By Bill Buckley
As a professional dog trainer, John Luttrell has traveled extensively with retrievers and other gun dogs over the past 19 years. He has a checklist of essential gear
that he takes with him to keep his dogs not only safe but also as stress-free as possible.
"The most stressful thing we can do to our retrievers is to take them on a trip," says Luttrell, who owns Luttrell Kennels in Clark, South Dakota
. "Dogs are not like humans; they love consistency, and the mere act of traveling throws them off their normal routine. Everything I do here at the kennel and on road trips is to reduce stress, because it saps their physical and mental energy and hurts performance."
Following is Luttrell's list of items you should always pack when traveling with your retriever:
1. Travel Kennel
Letting your retriever ride in the backseat is asking for trouble, and having him roam freely in a pickup bed is downright dangerous. A travel kennel will help keep your dog safe in a moving vehicle—but only if the kennel is properly secured in place. Kennels are also indispensible for keeping dogs under control and out of trouble when left unattended in hotel rooms or friends' houses. Some hotels and hunting clubs require them.
2. Food and Water
Suddenly changing a dog's food will upset his digestive system, so be sure to pack your retriever's regular brand of dog kibble. Luttrell also recommends taking along a good supply of fresh water from home. Water can vary widely in chlorine level and sulfur content, which can throw off a dog's digestive system and make him not want to drink. To perform his best, a retriever must be well hydrated. Also be sure to pack your dog's regular food and water bowls.
3. Leash and Collar
Having absolute control over your retriever near roadways and around unfamiliar dogs is a must. Always keep him on a leash when walking him in public places where he might be tempted to run away or dart into traffic.
4. First-Aid Kit
This is the one item you hope never to use, but it could save your dog's life. According to Luttrell, a retriever first-aid kit
should include gauze wrap, medical tape, blood-stopper powder, tweezers, scissors, and hydrogen peroxide. The scissors are for clipping the back ends of porcupine quills, which makes them easier to remove. And the hydrogen peroxide can be used to clean wounds or to induce vomiting should your dog ingest poison. Consider loading your cell phone with the contact information of veterinarians in the area you'll be visiting; it could save your dog's life.
5. Towel or Chamois
A dry dog can handle cold temperatures. Being wet in cold weather, however, will cause a dog to burn needless calories and stress his system. "Even if your Lab sleeps in the truck, bring him inside, dry him off, and let him warm up. This is an essential part of good dog care and will extend your dog's life," Luttrell says. He recommends equipping your travel kennel with an insulated cover, especially if you plan to keep it in an open truck bed.
6. Neoprene Vest and Stand
Properly fitted dog vests not only trap a dog's body heat; they also keep his fur surprisingly dry. When hunting where dry ground isn't available, always bring a stand to keep your dog out of the water between retrieves. Nothing leaches warmth like sitting in frigid water.
7. Dog Bed
If your dog sleeps on a bed at home, pack it. Having his own "comfort spot" will help keep your retriever under control, particularly around other dogs.
8. Whistle and E-Collar
Use the same whistle for hunting that you use for training. A different-sounding whistle might not even register with your dog. If you train with an e-collar, bring that along as well.
Dummy Luttrell packs a training dummy for fun during a long road trip. A few retrieves can also get a dog's digestive system loosened up so he'll do his business faster during potty breaks on the road.
For more retriever training tips, visit ducks.org/retrievers