Take Care of Your Working Terrier
Feeding, Conditioning and Extreme Temperatures -- by Lynn Grimsley & Liz McKinney

Working terriers require quite a bit more care than your average pet. Like any athlete the working terrier must be fit and in condition to do the job you are asking him to do. Remember, it is your terrier and not you that runs around the field, nose to the ground looking for setts, and it is your terrier that enters the ground and works anywhere from a few minutes to hours. It is up to you to provide adequate conditioning, exercise, vaccinations and care in the hunt field for your terrier. Remember that your terrier doesn't have the knowledge or sense to know when he is in danger. That is your job.

Vaccinations and Worming

Always keep your terrier up to date on vaccinations. Make sure in addition to his parvo and distemper, your terrier has been given corona and leptospirosis vaccinations. Leptospirosis is a disease your terrier can easily acquire from rats and other small wild life. Proper vaccinations can prevent this. Keep your terrier current on his rabies vaccinations. Since we hunt our guys regularly we vaccinate annually for rabies. Rabies isn't something to play with and can be found in skunk (by far the largest carriers of rabies in our area), fox and raccoon, all of which you are likely to encounter in the hunt field.

Keep your terrier on a periodic worming program. Make sure your veterinarian does periodic fecal checks for parasites. Anytime you earthwork a terrier you are exposing him to parasites not normally found in your backyard. And if your terrier decides to "lunch" on small critters in the field, you'll especially need to have him checked for hookworms—tough to get rid of.

Feeding and Conditioning

A fit terrier is NOT a thin terrier. Feed your working terrier plenty of high quality food. You can't skimp here. Too many people seem to believe a fit, conditioned working terrier must be thin. That simply is not the case. A fit terrier is one that has been properly exercised and is not fat or thin. A fit terrier has a layer of fat on his ribs. Entering a thin, undernourished terrier with his ribs showing into the earth is endangering his life. A working terrier needs a layer of fat to call on as he rapidly burns calories in the earth. So feed your terrier. You'll find he'll drop a couple of pounds over a day of hunting. I would much rather a terrier enter the hunt field a couple of pounds heavy than thin.

Don't expect a house mouse to be able to go from the warmth of your house and bed into below freezing temperatures of the great outdoors without being physically stressed. You will need to increase his food intake a day or two before hunting and the days he is out hunting. And feed your guy the morning you plan to go out into the field. NEVER ask him to hunt on an empty stomach. "Show ring" rations aren't going to give him the level of nutrition he needs and will put him in danger of becoming hypoglycemic or burning muscle tissue as he works his heart out in the earth with nothing extra but his own body fat to call on. If you are participating in winter hunting, get still an extra layer of fat on your guy. He'll burn more calories in the cold than in the heat and needs the fat just to stay warm and survive in extreme temperatures.

Your terrier isn't going to get fit in the backyard no matter how much exercise he gets there and he certainly is not going to get fit in the house or in a crate. If you have access to woods and pastures, exercise your terrier beginning with 30 minute to an hour romps a day. Of course, you must make sure your guy comes when called before taking him out. If you can build him up to two to three hours of hard exercise every other day, your terrier will have at least some condition to keep him going in the hunt field. If you don't have access to the great, unfenced outdoors then toss a ball for him if he enjoys playing games. Anything to get your terrier active and moving for extended periods of time will begin the conditioning process. A day or two in the hunt field is taxing at best, and you will see an unfit pet giving out after a few hours. Two days in a row is all an unfit terrier can take and actually, by the second day you will see one whipped puppy.

Extreme Heat

Extreme heat is dangerous for any terrier, regardless of how fit he is. But taking an unfit terrier into the field when the humidity and heat are high can be life threatening. Heat stress is seen in dogs that find themselves in a hot climate to which they are not acclimated. You can count on heat stress occurring in dogs that are not adjusted to hot climates if they are over exercised during humid, hot weather.

Before learning what to watch for in a dog experiencing heat stress it is good to have a base line reference on a healthy dog. This way you will know what is to be considered outside the realm of "normal." Healthy dogs have a temperature of 101-102ş F, a respiratory rate of 15-20 breaths per minute, and a heart rate of 80-120 beats per minute. They should have pink mucous membranes (gums, inside of lips, tongue, inside of eyelids) and have rapid capillary refill in these areas.

