Cold Weather Tips for Your Bird Dog

Recently, I heard a well-known outdoors writer remark, "If it isn't too cold to hunt, it isn't too cold for my Labs."

To an extent, this is true. Labs and especially Chesapeakes have a very dense, oily undercoat that provides a layer of protection from cold and moisture. Shorthairs, most spaniel breeds, and other non-conventional duck dogs lack this undercoat — I love my springers, but don't allow them prolonged exposure to water below 40 degrees.

However, no dog is immune to discomfort or even hypothermia when exposed to extremely cold water.

"As a rule of thumb, if you need hand warmers to stay adequately warm, you need to be aware of your retriever's comfort," says Dr. Michael Moss, an avid waterfowler and owner of the University Drive Veterinary Hospital in State College, Penn.


It starts with a properly fitted neoprene vest, which helps dogs conserve body heat as well as keeping out cold air and water, says Moss. Just make sure it's not too tight.


Heat loss is primarily a result of exposure to the near-freezing water. Therefore it's common practice among many to refrain from bathing dogs mid-season to preserve water-resistant oils (much as spouses may protest). And I always keep a few towels on hand. The faster you can dry your dog — especially if he's a non-undercoat breed — the better off he'll be. Of course, sometimes water turns to ice faster than you can dry it.

"Some hunters keep propane heaters in the blind," says Moss. "They melt the accumulated ice and keep everyone more comfortable."

Moss also recommends exposing your dog to the cold prior to the season so it's conditioned to the elements. Imagine the shock to your system if you vacationed in Aruba the week prior to a late-season duck hunt. This is of particular concern for Labs that double as house pets — make sure they spend some time outside.

In addition to these precautions, stay alert for any signs your dog has become too cold to continue hunting. Initial signs of hypothermia in humans include the "umbles": uncontrollable shivering accompanied by mumbling, stumbling and fumbling. Dogs become similarly confused and disoriented.


"Watch your dog for extreme shivering that continues even if he's distracted," says Moss. "Or he may not respond to commands with his usual enthusiasm. I've also seen dogs try to curl up in the blind or boat bottom to help warm themselves. These are all signs your dog may be suffering."

If you suspect any of these symptoms, it's time to get your dog to a warm, dry environment. It's not an immediate emergency, but it can't be allowed to progress.

Fortunately with these precautions and a watchful eye, your dog is prepared for most any conditions.


"I recall hunting divers in Canada one January with my Lab, Vinny," Moss says. "For hours, he watched intently for birds while sitting on the aluminum boat deck with a wet coat in sub-zero weather. When he finally had a duck to retrieve, he left clumps of hair frozen to the boat."

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Puppy Training Getting Started

Puppy Training Getting Started

Puppy Training Getting Started

Browning A5 Shotgun -

Browning A5 Shotgun - 'Gun Stories'

Gun Stories host Joe Mantegna talks about the origin and history of the Browning A5 shotgun.

Swedish Duck Hunt

Swedish Duck Hunt

Kevin Steele takes part in a family driven duck hunt in Sweden.

Franchi 12-Gauge Affinity Semiauto Shotgun

Franchi 12-Gauge Affinity Semiauto Shotgun

Craig Boddington and Eric Poole take a look at the new modern Franchi Affinity shotgun.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

As Groves, Texas duck call maker Sure-Shot Game Calls celebrates their 60th anniversary during 2019, company CEO Charlie Holder shows off the limited edition Yentzen Classic aimed at commemorating the life and times of company founder Jim 'Cowboy' Fernandez. With a special autographed box and a laser engraved call body, the Cowboy Classic is a perfect way to honor the legacy of the 1959 world duck calling champ and inventor of the double-reed duck call. Calls

Cowboy Fernandez Commemorative Yentzen Classic Duck Call

Lynn Burkhead - January 28, 2019

As Groves, Texas duck call maker Sure-Shot Game Calls celebrates their 60th anniversary during...

Check out our picks for the best new waterfowl guns from the 2019 SHOT Show! Shotguns

Best New Waterfowl Shotguns for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 23, 2019

Check out our picks for the best new waterfowl guns from the 2019 SHOT Show!

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the Bozeman, Montana company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways! Clothing & Waders

New SITKA Women's Waterfowl Lineup for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 28, 2019

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the Bozeman, Montana company's full...

Jim Orth needed'a simple blind for hunting Lake St. Clair. A staffing recruiter and outfitter from How-To

Building a Duck Boat Blind on a Budget

Mike Marsh - May 10, 2016

Jim Orth needed'a simple blind for hunting Lake St. Clair. A staffing recruiter and outfitter...

See More Trending Articles

More Retriever

Training never ends - try these quick drills. Retriever

Daily Drills for Duck Dog Consistency

Tom Dokken

Training never ends - try these quick drills.

Don't accept anything less than 100 percent during drills if you want your dog to perform in the field. Retriever

Training Duck Dogs for Perfection

Tom Dokken

Don't accept anything less than 100 percent during drills if you want your dog to perform in...

Follow these tips to help your hunting dog maintain a healthy weight and avoid joint problems. Retriever

Keep Your Gun Dog Fit to Prevent Joint Pain

Tony J. Peterson

Follow these tips to help your hunting dog maintain a healthy weight and avoid joint problems.

Make time for these three drills every month, and watch your pup prosper. Retriever

3 Duck Dog Drills to Practice Every Month

Tom Dokken

Make time for these three drills every month, and watch your pup prosper.

See More Retriever

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Wildfowl subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now