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Training Your Hunting Dog to Drink

My GSP, Trammell, takes a drink from a squirt bottle during a warm day afield.

I received the following message via Twitter from @bulldog2012 yesterday:


My GSP won’t stop to drink water out in the field, any ideas?

I admitted to @bulldog2012 that my shorthair also often refuses water in the field, so I promised to get some expert guidance from a few pro dog trainers.  This morning, I sent emails on the topic to Purina’s Bob West, SportDOG’s Clay Thompson and Oak Ridge Kennel’s Tom Dokken and received some fantastic guidance.

A Rinsing Squirt

I’ve always approached canine hydration in the field from a perspective of, “I’ve gotta get my pup to drink a cup of water.”  Turns out I’ve been wrong all along.

Bob West explained the importance of a rinsing squirt of water.  “People stay cool by sweating across their entire body.  Dogs, on the other hand, regulate their heat through panting by drawing air across their tongue and back of their throat.  Panting is a dog’s single method to cool down,” West continued, “As a canine exercises in the heat, mucus forms in their mouth and on their tongue.  As a hunter, you need to give your bird dog just enough water to give them a little hydration and, as important, water to rinse the mucus from their tongue to keep the pup’s heat regulation system operating efficiently.” 

West went on to explain that, in fact, he doesn’t want a dog to “drink” too much water.  “Hunters DO need to be ‘forcing’ water on their dogs before the pup is thirsty.  A thirsty dog will gulp water, which adds extra air into the stomach leading to bloating and twisting; bad news for your pup.” 

Sit, Stay, Squirt

Clay Thompson echoed West’s thoughts and reiterated the importance of training bird dogs to drink from a squirt bottle.  “I use a water bottle in the field to make it easier on me, because I do not have to bend over to give the dog a drink of water with this method.” 

Pheasants Forever stocks the WingWorks Vest which includes two built-in squirt water bottle holders.       

Don’t Give your Dog Gatorade

If you’re like me, you make assumptions.  I’ve always assumed that Gatorade’s ability to replace electrolytes in me would be equally beneficial to my bird dog.  Not only am I wrong, I could have killed my own dog with this logic. 

“Dogs don’t lose electrolytes,” explained West.  “In fact, adding additional electrolytes to a dog’s system during times of heat stress can actually speed up the dehydration process.” 

Thompson reiterated West’s guidance, “Gatorade or other drinks of this type should not be used with dogs, because they are designed to replace electrolytes, salts and other nutrients that people lose when we sweat.  Since dogs can’t sweat, human drinks are giving dogs things they do not need as well as unnecessary extra sugars.”

The Finicky Dog and Peanut Butter

No dog can resist peanut butter.  That logic has helped Tom Dokken convince even the finickiest of pups to consume water during a hunt.  Check out Dokken in this SportDOG training video. 

Later this month, SportDOG also plans to launch a new product called Canine Athlete Hydration.  “Our new Canine Athlete Hydration product is liver flavored to entice the most finicky dogs to drink, and it has been specifically formulated to benefit bird dogs,” explained Thompson.  “It also comes in convenient packaging for the hunter in the field.”

Remembering the Bird Dog Deaths of 2003

Young dogs and over-weight dogs are the most susceptible to heat-related problems.  It’s important for your bird dog to be in shape all off-season as you prepare for opening day. 

We need to simply look back to October 2003 for proof.  That year, 90 degree temps greeted South Dakota hunters for the pheasant opener.  Tragically, that weekend’s heat led to hundreds of bird dog deaths.  When it’s hot, be sure to monitor your dog’s demeanor and appearance.  Specifically, be sure to check your pup’s tongue color.  The darker the red of the tongue, the hotter your dog is becoming. 

Lastly, it’s important to know that severe heat stress events can impact your dog’s long term health and damage your dog’s heat regulation system forever.

Thanks to @bulldog2012 for the great question and blog topic.  If you’ve got an idea for a blog topic, go ahead and drop it in the comment section below or send me a message through Twitter @BobStPierre

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.

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3 Responses to “Training Your Hunting Dog to Drink”

  1. Very good points were made in that article. The only point missed was how to get a dog to drink when it may not want to. For that: pull the lower lip out towards the back of the jaw to make a small pocket. Stick the nipple of the squirt bottle in and squirt. It’s that simple! The dog drinks because it was not given the choice.

  2. Jim Bowman says:

    “If you’re like me, you make assumptions. I’ve always assumed that Gatorade’s ability to replace electrolytes in me would be equally beneficial to my bird dog. Not only am I wrong, I could have killed my own dog with this logic”. Then why do you sell products through PF to replenish these electrolytes?

  3. Joel Way says:

    When you get your hunting pup home and think about the training sequence you will be using (like with my Griffon),introduce your dog to drinking water from a bottle…and by all means have fun and patience. Today my Griff is 3 years old, a veteran of over a 150 hunts and always comes to me in the field, on his own. He will come, sit and look to the water bottle. To me the key is that by starting the dog early with the bottle, having him take the initiative to come for a drink, has always assured me that my dog stays hydrated. When the weather is cooler and especially with snow cover or the grass is very wet…he will self-regulate. Again…starting early with the experience, knowing your dog and being observant and vigilant to the dogs needs are keys.


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