The signs of heatstroke are prolonged or heavy panting, increased pulse rate, congested mucous membranes (reddened gums), and an anxious or staring expression. The dog will often appear to be in a daze or disoriented. Trembling of the legs is common and the gait becomes erratic with the dog often going limp and collapsing. Vomiting and diarrhea is common. Rectal temperatures are elevated (106---109°F). If the stress is allowed to continue into heat stroke the dog will become dehydrated and shock, kidney failure, and coma may result. Death can result if the condition is allowed to continue untreated.

What to do if you notice these signs in your dog. The most important thing to do for an overheated pet is to cool it down. At the first sign of heat stress, bring the animal indoors into air conditioning. If the animal continues to have problems or if it has more severe symptoms, immediate treatment by immersion in cold water is necessary. If this is not possible, soak the fur and skin with cold water or apply ice packs or cold towels to the head neck and chest areas. The objective is to cool down the supply of blood to the brain. Massage the skin and flex and extend the legs to increase the circulation. Provide water in small amounts (but do not force feed water). The dog's temperature should be taken frequently over a twenty-four-hour period because a rise in rectal temperature often occurs after the initial drop and signs of improvement. One thing you should not do is leave wet towels draped over the dog. Unless you keep pouring cold water over it, the towel will warm up and become an insulating blanket and retain heat.

Things you can do to prevent heat stress. Take water with you on hot days and give your dog small amounts frequently. Wetting towels and placing them over your dog or wetting the dog's fur will provide cooling by evaporation. Make sure your dog is physically in shape before allowing extended periods of exercise on hot humid days. Provide plenty of shade for the dog to rest in and allow frequent rest periods. And do NOT hunt him in the heat of the day. Go out in the early mornings and late afternoons.

How susceptible your dog will be to high temperatures will depend largely on the terrier's condition and the heat and humidity levels. Those most susceptible are very young or very old dogs, overweight dogs, and those with respiratory conditions or heart disease. A terrier that has been previously heat stresses is a sure candidate for heat stressing again. A properly conditioned, physically fit dog has the best chance of avoiding heat stress.

Extreme Cold

We've found that most people just are not aware of the dangers of cold weather when working their terriers. The extreme cold can also be dangerous for a terrier that isn't used to freezing temperatures. A terrier with a superior coat and a good, thick undercoat will certainly have more protection from the cold. The same goes for a terrier with an extra layer of fat on him. When you begin hunting your terrier during cold weather you will see the necessity of a hard, thick weather-proof coat.

If you are hunting in the snow, periodically check your terrier's feet to make sure snow hasn't become firmly packed between the toes. Knock the snow balls off of your terrier's coat at regular intervals. Make sure you provide plenty of fresh drinking water for him. Don't make the mistake of thinking because the weather is cold he won't need frequent drinks.

If your terrier enters the earth and works quarry, he'll need you right there when he exits the earth to keep him warm. The temperatures in the earth are much warmer than on the surface and you must realize that exiting an earth with temperatures in the 50 to 60 degree range to below freezing temperatures after a hard workout will be a shock to his lungs and heart.

The longer your guy has been in the earth and the harder he has worked, the more protection he will immediately need. As soon as your terrier exits the earth, stuff him in your jacket and zip or button the jacket. He will probably be panting and consequently rapidly taking in great quantities of air. It is imperative that you protect his lungs from the shock of freezing temperatures by placing him inside your jacket for a slower cooling down period. To just put him in a crate may send your guy into immediate shock and death. After your terrier has had a chance to cool down, put a sweater or coat on him before you crate him. You must not allow him to become chilled. If he isn't acclimating to the outside temperatures, wrap him in a blanket and vigorously rub him all over to stimulate the blood circulation and GET HIM HOME.


If you prepare your working terrier and yourself before entering the hunt field you will both be able to take full advantage of the day and the abundance of quarry your terrier finds. Please remember that your terrier cannot take care of himself in all circumstances. He relies on you, his partner, to be a knowledgeable caretaker of his well-being. Feed him plenty of high quality food, get him fit and protect him from extremes in temperature, and you and your hunting partner will share many wonderful years in the hunt field.

Happy hunting!