by Gary Koehler
Kayla, my Chesapeake Bay retriever, hates being groomed. All she has to do is see me pick up her brush or long-toothed comb, and her head drops. It's a sound bet she'll try to sneak away before being corralled.
Fortunately, Chessies have relatively short, kinky coats that require only occasional brushing. Too much will thin out the downy undercoat. Excessive bathing removes the coat's protective oil. But a couple of times a year, when she's shedding, Kayla is definitely in need of grooming attention. The tufts on the carpet bear ample testament to that.
The same is likely true for your retriever, regardless of the breed. Most dogs require grooming during the summer, when the natural shedding process is under way. If nothing else, removing dead hair will help keep the dog a bit cooler during extreme heat. Dogs with long coats may also benefit from a haircut, or at least a trim.
Taking care of your retriever's coat is only one consideration in establishing a routine that will help ensure its comfort and physical well-being. Some things, such as regular exercise, are simply common sense. The following health measures may not be as obvious, but are important nonetheless.
1. Check out your dog's mouth.
That's right, look at its teeth. Are they clean, white, and in otherwise good condition? Or are they stained with a heavy plaque buildup? How about the gums? Are they healthy or do they look infected?
Any number of canine disorders can be caused or made worse by unhealthy teeth and gums. If unchecked, harmful germs and bacteria can enter your retriever's system through its mouth.
The answer is canine oral hygiene. Dog toothpastes are available on the market, and so are chewing devices designed to help keep a dog's teeth clean. If in doubt, or if you're unwilling to clean your retriever's teeth yourself, take the animal to your vet and have a professional tackle the job.
2. Keep your dog's shot schedule up to date.
Write down a reminder on a calendar. Have your vet contact you via regular mail, e-mail, or phone when vaccinations are due. If you administer shots yourself, be sure not to let them slide.
Immunizations provide a line of defense against distemper, parvovirus, leptospirosis, rabies, and other contagious diseases. If your dog is sick, or recovering from illness, you may have to modify its shot schedule because of challenges to its immune system.
When in doubt, consult your veterinarian. Vaccinations are typically accompanied by a general checkup that could reveal other health problems. Veterinarians will often check your dog's eyes, ears, heart, lungs, skin, and more during a regular office visit.
3. Address flea, tick, heartworm, and other parasite issues.
With the weather warming up throughout most of the country, insects abound. Ticks can be particularly dangerous because they may cause Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and other diseases. Prime tick time is April through November in most areas. After outdoor excursions—especially in wooded areas—check your dog for ticks and remove any that are found. You may wish to have your dog vaccinated against Lyme disease. Topical products can be applied, and pills can also be acquired. Heartworm testing should be conducted by your vet. Preventative medication is also a sound investment in your dog's health.
4. Provide a balanced diet.
The variety of dog foods now on the market is staggering, and sometimes confusing. Your choice of food will be a critical factor in your dog's body condition. Do your homework. Select a food that provides optimal nutritional benefits and best fits the dog's age and lifestyle.
Keep track of your retriever's weight. The tried-and-true test in determining if your dog is overweight is to feel its rib cage. You should be able to feel its ribs below the skin's surface without applying too much pressure. Obese dogs can develop health problems. Resist the temptation to give your retriever between-meal snacks.
5. On the mental health side, take time to become your dog's friend, or reinforce that bond.
By all means maintain control, but dogs, like people, need attention. Dogs, being social animals, appreciate compassion. Be consistent in your training and handling. Be advised that physical abuse can trigger aggressive behavior. Hey, this is your hunting partner, treat the dog accordingly. Strong relationships are built over time. And a healthy dog is often a happy dog.
FOWL FACT Did you know puppies have 23 baby teeth and adult dogs have around 42 permanent teeth, depending on the breed? Canine teeth naturally darken with age.