Waterfowl Hunting

Prevent Hypothermia in your Hunting Dog

by Kate Johansson

Hypothermia (or abnormally low body temperature) is as seriously dangerous a condition in dogs as is overheating. Both overly high and overly low body temperatures are dangers to be aware of when hunting with your dog.

Hypothermia is a condition seen too often with waterfowl hunting, although it can happen during any activity involving wind, water and temperatures that are low. Extreme cold is not required to have a dog become hypothermic. Hypothermia can occur even in a light wind, 55 degree water and 40 degree air temperature.

During the first stages of hypothermia, symptoms you will notice in your dog will be uncontrolled shivering. Your dog will become lethargic and tired. At this point your dog's temperature will be between 99 and 95' F. (Normal body temperature for a dog is between 101' F and 102.5' F.)

During the second stage of hypothermia your dog will no longer be able to shiver. Your dog will begin to stagger and seem clumsy and may even lose consciousness. The dog's body temperature at this point will most likely be in the 90--95' F range. This is very serious situation. You need to get your dog warmed up quickly.

During the last stage of hypothermia, your dog will be unconscious and have trouble breathing. Temperature will be between 90--82' F. You must act very quickly to warm the dog and get to a veterinarian.

To warm a dog you must remove her from as many of the cold conditions as possible. Get her out of the water and wind. (Getting her to your truck so you can use your heater is your goal, but if your dog is in this kind of danger and your truck is too far away, you can use a blind or anything you have to block the wind while you begin drying her.) Dry the dog by rubbing her vigorously with towels, chamois, or any absorbent material. Getting the dog dry is important but so is the friction of the rubbing which will provide a warming effect. You can hold the dog against your body to try and transfer heat to her.

A sailing friend of mine once told me that it is much easier to stay warm, than it is to get warm once we are cold. With this in mind we should make sure that our dog stays warm and avoid hypothermia altogether.

Here are some tips for keeping your dog warm:

  • Keep the dog warm on the trip to your destination. Let her ride in the cab of your truck, if possible. Or, if riding in the back of your truck, make sure you keep the wind off her by closing all the windows of the canopy. If you do not have a canopy, then use a kennel cover to keep the wind out.
  • Keep a wet dog out of the wind. Use a portable blind or place the dog behind anything that will block the wind.
  • Don't let the dog spend any more time than necessary in the water.
  • Put a neoprene vest on the dog. Make sure the vest is sized correctly (it should be tight, like a wetsuit would be) and it has both Velcro and a zipper for fastening it on the dog.
  • Keep a training bumper with you. If you are sitting in a duck blind for long periods without shooting, throw bumpers (on land) for your dog to warm her up.
  • Do not let your dog walk out on ice to retrieve a bird. The ice is thinner away from the shore and it is not worth taking a chance.

Keeping your dog from losing body heat in cold weather should be fairly easy in most conditions. There is no need to stay indoors with your dog on a cold morning--as long as you keep track of both dog and human needs. Go on out and enjoy the outdoors. Your dog will thank you for taking her out.

Note: Kate Johansson is a professional dog trainer in Tacoma Washington. She is the owner and manager of Fast Pup Dog Training. You can visit her blog at http://www.fastpupdogtraining.blogspot.com.