YAKIMA, Wash. -- Back in the late 1960s my dad and I hunted pheasants behind a fat Brittany spaniel that, on her best day, could hunt about two fields before she was spent. Frankly she was not much help when it came to finding birds or retrieving them. But she did love the hunt.
Since then I have hunted with many, many bird dogs. Some of them were mine, and some were those of hunting buddies and acquaintances. Most were decent dogs. Some were incredibly good hunters. A couple were more trouble than they were worth.
I wouldn’t rate any of my own dogs in the fantastic category, but virtually all of them have been good hunters, and for the most part I was always glad to have them with me.
The first dog I had that was all mine was a yellow Lab named Zeb. He had his quirks, but he was a pretty darned good hunter. He and I hunted pheasants and ducks throughout Eastern Washington, and I lost track of how many birds he retrieved in his lifetime.
There were some years in the early 80’s when he and I would bag over 40 pheasants a year. Both of us were in good shape, and if I could keep up with Zeb I was pretty much assured of getting a shot at a rooster when he hit the scent trail.
My next dog, Sam, a black Lab that was given to me as an adult, may have been the hardest hunter I had. Unfortunately I only had a couple good years with her before bone cancer took her.
Most of my other dogs have been pretty healthy, but my last two Labs, both yellows (I don’t believe color has anything to do with it by the way), had their hunting careers shortened by health problems.
A sweet little Lab named Sierra had to have reconstruction surgeries due to cranial cruciate ligament ruptures in both back legs. Surgery helped repair the legs, but her hunting career was shortened considerably due to the repair and recovery.
And my current yellow Lab Tessa has such bad arthritis in her hind legs, she can hardly run now, and if she does, she has trouble walking for some time. She is now 10, and her hunting days are definitely behind her.
Which brings me to my black Lab Bailey. She is my current hunting partner, and is at least as hard a worker as Sam was. Bailey is a smaller Lab, weighing around 55 pounds, and she is built for speed and endurance.
She is in the best shape of any dog I have ever owned, and she is in her glory when she is running through a field, or working along a brush line. She has excellent breeding and lineage, which is what I wanted. After dealing with Sierra and Tessa’s leg issues, I wanted to up the odds of having a healthy dog.
But twice in the past 11 months Bailey has had a seizure in the field after a hard day of hunting. Let me tell you, to watch your pet just tip over and start convulsing is pretty scary.
Some working dogs can have a genetic disorder called “exercise induced collapse.” But Bailey’s breeder had both the dam and sire cleared of EIC, so the chance that this is the issue is extremely small.
After having Bailey checked following the last episode, and after a lengthy discussion with our veterinarian, we think Bailey just hunted so hard on those two occasions that she became hypoglycemic and her body shut down.
We hunt a lot. And she hunts hard every time. But on these two occasions she just ran out of everything she needed to keep going.
Some research online through a couple hunting dog groups I follow shows that other hard-hunting dogs have this same issue. The remedy, if you can call it that, is to try to keep their fire stoked during the day with carbohydrates and sugar.
Ideas on what to feed as booster treats during the hunt run the gamut from Nutri-Cal paste to Hostess powdered sugar donuts. Others have suggested putting a little Karo syrup in her drinking water during the hunt and adding Dyne, a high calorie liquid supplement to her food before the hunt.
I have never been a big fan of feeding a dog their normal meal right before the hunt as it has been known to lead to gastric dilatation, commonly called a flipped stomach, a problem with deadly consequences. But I need to get her fueled for the hunt somehow.
The UPS driver has worn a path to our door the last few days delivering stuff I have ordered on line to try to help with the issue. Again, we hunt a bunch, and these two episodes have definitely been rare. But I don’t want it to happen again if I can help it.
I have always tried to give my dogs treats during the hunt, but Bailey is a very picky eater and will turn her nose up at most things other dogs will gobble up. So it may be a challenge, but we’ll figure it out. Because I never want to watch her struggle through a seizure ever again.
Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer who has written the Northwest Sportsman column for over 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org