Bird Dogs & Training  |  12/13/2022

Common Sense in the Cold

Logan Hinners, in honor of Aspen

DVM Jay Brekke on taking good care of your bird dog on late-season hunts

By Tom Carpenter

Uff Da.

I was talking Minnesotan in northwestern Iowa on the next-to-last day of pheasant season as a gale that started in Canada blasted Lark and I on our way to a cattail marsh. I can’t say the temperature or windspeed because a) you wouldn’t believe me and b) you might accuse me of insanity, dog abuse, or both.

But Lark didn’t care. The sun was shining, there was but a skiff of snow for her to gambol over, and I had a plan.

“One hour,” I told her through my facemask. I suspect all she heard was muffled gibberish, if anything, as I waved her off. Given the conditions, my eyes were on her. But it made me think about how far is too far, and what do you do if things go bad with your dog on a late-season pheasant or quail hunt.

Aaron Black-Schmidt

How cold is too cold to be out with my bird dog?

“That’s a good question, but the answer depends on the breed and conditions,” says Jay Brekke, a veterinarian and serious upland bird hunter from Castle Rock, Colorado. “A Lab, a Chesapeake and, say, some of the wire-haired breeds, are very different than a German shorthaired pointer, vizsla, setter or Brittany.” Some breeds, and individual dogs, are just tougher than others.

“Wind, and wetness (either coming down or already on the cover), also come into play,” adds Brekke. You will probably get more hunting time out of your dog on a frigid but dry day than under milder but wet conditions that sap a canine’s body heat in a snap.

Dogs can handle tough conditions. “The trick is to hunt for limited windows of time,” says Brekke. “The dogs can last, but you need to take breaks and warm them up, dry them off.” Plan shorter swings than you otherwise might. Don’t push it.

What are the signs my dog is heading toward, or has, hypothermia?

Pushing it occasionally happens. So does a dog that just turns a bad corner fast.

Brekke outlines 4 signs that a dog is hypothermic (its body temperature has dropped dangerously low):

  1. They lose their “go,” quit hunting and get sluggish, the chief sign of which is walking near or behind you.
  2. They don’t listen.
  3. They get pale, meaning the gums and inside of the ears lose color.
  4. They are NOT shivering.

Taking a Temp

Brekke says you can stow a rectal thermometer in your hunting vest to take a dog’s temperature. The 100° to 102.5°F range is normal. “At 99° to 100°, that dog can probably still go,” says Brekke. “Down at 96° or below, action is needed fast.” You make the call on when to call it. 99° is probably it, before things drop too low.

That last one may seem counterintuitive, but listen to a veterinarian’s explanation:

“Once a dog quits shivering, that means its core temperature has dropped below the key 95°F threshold,” says Brekke. “Between 95° and 102.5° or so (the latter being a normal core temperature for dogs), the dog would be shivering to help generate heat.”

Most dogs naturally shiver at the start of a cold-weather hunt. They usually come out of it with some running. Any extended shivering, either now or begun later, means it is time to end that swing.

Cayla Bendel

What is the right way to warm my dog up?

Late-season upland hunting is not for the faint of canine (or human) heart. You are both driven, and want to GO! But when your companion needs some help warming up, what is the best approach?

“Dry heat is the key,” says Brekke. “Get that dog back to a vehicle. Always carry of stack of towels, and dry the dog off. Get the dog in front of a blasting heater. If you have a hunting camp or shack to return to, a hair dryer also does the job.”

Warning: “No warm water or bath,” says Brekke. “That shocks the dog’s system too much. Way too much.” Dry, slow and steady and are best.

How can I protect my dog’s paws?

Paw care is big concern for late-season, harsh-weather hunts. If dogs have been hunting a lot and their paws are conditioned, there probably isn’t much to worry about … especially if you limit the length of your swings.

But snow stuck in paws can be a real pain (for you to deal with yes, but think about the dog!).

“Booties can work, but they are a hassle to put on, they seem to always fall off, and I’ve never met a dog that likes them,” laughs Brekke. “I recommend the high-paw ones that go up to the elbows and over the ankles in the back.”

“They look real goofy,” Brekke laughs, “but work better than the little shoe-style booties.”

Brekke also mention’s Musher’s Secret coating for protecting dog paws in the late season, and is working on his own bad-weather paw conditioner, called Hike Paw.

Aaron Black-Schmidt


It was a good swing. We found a pod of birds, got them separated, and somehow tracked a rooster down that, now alone, sat for a Lark point in the aftermath.

My dog was none the worse for wear as we walked back: The dry conditions and limited hunt time helped there, and I had felt better assured with the old Jeep and its heater just over the hill if needed.

When we topped that hill, right into the teeth of that sandblaster gale, my dog still romped ahead with joy, but I know she knew a warm truck seat was in her near future.

I just mumbled Uff Da.

Tom Carpenter is editor at Pheasants Forever. He and Lark wander the uplands from sultry September to season’s arctic end.