Top Field First-Aid Tips for Hunting Dogs

By Scott White, DVM, MPH
Edited by Ben W. McClelland, Ph.D.

One of Tom Smith’s many effective innovations for the Advanced Handlers Retreat was including Veterinarian Scott White’s presentations on field first-aid. White’s talks were so popular with the retreat attendees that this feature article is devoted to presenting that information to our Journal readers, along with some a profile of White, in his own words.

Bucket-List Dogs

While in veterinary school, I decided that there were two bucket-list dogs that I wanted to own and train when I had the chance. The first was a male blue heeler, or Australian Cattle Dog, with the second a male yellow Labrador from hunting lines. I got my heeler, named Dallas, from a Texas breeder in 2007. Due to a fortunate but unexpected reintroduction to hunting, I took on the task of teaching Dallas to hunt waterfowl and pheasants. The whole story is beyond this article, but would be worth telling over a bottle of wine. Dallas became an accomplished hunter and we had some great times together hunting waterfowl on Nantucket, plus a single trip to South Dakota for pheasants.

Full Limit

When I lost my greatest-pal-of-ever in June 2018, I began my search for breeders of hunting Labrador retrievers, which introduced me to Wildrose Kennels and British Labradors. I purchased Mike Stewart’s book, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training, The Wildrose Way, and watched many (all?) of the online videos. Sold on his breeding programs and training philosophy, I became a member of the WR pack when I picked up WR Dune (Morgan x Gemma) from the Oxford facility in July 2019. I have trained dogs my entire life and upon reading Mike’s book, I felt comfortable jumping into training my retriever. However, I recognized that when Dune reached about 10 months of age, we would benefit from professionally based guidance and facilities to enhance his training.When I reached out to Tom Smith with questions about the Wildrose facilities and training opportunities, he immediately stated that Dune and I should attend the Basic Handlers Course at Oxford in March, and that he would like for me to present first-aid procedures as part of the following Advanced Handlers Course. I embraced this opportunity to be more deeply associated with Wildrose and I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences.

 

Personal/Professional Background

I was born and raised in Texas. Growing up, we had a mix of hunting breeds, primarily for hunting bobwhite quail. I am sure that considering our dogs as buddies and reading the James Harriot books influenced my interest in becoming a veterinarian. I graduated from Texas A&M Veterinary College in 1983 and entered the US Army Veterinary Corps, where I served for 10 years. My commitment stemmed from having an ROTC scholarship for undergraduate school and a Health Professions scholarship for veterinary school. In addition, I obtained a Masters of Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health while on active duty. My assignments were in California, Japan, Boston (Harvard), and finally at the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center at Fort Detrick, MD. That assignment was my most rewarding, as I was Chief of the Epidemiology Section that provided worldwide military disease risk assessments to the Department of Defense. In addition, I was directly responsible for the Middle East and served as the disease analyst for Central Command during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. However, my first love was clinical medicine and I decided to leave the service in 1993 when my commitment expired. Since then I have practiced veterinary medicine in Maine, Rhode Island, and now Nantucket, Massachusetts, where I have a mobile veterinary practice on the island, called Home Veterinary Care.

My wife, Lynn, and I have lived on Nantucket for almost 20 years and have a house overlooking Madaket Harbor. Along with Dune, we have a 12-year-old Chow Chow named Dodger. I jokingly kid that CHOW is an acronym for Chinese Hunter Of Winged-ones, because although in the non-sporting group, Dodger has been a vicarious participant in many hunts.

 

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Experience at the Basic Handlers Retreat

Dune’s and my experiences at the retreat were awesome. Going into it, I felt that I had prepared Dune as much as possible, considering his age and my capabilities as a trainer. During the two days of training activities with guidance from the WR staff, I gained a lot of helpful knowledge and was able to see a bit of the light bulb come on for Dune. For example, being able to send him on his first water retrieves and the fly pen walks under guidance from Adam and Will were exceptional standouts. Priceless stuff.

 

Presentations at the Advanced Retreat

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Using information from Tom on the most commonly seen hunting dog injuries or situations in the field requiring first-aid—along with my personal experiences—I developed a comprehensive handout, on which I based my presentations. That handout is available as a link below and readers are welcome to refer to it for developing their own emergency kits and for reading my recommendations for treating the listed problems. Before the retreat, I knew the list of topics was very robust and that thorough coverage of all topics was probably not possible considering the 45-minute time limit for each group. That concern was validated halfway through the first presentation to the first group. With every subsequent group, I passed out the handout and asked attendees to tell me what topics they wanted me to discuss. So, in many ways, each 45-minute presentation (12 overall) was different. Yet, there were some commonly requested topics and themes that could be considered Top Tips from the Retreat and are worth sharing. Along with those, I will weave in related veterinary information extracted from my handout and the insights I learned from the presentations.

