We get a lot of questions about safe ages for hunting dogs. The truth is, there is no expiration date on your dog’s time in the field. Like people, dogs age differently in terms of health and sustainable activity levels. One dog might hunt til the day he dies while another is forced out of the field before a full amount of gray has entered his muzzle. Barring injury, your dog’s health is the key determinant in keeping your dog in the field. The most important thing you can do to keep your hunting partner at your side every season is take him/her for a veterinary check-up before the start of every season. After your vet approves your dog for action, these other helpful tips will help your dog enjoy a long hunting career:
1. Prepare For Hearing Loss
Let’s face it: Shotgun-ear happens to the best of us. We don’t hear as well today as when we started on the hunt and our aging gun dogs don’t either. This can make it difficult to communicate with your dog in the field, but there are work arounds. We encourage consumers with hearing impaired dogs to train their pups to “come” to the vibe command. The “tone” will also work for this as the sound is much easier for you dog to hear coming from his e-collar than you calling for him. This eliminates the need for vocal communication. Almost all of our e-collars include tone and vibe features. It’s also best to keep your dog away from hazards (such as a busy road that may run beside a field) that lack of hearing increases risk. Also, for upland hunters, make sure that the beeper on your Remote Beeper stays facing back and not under your dog’s ears.
2. Stay Ahead of Hip/Joint Discomfort
Joint pain can be a hunt killer. We age. We get stiff. We lose cartilage. This stuff happens. It’s biology. People, dogs, monkeys…everything starts to get a little weaker in the joint and hip areas with age. The best medicine is prevention. Start your dog on glucosamine and chondroitin supplements early, take him/her to regular vet check-ups, don’t over work your dog and respect injuries by giving them time to heal. You can only prevent so much though. Eventually, your dog will stop growing cartilage. Using a supplement such as our Senior Aches will help relieve and prevent swelling that causes joint soreness, which may help extend your dog’s years in the field. Also, don’t push your dog too hard. If she’s looking too stiff to make it through the day, let her stay home. She’s earned a break and you don’t want one hunt to ruin the rest of her season.
3. Be Cautious of Heat
We all know that dogs do not have extremely efficient internal cooling mechanisms. They sweat only between their pads, pant with their tongues and process water to cool themselves. The biological efficiency of these mechanisms decreases with age, making it even more important to keep your older dog’s exposure to heat in check. Have cool water readily available, watch for signs of heat stroke and give your dog the day off if you even think it might be too hot outside.
4. Shorten Trips
Your older dog has probably put a lot of miles in during his/her career. He’s earned a chance to ease off a bit. The wear and tear of aging often means your dog will need more rest breaks and shorter stints in the field. If you hunt with multiple dogs, simply trade out your older dog more often. If you have a younger dog getting used to the hunt, this is a great opportunity to give them smaller stints when trading out with the elder. Just make sure to keep an eye on your dog. When he shows signs of fatigue, give him a break. This will help extend his years on the hunt.
5. Don’t Fear New Tricks
You’ve heard the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Well, forget it. It requires more time and patience, but it’s doable. Puppies are more pliable and absorb more quickly, but just like grandpa’s everywhere are learning to use iPhones, your old dog can pick up a new trick or two. If you see something you think would be advantageous for your dog to know, just stick it into the training regiment. You’ll be surprised how much more your senior dog can pick up with just a little instruction. A hunter never stops learning and neither does or her dog.
These few quick tips can help your dog pack more years in the field. Do you have an older gun dog? How old is he/she and what do you think was most beneficial to keeping him/her in the field?