You’d rug up a thoroughbred after a race, so why not a gundog after a drive or day on the foreshore? David Tomlinson finds in favour of dog coats for working breeds
Canine athletes are not so different to equine, and the first thing you do with a racehorse after a race is rug it up. Gundog coats are certain to keep your companion happy and healthy, says David Tomlinson.
For more on practical equipment for gundogs, read what you should buy yours this Christmas, Christmas presents for gundogs: with love from Santa.
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Though it may seem strange to their human owners, dogs are generally happy in the fur they are born with and don’t really need to wear a coat when they venture outdoors. However, it is now almost de rigueur for city dogs to wear a coat when they go our for winter walkies, whether they need the coat or not. During a recent visit to India, I saw several pet dogs there similarly dressed up, a somewhat ludicrous sight. Not surprisingly, this enthusiasm for dressing up the dog has spread to the shooting field: Barbour, for example, does a smart line in waxed dog coats, matching those of the dog’s master or mistress.
While I’m deeply sceptical as to whether a poodle needs to wear a parka for a stroll in the park, I welcome the move to put coats on working dogs. I started using them for my spaniels more than 20 years ago. Both they, and I, had to endure hoots of derision from our shooting friends, especially as the coats made them look like miniature jousting horses. However, the dogs didn’t seem in the least bit embarrassed and by the time they had arrived home from a day’s shooting they would emerge from the car dry and warm.
I first appreciated the need for a dog coat many years ago, when my spaniel collapsed from what I presumed was hypothermia during a shoot. It was a bitterly cold and torrentially wet day, and my fit five-year-old springer suddenly ran out of energy, something I’d never experienced before and haven’t done since. I wrapped her in my shooting coat and carried her back to the car, a considerable feat as she weighed at least 20kg and it was more than a mile across muddy Sussex fields. Fortunately, she soon revived in the heat of the passenger footwell. Wrapping her in a proper dog coat would have made so much sense, if only I had had a coat to put her in. I didn’t. I’ve often wondered since whether this incident would have been prevented if she had been working in a waterproof coat. Spaniels are thin-skinned and can become seriously chilled in extreme conditions. I’ve since acquired excellent, form-fitting neoprene coats for my dogs. They are perfect for wildfowling dogs that have to sit for lengthy periods in a hide, while the neoprene gives added buoyancy when swimming. However, they are not thornproof, so are unsuitable if the dog has to work in thorns or brambles. With the wisdom that comes with age, I would no longer work my dogs in the sort of conditions that induced my spaniel’s collapse, but many shooting people have the mindset that even the worst of weather won’t stop them carrying on.
Some time after the collapsing-spaniel incident I was given what was called a dry-dog bag to test. It was a towelling bag with a drawstring to pull tight around the dog’s neck, and it not only helped the dog to dry out but it also collected all the dirt from the fur in the bag. It was effective and, at first, I thought it was a brilliant idea. However, it had the downside that it was tricky getting a full-size springer into the bag and it wouldn’t have worked for a bigger dog, such as a labrador, unless the dog was particularly cooperative.
So after a couple of seasons of the dry dog bag I acquired the purpose-made dog coats. Their design was simple but highly functional, as the coat slipped over the dog’s head and was then secured in place by a Velcro surcingle. Made from a modern, high-tech fabric that wicked the moisture away from the wet dog’s fur, these coats proved themselves to be highly effective and I still use them today. Unfortunately, they are no longer made but there is now a wide choice of similar products produced by a variety of manufacturers.
Coats such as these are ideal for keeping a dog warm when it’s not working, such as when you stop for lunch or when you drive home at the end of the day. They are not waterproof and are not designed for wear in the field. However, there’s certainly a case to be made for putting a waterproof coat on your dog in the shooting field, not when it is working but when it is waiting to perform and needs to be kept warm. Almost all field triallers now use coats on their dogs when waiting for a run, or for cooling it down after it has been competing. It’s a relatively new trend but it makes sense. After all, the first thing you do with a racehorse after a race is throw a rug over it, and canine athletes aren’t really that much different from equines.
Apart from being a kind and considerate way to treat your best friend, I’m convinced that looking after your dog in this way prolongs its working life by keeping it healthier, happier and less rheumatic. My 13-year-old springer has just enjoyed a hawking excursion with a goshawk. Despite working hard, she showed no signs of stiffness the next day. Could that be because she has always been rugged up after a day’s work?