Lost and found
By: Tom Goldsmith
Keeping tabs on your hunting dog isn't always easy. Here's how to get it back safely when it heads for the hills
Our canine hunting partners are among our most valued possessions. In fact, it's often said that without our dogs we might as well just sell our guns. Good field dogs are athletes with a high prey drive, so when in pursuit of our chosen game, we must allow our dogs to run free. Unfortunately, in doing so, we risk losing them.
A lost hunting dog is always a concern, and while it's more frequent with some breeds, it can and does happen to every breed that accompanies us afield. It can be a short, inconvenient distraction from a day of hunting or as severe as the permanent loss of a loyal and much loved companion. Beyond sound training, however, there's little you can do to prevent accidents from happening. You can, though, with a few preparations, lessen the severity of the situation and aid in a timely reunion.
A good first step is to attach identification to the dog whenever it will be off leash. A nameplate with your phone number and name is the best place to start. Rivet or sew the information into the collar, rather than put it on a tag that dangles from the D-ring. The rings that attach tags are often weak and can be pulled off easily on a branch or fencing.
Also prudent is offering a reward on the nameplate. The promise of cash may entice a person who finds your dog to reunite it with you. Put it into perspective for a moment. In the grand scheme of things, 50 bucks is well spent when you consider the time and money one puts into a hunting dog.
Remember, too, that retrievers are close-handling dogs, but they're also not immune to going AWOL. Many owners are reluctant to put a collar on a dog that will be swimming or wading in the course of its duties, and rightly so. Even strong swimmers can get caught on a sunken branch or other debris and drown in the struggle to break free. I strongly caution against any water dogs wearing collars - and would downright outlaw choke chains in the field, if I could. They're a handy training tool, but should never be worn as a matter of course, and should come off the dog whenever the leash is removed.
For retrievers, and as an insurance policy for all hunting dogs, I recommend micro-chipping. A rice-grain-sized chip containing the dogs' pertinent information is injected just under its skin. This almost painless procedure can be done at your vet's office. When a dog is brought into a shelter, a chip-detecting wand is waved over the animal to detect the presence of these devices. If one is detected, a directory can be accessed for the dog owner's contact information. Micro-chipping is fairly inexpensive, $55 to $70, and well worthwhile.
The topic of canine electronics is huge, and I will be covering the various systems in more detail in the future. But one high-tech option is to go with an electronic tracking system that uses radio telemetry, and most recently, GPS technology. Small transmitters are attached to the dog's collar and the handler carries the receiver. With a push of a button, he or she can pin-point the dog's location and distance, as long as the batteries hold up. These tracking systems are amazing and will reduce the incidence of lost dogs for those who embrace the technology.
There are, however, other proven steps to take right at your hunt site to aid a lost dog's safe return. A proven gamekeeper's trick is to leave an article of clothing behind after you leave. The next day often finds the dog curled up on the coat or blanket. Also, leave a note or a business card with your contact information on any vehicles nearby. Knocking on a few doors in the area and leaving the homeowners with the same info is also a good idea. As night falls, dogs often look for a house or a farm in hopes of a handout and comfort after a long run.
Remember, in the thrill of the hunt many factors contribute to the success or failure of our time afield. Wild places are full of distractions and incidents that can lead to a lost dog. A few precautions can help ease your stress over a lost dog and hopefully aid in the speedy recovery of your valued companion.