On the Road with Bird Dogs

5738a1ef-bff3-45a6-aed1-0c60247b1610 Hunting trips would be so much smoother if my bird dogs could pack their own gear. And read road maps. And use the restrooms at a truck stop. Reality differs, however. Whether you cross-country cruise in a big hunting rig or fold your little SUV’s back seats down and throw a crate in, travelling with hunting dogs presents challenges to efficiency and safety. Here are a few tried-and-true and a few new tips for travelling with hunting dogs.

1. Rather than stopping at highway rest areas and truck stops where the parking lots and dog walk areas have a lot of litter and potential hazards (think unhealthy dog poops, lots of antifreeze leaks, junk food wrappers), use the “texting” stops many Interstates now offer. They have less traffic than gas and food rest areas and often a nice grass/wooded backdrop. Another handy place to water your dog is by storage unit businesses. Those are usually set off the main road a bit with easy access, are usually quiet, and usually have a grassy area around their parking lots.

2. If you’re travelling for just a few days, consider pre-bagging dog food into meal-sized portions in plastic baggies. That will avoid the risk of Fido chomping into a loosely closed paper dog food bag in the truck or cabin, and it will make meal time quicker and easier. (If your dog takes pills, they can be put in each baggy with the food.) For longer trips, use a roll-and-clip closed dog food storage bag. Avery makes two sizes that can be rolled down smaller as the food is used up and gear in the truck expands (with all those coolers full of birds, of course).

3. Keep a photocopy of your dogs’ medical info – rabies vaccinations, especially -- in case you need to board the dogs in an emergency or if they need to go to a vet. Unexpected roadblocks like you getting injured or needing to fly home for a family emergency or a natural disaster like a blizzard blocking your planned route (with no dog friendly hotels around) might result in the need to board your dogs. Kennels that don’t know you are more likely to take your dogs if they can check vaccination records. 
 
4. Consider an e-collar add-on light like the SportDOG locator beacon or Night Ize Magic Marker collar light. These are great for watching where ole Ruger wanders when you let him out in the evening in strange territory and gives him visibility to oncoming vehicles or people.

Photo by Nancy Anisfield
5. Keep one of those amazing reflective silver shade mesh tarps on hand if you’re traveling and making stops in hot weather. Draped lean-to style over a raised hatch or open truck back window, the sun is reflected while the breeze gets in, considerably dropping the temperature underneath.  

6. If your dog will be riding in an unfamiliar crate or truck box, bring a towel or small piece of kennel blanket with familiar smells. This could help reduce the pup’s stress in a strange looking or smelling place. 

7. Go online and find emergency vets in the area(s) where you’ll be hunting. 

8. If you’re staying in a pet-friendly hotel and your dog will be loose in the room at any time with or without you, check under the bed and around the furniture and closets for insect traps or poisons. Never let  your dog drink out of a hotel toilet; most hotels use very strong disinfectants that leave residue that can make a dog sick. And keep an eye on water puddles in rest stop parking lots, airport tarmacs, etc. where antifreeze, de-icing fluid and other toxins might be used.

9. If your dog is a finicky eater or, like one of ours, just gets too excited on hunting trips to pay attention to her food, bring along a couple of small cans of what I call doggie “junk food” – the processed juicy gravy smushy stuff that you can stir into the high quality dry food your dog eats.

10. Use Purina FortiFlora. Lots of dogs (ours included) develop what is often referred to as “stress diarrhea.” That can be caused simply by travel stress creating gastrointestinal upset, by eating strange stuff, and even by the excessive internal motion of longer–than-usual hours running in the field. FortiFlora is a probiotic nutritional supplement that helps maintain a normal balance of intestinal bacteria. For best effects, Purina says to give FortiFlora once a day for 30 days. We make sure to start the dogs a couple of weeks before we travel. The individual packets are easy to use – just shake the powder into each dog’s bowl at dinner time.

Blog post and photos by Nancy Anisfield. Nancy is an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter who serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.