Protecting your hunting dog

The author’s Lab learning her place in the boat where she will always ride. (Photo by Bryan Beatty)

Ensure your dog is safe in the truck, boat and on the hunt

Anyone that has had hunting dogs for any length of time knows that they aren’t cheap. In addition to the money shelled out on training, dog food, vaccinations and veterinary care, there’s also kennels, vests, collars, leads, bumpers and other equipment. It’s a sizable investment in money and time and then there’s that bond and the fun shared with them.

We owe it to our 4-legged friends to keep them safe and healthy. I’ve owned, trained and hunted with Labrador Retrievers for going on 28 years. I’ve learned a few things along the way that hopefully can be considered useful.

Travel safety

Hunting dogs must travel to the woods and marshes to hunt, as well as to the training grounds. Kennels these days have come a long way to ensure safety, with some having very high crash test certifications. They are pricey but will last indefinitely if taken care of. No matter how safe a kennel may be, it must be secured to the truck. In the event of an accident where the kennel is thrown from the back of a truck, the impact when it hits the ground or pavement is going to be extreme, not to mention it flipping over and over. Serious injury to the dog in this case is going to be inevitable so spending a few extra bucks to lash it securely is a sound investment.

Mississippi doesn’t see much cold weather, but a wet dog in the back of a pickup will feel some icy wind. Windchill at a 40-degree air temperature at 60 mph is 25 degrees. At a 30-degree air temperature at the same speed, it drops to 10 degrees. Over a prolonged period, this exposes the dog to shivering and cramping which can lead to muscle and joint injuries. It also quickly zaps their energy.

Again, if you’re going to drop 600 to 800 dollars on a top-of-the-line kennel, just spend a few more for a cover and give the dog a chance to shake off before loading up for the ride home. Conversely, in the warmer months while training, keeping the vehicle in the shade with the rear of the vehicle facing the wind provides air flow. A battery-operated jobsite fan also provides a brisk rush of air to keep the dog cool.


Many hunts involve travel by boat, so your dog knowing its spot for the ride is a must. Mine stays just to my right at the console. We train on this even with the boat on the trailer. Most of us have seen hunters, either in person or on social media, heading out or coming in with a dog on the bow. Some might think it’s cool or just don’t know any better but it’s a real good way to get a dog killed. Should the boat hit something submerged such as a log or suddenly hit very shallow water, the boat is going to decelerate quickly and forcefully enough to throw the dog over the bow. If the prop doesn’t cut the dog to ribbons, the hull will crush it. Being a very long way from emergency veterinary care, chances are slim for survival. Unfortunately, I saw it happen. The outcome was tragic, yet completely preventable.

Bug spray

In the South, mosquitoes are a year-round nuisance, and they can make a hunt almost miserable if the action is slow. There’s probably not a blind bag anywhere that doesn’t have a can of repellent in it. I was surprised to learn several years ago that the active ingredient in the most popular repellents, DEET, is toxic to dogs.

According to an Oklahoma State University article by Elisabeth J. Geidt, DVM, inhalation or ingestion can cause labored breathing, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal upset and in extreme cases tremors and seizures. Most likely the dog will recover, but it could certainly ruin a hunt. The best advice when hunters are applying it to themselves is to stay downwind or away from the dog and try not to use it in the blind if possible. Thermacell and like products are a great alternative and are safe for use around dogs.


Should dogs become separated or lost, having collars tagged with the owner’s contact information will make for a quick reunion if found by others. Microchipping also provides a veterinary clinic with that same contact info along with any medications the dog is taking. Microchips provide a backup should the dog slip the collar or where using a collar is a snag risk such as in flooded timber or buckbrush. The best defense is to keep them in sight and the dog knowing that it must come in when instructed immediately.

With luck, hunters get 12-14 years with their dogs, so why not eliminate the variables that might cut that short!

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