Caring for your dog's feet is a top priority, especially if you own a field dog that may cover miles of rough country in a single day of hunting. A cut or injury to a dog's footpads can be frustratingly difficult to heal, and all but assures a lengthy hunting hiatus. This is why getting your dog's feet in shape for hunting season needs to start right now.
Think about it. Have you ever stared at a cut stem of barley and thought, "boy, that looks like it could do some damage?" You're not far off. Modern crop varieties have been engineered tougher to withstand environmental damages and disease. So tough in fact, those giant, man-sized tractor tires are more prone to puncture.
Some farmers won't even drive their pickups into the field for fear of blowing a $300 Bridgestone. A 2010 article from No-Till Farmer Even pointed to purchasing narrower tires that travel between rows to avoid the crop stubble entirely.
Marinate on that a bit. These are the same fields your Lab is blazing across retrieving honkers and mallards. Add in other unseen hazards (watch out for leftover nails and shards of wood siding in tornado country), and you see why paw health is a priority.
Some turn to dog boots, however I've yet to witness a brand hold up or stay on all day, let alone all season. The best defense against injuries is a good offense, and offseason is the ideal time to get started.
Think of paws as tennis shoes. Thick pads absorb shock and increase endurance. Rough pads also allow for increased traction for quicker turns and sprinting. Although highly specialized, the skin on a dog's paw is not unlike our own. Dogs that see little exercise or spend most of their time on carpets and lawns will have softer paws. These are more prone to injury than pads that are worked regularly. It's the difference between the hands of a guy who spent 30 years at a desk pushing papers, versus a mechanic. Skin thickens and toughens when it is faced with systematic assaults that are enough to irritate but not damage. Two ways to accomplish this are through exercise on a surface such as gravel, or by applying a chemical irritant (Tuf-Foot is one such brand). Just be 100 percent certain your dog's feet are already healed before hitting the road, and avoid blacktop on hot summer days as this can severely burn pads.
Also note that balms such as Udder Cream or Musher's Secret soften the skin. These products may be good for healing wounds and growing new tissue, but won't toughen pads.
Begin a paw-exercise regimen now during the dog days of summer, and your retriever will be much better prepared to go all out without blowing a pad this fall.