When you spend your entire life on the Gulf Coast, scorching summers of heat and humidity is a way of life. You expect blazing mercury readings, however, the tradeoff is a mild winter and climate that is conducive to outdoor life year round.
Unless the body is acclimated to a hot thermometer, mortals have a tough time coping with the stress that arid air heaves on the human anatomy. I learned this first-hand in my inaugural summer of minor league ball in Chicago.
The Midwest was experiencing a heat wave in 1995. Although temps were barely crawling above 90 degrees, citizens in the area were dying from excess exposure to the heat. The lead story on local Chicago television stations focused daily on the deadly summer heat. Most households and hotels did not have air conditioning.
In my eyes, the weather was pleasant, especially in July. Sure, it was warm. However, the sun did not suck fluids and evaporate perspiration like it did on Gulf Coast baseball diamonds.
"You're not burning up Tex?" My manager asked.
"This is considered a cool front where I come from," I chuckled. "You guys are a bunch of pansies."
Truth is, the heat abnormally affected the people of the area. It was not their fault. It is difficult to climatize bodies when snow remains on the ground until March. If you stay huddled inside a cool house and never raise the body's core temperature, the body changes its homeostasis. When that comfort zone's temperature is elevated, drastic measures by the body occur, working frantically to bring the functions back to a "feel good" condition. Sweating is an example.
September is shotgun start of hunting season. Those soaking up frosty air in the friendly confines of their armchair had better venture outdoors before donning camo and finding a "hot" dove or teal flyway.
More important, starting your retriever on a daily exercise regiment is important. You and I can speak and relay trouble if the body speaks. However, your loyal four-legged sidekick can only speak by the nonverbal body language his or her frame will send when the heat is too extreme. Often the message is understood too late. Yet, a few minutes of daily preparation will adjust your best friend's adaptability to the heat.
Steve Biggers , professional dog trainer and owner of Rocky Creek Retrievers, said dogs that have been "off" since last hunting season needs to start slow. Biggers specializes in training gun dogs for competition hunting tests at his state-of-the art kennels near Brenham.
"Start with walking and try to incorporate swimming in a pond when working your dog this time of year," said Biggers. "You do not want to over work your dog in the heat and risk injury before you get into the field."
Biggers encourages dog owners to train in short increments. Rather than work your dog for one 30-minute block, train for 10-15 minutes in the morning and evening. This will keep a dog from working hard in the heat of the day.
"Young dogs' attention spans are like that of an elementary school child," said Biggers. "It is best to train them in short time frames, but with more frequency. Their retention is better and you do not lose the dog's focus when it is hot and tired."
Signs of heat stress in your retriever are a swollen tongue, excessive panting, and wobbling or staggering legs. Some overheated dogs will have a blank stare and will not respond to commands. When these signs are present, stop the exercise and cool the dog as soon as possible by finding shade or submersing the body in cool water.
"Heat stress occurs most often in young and old dogs and pets that are overweight or have heart and respiratory problems," said Dr. Randy Volkmer, DVM.
It is a good idea to carry a cooler of water to the field so your dog can rehydrate whenever necessary. Remember, if the heat is uncomfortable to you, it is also uncomfortable to your dog.
"Treat heat stress of dogs the same way you would with people," said Volkmer. "Spray them down with water or put ice packs on their head to get their temperature down."
During the dove season, when the air is hot and dry, Biggers likes to station a hunt around a tank or pond so his dogs can dive in and cool off.
An afternoon walk is a good start for your retriever, not to mention yourself. Try to find a grassy area to keep your dog off the hot asphalt or concrete. As you and your pup gradually work into better shape, increase the duration and frequency of the exercise. Start now and you should be reading when the birds begin flying.
"Sixty to seventy percent of dogs that encounter heat stroke or heat stress will die," said Volkmer. "It is important to get them to the a vet quickly."
Many dog owners neglect their retrievers by feeding them inadequate dog food. Cheap dog food is like putting sugar in a car's gas tank. Feed your dog premium dog food with a high protein content that is easily digestible. The amino acids will allow them to bounce back and rebuild broken down muscles from a laborious hunt. An athlete cannot achieve greatness on doughnuts and candy bars.
Purina Pro Plan, Iams Eukanuba and Science Diet are healthy choices for optimal performance. Cost is $25-$40 per 40-pound sack. You might think the cost is pricey; however, a quality dog food requires fewer cups per serving for your dog to get the nutrition it would crave from superstore brand dog foods.
The cleanup in the kennel is cleaner and the frequency which your dog excretes is reduced with premium food due to the ease of digestion.
"Feeding quality food reduces problems with eyes, ears and skin and gives a dog a shiny coat," said Volkmer.
Like athletes, hunting dogs need training camp to get their bodies in shape for the upcoming season. It's hot out there. Take it slow. You want your retriever ready when the action is fast.
Capt. Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author, and licensed captain (binkgrimes@sbcglob al.net).