll it tight, but if not, give it a quick tug.
Seeds that have the potential of burrowing, like foxtail, can do severe damage to a dog, especially if they get deep into the ear canal. They’ll also enter the body through the foot and burrow into muscles and joints.
When hunting or training in areas where foxtail seeds are present, regularly check the dog’s eyes, nose and mouth for the seeds, along with the paws and belly. Remove these barbed, needle-sharp seeds, immediately, no matter where on the dog they may be. If one burrows into the dog, get it to a vet within five days. If it doesn’t look like the seed is going to fester out, it may need to be surgically removed and your pup put on antibiotics. With the country’s dry conditions, harmful grass seeds are at an all-time high in many regions.
If it’s long, you’ll want to trim the hair between the toes and pads of your dog. Not only can foxtail seeds get caught and burrow into the webbing between the toes, but any seed can get caught in the long hair and ball- up, making it uncomfortable on your dog. It can actually wear on the skin between the pads to the point your pup might not be able to hunt.
Echo has long hair, and due to seeds collecting in her coat on the first morning of our dry country hunt, I put a vest on her the next outing. The vest was fluorescent orange and was noisy. She didn’t like it, and was a totally different dog with it on. She was reluctant to move through any cover, for the sound annoyed her. After an hour of frustration, I removed the vest and she hunted great. I should have done more training with the vest on, prior to her hunting in it.
Many dogs don’t want to take a water break, no matter how hot it is. In hot, dry conditions commonly associated with early season hunts, be sure to make them drink. If your dog is so driven that all it wants to do is hunt, make it stop and sit by your side. Grab the loose skin on the outside corner of the mouth and pull it away from the jaw, then insert the end of the bottle into that pocket and pour away. Your dog will have to drink.
You’ll also want to wet down your dog on hot days to keep their body temperature from getting too high. But don’t just dump water on your dog’s back and call it good because the coats of some dogs will actually trap the water which holds in more heat and can lead to hyperthermia. Instead, get their feet and legs wet, splash water between their legs, in the armpits, and on the belly, and pour and rub some behind their ears; you can rub water on the inside of the ears, too. Getting water to the places where the hair is thin helps quickly cool a dog.
Any time you run across water on hot, early season hunts, make your dog take a break. Make sure the water is fresh and not stagnant. If there’s little or no water where you’re hunting, take plenty along for your dog.
Dogs are like humans in that they need to stay hydrated. The harder the dog works and the hotter it is, the more water they need. Be on constant alert for signs of heat heat exhaustion, like heavy panting and a relaxed tongue hanging out of the mouth.
Taking a hair brush into the field isn’t a bad idea. If your dog gets into a thicket of seeds, it’s much quicker brushing them out or using a razor brush to cut them out, than pulling them by hand. You may need to shave your dog before hunting season.
If hunting in dry, rocky terrain, take along dog boots, especially if your dog’s pads aren’t toughened up. If a dog’s feet split open, they are out of commission, period.
Having some ointment to apply to open wounds is a must, as is taking an antiseptic spray. I also carry eye drops, for if they get an allergic reaction, I want to be ready.
With the height of bird season upon us, head afield prepared. Be sure to have all the gear you and your pup need for a fun, safe, successful season.