How to Prepare Your Retriever for the Winter

How to Prepare Your Retriever for the Winter

How to Prepare Your Retriever for the Winter

For a number of reasons, certain retrievers are more suited to ice and cold temperatures than others.
The history of Labrador retrievers spans many centuries and may be traced all the way back to Newfoundland.




This Canadian island isn’t exactly renowned for its tropical climate, and it’s unlikely to be on a cruise schedule when passengers are eager to put their new Hawaiian shirts through their paces and soak up some much-needed Vitamin D from the giant nuclear reactor in the sky.



It is the original birthplace with our most popular duck dog, and it was here that some of our current retrievers learned to cope with cold weather. However, tolerance for harsh circumstances is immensely diverse, just as personality, rock-solid stability, and the ability to spot three fallen birds and take excellent lines to each of them are.




Despite the fact that we instinctively understand this about our waterfowl dogs (and not just Labs), we have a tendency to oversell their toughness. It’s a mirror of ourselves and our egos, I guess. However, it is easy to imagine that our dogs can withstand 33-degree water and lengthy periods of sitting in a duck boat with a searing north wind blowing in from the lake.




Some are able to, while others are unable.

Problems With the Temperature

Dogs become a little heated. According to Pet MD, the typical body temperature of a dog will be in the 101- to 102.5-degree range. Anything below the lower end of that range is termed hypothermia, but it is essentially a question of how long that lower temperature is maintained.




What does this imply for the duck hunter? We should be on the lookout for indicators of it, such as excessive shivering or listlessness. These are fairly evident if we are receptive to them, but they may lead our dogs into problems if we choose to ignore them in order to demonstrate how tough they are, or if we take advantage of the final few hunts of the season.




There’s also the fact of conditioning, which manifests itself in two distinct ways. Cold tolerance is influenced by body conditioning, and if your duck dog is built like the ordinary English pointer, pushing it in doubtful cold is a terrible idea. If your dog has a lot of muscle and isn’t too skinny, it should be able to withstand the cold better. Simple, yet accurate information.




The alternative conditioning method is spending a significant amount of time in the cold. This is true for both air temperature and, more crucially, water temperature. While you should always wear a neoprene vest for your duck dog (some hunters even use two if they can get the fit right), a dog who retrieves and trains in water all year will be better at dealing with ice weather.




Colds that are out of the ordinary

It’s the extremes, the genuine extremes, that get our pets into trouble. Mother Nature may be unpredictable when it comes to cold, much like the unexpectedly warm pheasant opening in South Dakota that takes the lives of a handful of upland dogs every decade or so. 



In October of 2020, I was sitting on a treestand in northern Wisconsin, watching snow cover the forest floor. At my residence in Minnesota, the same weather pattern shut off our modest water supply, resulting in circumstances that looked—and felt—like December.




The duck hunting with that early, intense cold front was, as expected, amazing. It was also a significant departure from our usual October hunts, with the dogs having to break through sheet ice in order to complete retrieves.




 It was a present for dogs that were used to drinking cold water. That odd weather occurrence was definitely more perilous for dogs that weren’t prepared for it than most people would have imagined.




This occurs all throughout the flyway throughout the season, and it is during these periods that we are most susceptible to being distracted by the idea of excellent hunting and failing to see the reality of terrible, sometimes hazardous circumstances.




 Even the hardest Chessie on the planet will only be able to handle what its physique and murderous attitude are capable of. Obviously, that will be a substantial amount, but it is not an indefinite amount.




If we don’t take precautions, the arctic-adjacent weather may bring on mallard flights, but it can also pose a serious threat to our retrievers. It is our responsibility as dog owners to read each circumstance, keep our egos in check (or our desire for just one more greenhead or honker), and keep our dogs safe when the air and water temps drop like a rock.