For many people, going bird hunting is an informal thing. Call the bird dog into the truck, make sure there is a gun, ammo, bell, whistle and whatever else is needed, and hit the road.
The few times I did it that way, my Brittany dog Sassy rode with her front feet on the console between the front seats in the pickup truck I had at the time, staring straight ahead out the windshield. That wasn’t an issue until she saw a bird or something blowing in the wind that broke her concentration.
If it was to our right, no problem. If it was to our left, she would swing her head in front of my eyes, making it impossible for me to see the road while I was driving.
In subsequent trips, I kept her from doing that by attaching a child gate to the backs of the front seats using bungee cords because normal netting didn’t stop her. That doesn’t mean she didn’t paw at the gate the entire time we were traveling. Sassy likes to have things done her way.
Then I traded my truck for a midsize SUV, folded down the back seats and outfitted it with airline-quality travel crates for my dogs, complete with blankets for bedding in each one. The crates are all lashed together and anchored in the vehicle, and there is plenty of space to stow my gear.
Heading out for hunting is a lot safer for the dogs and for me with this setup.
For road trips with the dogs in general, there is a science to packing my SUV and everything has its place, although the particular baggage may be different depending on what I plan to do at my destination. For example, I need different equipment and accessories for flyball (dog relay racing) than I do for hunt tests, dog shows or hunting.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about traveling with my dogs:
— No matter where I go, I can fit my travel suitcase neatly on top of one of the crates, and there are nooks and crannies where I can put the dogs’ food, dishes and extra bedding consistently so I can find them quickly and easily.
— No matter what I think I must pack, the important thing when I am done is that the dogs have ample air flow. The separate controls for heat and air conditioning and multiple air vents in the back help me achieve this. I can make the dogs comfortable without negatively affecting my personal comfort in the front.
— It helps the packing process to leave certain things in the vehicle: Extra leashes, a small bag of spare dog food, dog treats, a dog towel and paper towels, a couple gallon jugs of water to fill crate water pails, dog coats in winter, at least one check cord, whistle, bungee cords, sun shades and clamps to attach the shades to the vehicle — and a cap, rubber or winter boots (depending on the season) and extra outerwear for me. I also carry individual bottles of water to have in my pocket for the dogs when hunting or for me in general.
— Warm weather brings a whole new set of travel issues, but the biggest concern is making sure the dogs don’t overheat. In summer and early fall, I carry battery-operated fans that hook onto the front doors of the dogs’ crates, and also a cool mat, which contains a gel substance that absorbs the dog’s body heat, and replaces a dog’s regular bedding if it is needed.
— My biggest summer worry is if I need to stop in a populated area like a parking lot at a restaurant or a store. I have learned to choose shade if it’s available, leave my vehicle open with the back hatch up and windows down for ventilation, attach the sun shades if appropriate, and make sure I can keep an eye on the SUV from wherever I am. If I can’t find a safe situation, I don’t stop.
— I carry copies of the dogs’ documentation with me when I travel. That includes certificates stating my ownership, rabies vaccination status, shots records and state licenses. The paperwork is kept in plastic sleeves — one for each dog.
— The rabies certificates are especially important when I travel to Canada because the current certificates are required to re-enter the United States with the dogs.
— Having copies of documents also is helpful for filling out entry forms at field trials and hunt tests, which may require information such as American Kennel Club registration numbers if I am competing for AKC titles.
— If I am transporting someone else’s dog and the owner isn’t with me, I make sure I have a letter from the owner saying I have permission to possess and transport the dog. Just a precaution, because that’s who I am.
— Even though the packing list for the dogs’ stuff is really consistent, I almost always overpack my own clothes, footgear and outerwear. Many of the events I attend are outdoors, and one never knows what the weather and temperature conditions might be in Maine.
It doesn’t hurt to be prepared. I pretty much could get stuck anywhere for a few days and the dogs and I would survive. For me, it’s just part of being a responsible dog owner.
Julie Murchison Harris is community editor at Bangor Daily News. She is widowed and shares her life with three Brittanys: Sassy, 12, Bullet, 10, and Quincy, 4 — in an old farmhouse in Hermon.