“In a 2005 summary of working dogs, it was stated that while dogs can recover from the loss of most of their fat and half of their muscle, a loss of more than 10% of a dog’s body water stores can result in death1,” Dr. Cline said. That statement alone should have handlers asking, “how much water does my dog require?” Dr. Cline continues with, “daily water losses for a 44 lb. dog can range from 0.5 -1.5 US gallons depending upon activity and environmental setting2.” Half a gallon to a gallon and a half is a wide range, especially considering that an English pointer running in hot, Montana fields is different from a Labrador’s work in marshes and rivers.
Dr. Cline says, “there is another way to determine a dog’s recommended daily water intake. This reliable method calculates minimum water intake through food consumption. Simply multiply the number of cups of dry food offered daily by 3 cups. So, two cups of food means the dog should drink 6 cups of water, and so on. Keep in mind that this target is the minimum amount of water your dog should be drinking daily when working under adverse conditions. That amount or more will help reduce the risk of dehydration but may not prevent it.”
A dog’s fitness level plays an important role in proper hydration. “I can’t over emphasize the importance of regular, pre-season conditioning,” Cline said. “To avoid injury, exercise programs for sedentary dogs should always begin slowly and increase as the dog becomes more fit. Second, proper feeding creates healthy dogs, and healthy dogs have an easier time working in heat. Feeding dogs a healthy diet gives them strong muscles, healthy joints, and energy to run hard. Dogs that are more fit are more resistant to dehydration and heat stroke than those that are not in shape.”
When running in hot, humid conditions, pre-hunt hydration is an option. "A strategy is to pre-hydrate your dog prior to a hunt,” Cline said. “Instead of feeding your dog dry kibble for his morning meal, add water to the food. Measure out water in a 1:1 ratio and feed immediately so the kibble doesn't soak up the water. Pre-hydration by adding water to dry food can significantly help improve your dog’s water intake, and likely performance.
“Another pre-hydration strategy is ‘water baiting.’ Water baiting is a simple process where a highly palatable material is added to water to promote drinking. One of the most effective methods is to place a small clump (1-2 tablespoons) of a high-fat canned food in the bottom of a bowl or bucket, fill with water, and offer. Most dogs will gladly consume the water to reach the offered food. If you’re hunting in a hot climate then begin pre-hydration feeding three-to-five days before your first hunt.”
It’s easy to water your dog if you’re working areas that have seeps, streams, or rivers. If you’re far from a natural water source, pack water in bottles or a hydration pack. Collapsible bowls are lightweight and work well, and it’s easy to train dogs to drink directly from a bottle or spout. Water is really important for hard-working dogs, so make sure yours are getting enough.