 

Common First-Aid Needs in the Field

Based on actual experiences of over 50 handlers/owners, the priority field situations that they requested I cover were lacerations (especially from barbed wire) and bandaging, vomiting procedures for ingested poisons, and emergency kit recommendations. And not to leave Adventure Dogs out, these first-aid guidelines are equally applicable to them.

 

Barbed Wire Wounds

Demo Bandaging at Wildrose

  • These are primarily linear lacerations along the legs and/or V-shaped tears along the trunk (body). As I emphasized in the sessions, these wounds are formed by forceful athletic trauma and any wound that penetrates the skin potentially forms a deeper, but unseen, pocket under the skin. Although we did not cover puncture wounds, similar problems can be created by these injuries. Clearly, dogs with injuries that penetrate the skin should stop hunting; both the laceration/tear and the potential pocket need immediate veterinary attention. As I discussed, the proper first-aid for these wounds is cleaning out debris, flushing with sterile saline, and applying temporary, but effective, bandages before going to the emergency veterinarian. The first aid goal is to create a “healthy” wound for the veterinarian to treat, and not do something that makes the wound worse.
  • My assessment at the session was that most owners/handlers do not know proper bandaging procedures. Even though first-aid bandages can be considered temporary and will be removed at the emergency clinic, proper principles and procedures should be followed so the bandage is effective and does not cause any problems. A good example is an upper leg injury that has a bandage applied that does not include the foot to keep these bandages from moving, the bandage has to be overtight, which invariably causes the foot to swell.
  • My general recommendation for field wounds is to pick out visible bulky debris and apply a hasty bandage from your Carry Kits. Your dog will wear this bandage back to the vehicle. At the vehicle, remove the hasty bandage, pick out more debris if possible, flush the wound with sterile saline, and apply a sturdier bandage that will be worn to the veterinary clinic. Remember, these bandages are temporary and do not have to be elaborate to be effective. A good example is an upper leg injury that has a bandage applied that does not include the foot to keep these bandages from moving; that type of bandage has to be over-tight, which invariably causes the foot to swell.
  • I only had time to demonstrate 1 or 2 types of bandages per session. A novel idea that I demonstrated was using a small diaper. Left intact, it can be easily folded around the paw for a foot bandage. (And, I would like to thank Mike for letting me use Deke to demonstrate that bandage for one of the groups. Deke even licked me on the ear so it couldn’t have been all that bad.) Or, by snipping the rubber leg bands, it can be flattened to cover larger leg or trunk wounds. The material/layers in the diaper provide all elements needed for the contacting components of an effective bandage. The only other supplies needed include tape, gauze, and an outer-wrap like Coflex. Plus, the small diaper easily fits into a Carry Kit and takes up even less space if vacuum packed. I strongly… and I strongly encourage(d) owners to work with their local/home veterinarian, and particularly the technicians, to gain additional hands-on guidance for the proper application of bandages.
  • I strongly emphasized that after picking out pieces of visible debris with forceps or gauze, the only direct procedure to be applied to the wound is flushing with sterile saline (which I demonstrated) when back at the vehicle. Unfortunately there are traditional products like iodine solution (Betadyne), hydrogen peroxide, and caustic powder that are in commercially available first-aid kits that either direct or incline owners to apply to open wounds. Not only are these products ineffective as a first aid procedure, they can cause adverse damage and are counterproductive for the wound.
  • Another item in many kits is a staple gun. In my opinion, unless an owner has received proper training for using a staple gun on a cut/wound, it should not be used in the field. Even with my surgical experience, I would have difficultly properly employing that device to a wound in the field. As such, I do not have a staple gun in my field emergency kit.

