Don’t turn the heat up on bird dogs early in the season

Pay careful attention to your dog’s physical condition on early season bird hunts. Heat stroke is a distinct possibility. (Picture by Bret Holten)

Halloween weekend brought the kind of weather hunters wait all year for: cool, crisp air and sunny, blue skies littered with rows of drifting, puffy white clouds.

Jo Jo Denton’s cell phone beeped with a text from a quail-hunting buddy, well-known bird sculptor and wood carver Grainger McCoy: “What a great day to run a bird dog.”

An avid bird hunter for more than 65 years, Dr. Joe A. “Jo Jo” Denton (DVM) of Camden, S.C., now semi-retired, is often sought out by hunters in South Carolina’s Midlands for advice on caring for their hunting dogs. He has seen first-hand, all too often, the result of a lack of care when a hunting dog falters. He pointed out that early season hunts can be dangerous for both hunters and their dogs.

“It would shock you to see all the dying, heat-stroke dogs at our vet clinics and emergency clinics during the early season,” he said. “Don’t let it happen to your dog.”

Denton noted that “good” bird dogs run harder and are more intense than other hunting breeds and thus are more susceptible to going down, especially on days when the temperature goes up. He recommends having water available at all times to help cool the dog’s body.

See symptoms

“If the dog staggers, becomes despondent, his gums are beet red, he is panting excessively, will not accept water to drink or he collapses, it’s time for you to move very quickly to get his body temp down, slowly and methodically,” Denton said.

When hunting under dry-heat conditions that could create stress on a dog he recommends keeping a No. 5, 1-ounce electric thermometer in your hunting vest.

“Normal rectal temperature is 101.5° to 102.5°. Danger begins at about 105°. Brain damage begins about 109°, and you will be lucky to get him back to normal if this occurs. Cool him down slowly with cool-water toweling — not cold or ice and no alcohol bath — or by standing and wetting him in a pond or creek until his temperature drops to about 103°, then stop and just make him comfortable. Now, it’s time to find your vet. “

Warm, early season temperatures and unseasonably hot days after cold weather presents another danger to both dogs and hunters, Denton said.

The hiss factor

Dr. Jo Jo Denton is a veterinarian and a veteran bird hunter and dog trainer who is still going strong in semi-retirement.

“We do have to deal with cottonmouths when dogs are around water, as well as rattlers and copperheads right up until freezing weather sets in,” he said. “I’ll never forget walking up to a pointed dog in winter, and just under his steady nose was a coiled-up rattlesnake. I also remember on a December afternoon, kicking around a straw field, helping the dog find a dead bird when that pile of cow poop turned out to be an 8-pound rattlesnake,” he said. “If it’s warm and sunny in the Southeast, you have to be aware year-round for the pit vipers. Good dogs will point reptiles and even turtles and, God forbid, gators.”

And he added: “Snake vaccine is available, and it does work.”

His great dogs

When not volunteering his services as a veterinarian, Denton leads guided bird hunts on local plantations and continues to compete in bird-dog field trials, though not as actively as he did a decade ago. That was when he and his “once-in-a-lifetime” dog, Woodie Roost Scatter, dominated horseback field trials in the area.

“Scatter won S.C. Amateur Derby Dog of the Year to start her career in season 2004-05,” he said. “She went on to win SC Amateur Shooting Dog of the Year for the next five years, leaving a record for folks to chase for a long time, I would imagine,” Denton said, adding that Scatter and her sister, Woodie Roost Itchy, helped earn him Handler of the Year award four-straight years.

“She was my heart and soul,” he said. “Her gravesite beside the koi pond on the farm makes a wonderful place to stop and thank God for all the wonderful things we are blessed with.”

For a bird hunter, there is no more beautiful sight than a brace of bird dogs pointing a cove of quail.

“Man, how terrific it feels to load the dogs at daylight and head for the woods,” Denton said. “You make sure to choose the right two bird dogs to handle this covey, because they know why we are here and can sometimes make themselves invisible. You and your buddy understand with a smile and turn the dogs loose. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

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