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Proper Conditioning for Your Cold Weather Dogs
Conditioning your hunting dog for winter starts long before the cold weather begins. A well educated dog trainer doesn't wait until just before hunting season to get his dog into shape for the winter. In the intense heat of August most hunters are more focused on their dogs overheating, not freezing to death. However, keeping your hunting dog healthy under all weather conditions requires much more thought and preparation than most realize.
The proper exposure to the elements can strenthen the barrier between dogs and cold weather.
Hunting dogs, just like all family dogs, require conditioning in order to prevent hypothermia once the ice is on the edge of the lake. There is nothing wrong with taking steps on the hunt to keep your dog warm like a dog vest or a blanket to ensure he stays warm but, no step is more important that proper conditioning. Your dog, whether he is a hunting dog or just a family dog needs to be acclimated to the cold so their coat and oil glands can adapt. Keeping a water dog inside all winter and only taking him out for the hunt will put him at a higher risk of hypothermia than if he never went inside. A dog's coat was designed to grow thicker when faced with plummeting temperatures and dogs who are allowed to naturally grow their coats prove to be better prepared for the cold water hunt. Properly conditioned dogs aren't shaking in the blind, they aren't whining about the cold water, they are focused, as they should be, on the hunt itself and how he can please you.
Nature aids them to adapt and build a thicker coat to help knock out the cold.
Aside from making a better hunting dog, cold weather conditioning actually increases your dog's immune system providing a longer more productive life. Sebum, the oil that is secreted by your dogs glands onto his coat, is crucial for the “waterproofing” qualities required to dry off faster after a dip in a cold swamp. The sebaceous glands that are responsible for providing this waxy substance are responsive to the amount needed. In other words, if you wait until the hunting day to put your dog in water then he will not have built up a system strong enough to provide the protection he needs from the elements.
Also, your cold weather conditioning should include a diet change or at least an increase in nutrition. During cooler weather your dog will need a high protein diet and possibly a higher fat intake, depending on the amount of exercise he gets. This helps not only to build extra muscle but to also to help maintain and condition his coat. The shorter days of winter prompt a natural metabolic change in your dogs body. The change helps build useful fat deposits and an increase in fur density that helps to insulate his body in colder weather. Of course, hydration is always important, and is especially crucial during the extreme temperatures of both hot and cold temperatures.
They need to be kept active in the cooler winter months.
As long as you exercise your dog and keep him in the water, if he will be expected to hunt in the water during the cold season, three to four times a week starting somewhere around September then you should have a happy, healthy, conditioned dog when it comes time to actually hunt with your gun dog in cold weather. Remember, dogs like routines. Keeping your cold weather dog active will help keep him mentally and physically satisfied. Dogs aren't human, they have no idea why we “slow down” in the colder months. Running and training in the yard or in water, cold or not, is part of who your dog is and that doesn't go away just because the weather changes.