 

Vomiting

 

 

  • The traditional emergency method available to owners is hydrogen peroxide. Although this works most of the time, it does not always, and has a couple of potential adverse consequences. A more effective and safer method is using an apomorphine suspension dropped into the eyes under the lower eyelids. I showed each group how to use apomorphine (substituting corn starch for the drug) and suggested how to incorporate it into an emergency kit that is carried on the person into the field. Of all the problems our hunting dogs get, on-the-spot vomiting of an ingested poison is the most immediately time-sensitive. This is a procedure that needs to be performed as soon as possible after the ingestion. As of April 2019, apomorphine was no longer listed as a controlled substance by the DEA. In my opinion, it should be available for dispensing to properly trained owners/handlers for emergency field use.
  • I stressed the importance of carrying the telephone number of the Animal Poison Control Center and using the Center for guidance in each poisoning case.
  • Just as important is that unless the APCC indicates that taking the dog to an emergency veterinarian is not necessary, all poisonings should be taken to a veterinarian for urgent ancillary treatment (like activated charcoal and IV fluids), baseline laboratory testing, and/or preemptive medication.

 

Emergency Kits

 

As I alluded to earlier, I consider the commercially available emergency kits, even those listed as for hunting dogs, to generally be inadequate for the situations our hunting dogs encounter. They contain supplies that should not be used…. There are better materials and supplies available… They are missing some supplies that may be needed. As part of my handout, I list the items that are in the Carry Kits and Vehicle Kit that I put together for my own use. Again, readers are welcome to review the lists at the provided link.

 

Veterinary Contacts

  • I strongly encourage you to work with your local/home veterinarian when preparing for first aid for your hunting companions. That is where I suggest you get your supplies. The materials are better quality than those generally purchased from stores or in commercial kits. I suggest using my handout as a shopping list at your veterinarian, but feel free to modify based on your particular situation. Additionally, your local veterinarians, especially the technicians, are a valuable resource for hands-on instruction for procedures in the field especially treating wounds and applying bandages. Embrace them.
  • In addition, please be sure to contact the veterinarian(s) at your hunting destinations. Be sure you have their telephone numbers and directions to the hospital. Be absolutely sure you know which hospitals provide after-hours emergency coverage.

 

Parting Comments and Suggestions Going Forward

  • Tom Smith and I met for the first time when I picked up Dune in July, with the concept for my presentations born around September. I appreciate his sight-unseen confidence in me and I would like to thank him for giving me the opportunity to present at the Advanced Retreat.
  • Presenting veterinary medical instructions at these types of venues is a perfect value-added combination and worthy of further exploration and development. Based on my experience giving instruction at the Wildrose retreat, time was the limiting factor for proper presentation of the information. In my opinion, the best method for teaching first aid (especially wound treatment and bandaging) would be to have a half-day of large-group didactic presentations followed by small breakout groups for demonstration and hands-on practice. So, as I slide into partial retirement, I like to think of Dune as my PhD dog-training experience and companion for destination travel hunting opportunities. For example, I met Lars and Andrea from Blixt in Idaho and I think that showing up as a Picking crew is on our bucket list. To help with our future travels, Dune is definitely doing his part to learn his jobs and he even picked out his own truck for the trips—I just had to pay for it and am the designated driver. We hope to see you on the road, at more events, and particularly in the field.
     

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Notes

Contact info: scottwhitedvm@comcast.net, 508-228-8448 (land line).

 

Link to Handout: Scott White Handout

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2 Responses to Top Field First-Aid Tips for Hunting Dogs

  1. Mike Scanlan says:

    For those of us that guide and hunt a pile, it would be helpful to see what you suggest on a useful guide to throw in with a kit. I did show my vet my kit and instantly it grew quite large. I have one small field guide but, would like to see what you recomend.

    Mike

    • Scott White, DVM says:

      Hi Mike.
      Being a veterinarian myself, I do not have an actual field manual as part of my kit. Your question is very valid, so I tried to review several manuals online. However, I was only able to see Table of Contents, introductions, and indexes. I was not able to read content, but Field Guide to Dog First Aid by Acker 3d edition seems to be comprehensive. My biggest comment about many first aid manuals is to be aware of the current first aid guidelines for treating open wounds in the field — remove debris by gentle cleaning with forceps, follow with flushing with sterile saline, then an appropriate bandage.
      Although there are numerous types of emergencies and each one can be different, there are problems that are much more common than others. The handout I provided at the Handlers Course covers the common problems and provides the principles of field first aid that can be followed in managing these and most other situations. The handout is available as a link at the end of the Journal article. Developing (practicing) a mental game plan for emergency situations, relying on the underlying principles of first aid, and becoming proficient in the actual procedures will help you to treat the majority of problems hunting dogs experience.
      If you have a specific question, please feel free to reach out. My phone number and email is provided in the Journal article.

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