By Gary Koehler

During the late season, the most likely hazard your retriever may encounter is ice. Ice can be life threatening. Veteran trainers and handlers take no chances. If they are not completely sure that the dog will be safe, the retriever is not sent. Simple as that.

Pulling a struggling dog from a hole in the ice can be a nearly impossible task. Drowning is a very real concern. But so are canine hypothermia and frostbite. Dogs unsteady on their feet while traversing ice are also at risk of hip injuries and ligament damage.

Dog vests are a sound investment for cold-weather hunts. These garments not only help keep a dog warm, but also protect against ice shards that could cause cuts. If you suspect your dog is suffering from hypothermia, warm the dog slowly.

Fortunately, everyone does not have to deal with ice or extreme cold on a regular basis. Each region of the country, however, has something besides errant gunfire that adds an element of danger or discomfort to your retriever's health and well being. Here is a look at additional perils that your retriever may encounter.
  • SKUNKS There's a double threat at hand when it comes to skunks. First, the horrible, lingering odor that they inflict when they spray a dogor a person, for that matter. Then there's the issue of rabies. Scientists agree that skunks are among the primary rabies carriers throughout the nation. If your dog gets bit by a skunk, you may have a major problem.

    On the odoriferous side, forget about the old tomato juice bath. That does not work. Instead, get a large bucket of water and add one quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, one-quarter cup of baking soda, and one teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Rinse off the dog before working this solution deep into its coat. Leave the solution on for five to 10 minutes. Be sure to wear rubber gloves when applying this fumigator, and be careful not to allow the liquid cleaner to get into your dog's eyes, ears, or mouth. Rinse the dog again. Certain parts of the dog's body may need a repeat application to get rid of the smell completely. Dispose of the solution in an appropriate manner. And do not store any of this mix in a sealed container. The contents will become pressurized and may explode.

  • PORCUPINES If your retriever gets stuck with a large number of quills, or if some of the quills are near the dog's eyes, mouth, or in its ears, you would be well advised to visit a veterinarian for assistance. Removing quills yourself is risky, as missed quills could migrate inside your dog's body and cause infections and other complications. Try to keep your dog from rubbing its face while en route to the vet's office. If not, quills could break, making extraction all the more difficult.

  • ALLIGATORS Waterfowlers from the Carolinas south and west to Texas need to be aware of the presence of alligators, which pose the greatest threat early in the season. As the weather gets colder, gators become less active.

    Gators do not necessarily eat often. When they do get hungry, everything from birds to deer is fair game. Retrievers are seen as simply another meal. There's going to be only one winner in a dog-gator fight, and we all know which critter is going to walk (or swim) away. If the weather is warm and you know gators are about, leave your dog at home. Is it worth the risk to do otherwise?

  • SNAKES Time of year will determine the likelihood of snakes being present. In some areas of the South and West, snakes can be a perpetual problem. Dogs can be trained to avoid snakes if you live in an area that has large numbers of these reptiles. If your dog is bitten by a venomous snake, seek treatment immediately. Quick response raises the dog's survival chances significantly.
Be careful out there.
POISON CONTROL In addition to being aware of natural hazards, retriever owners should also make sure that chemicals such as antifreeze and paint thinners, as well as any rodent poison kept on hand, are stored in areas out of reach of dogs and children.