Any hunting dog with gift for finding birds also has a nose for trouble. It’s in the contract you accept when a pup joins your world.
That’s why I’m always prepared for the day my bird dog sniffs the business end of a skunk.
I’ve packed home dogs with broken legs, wounds from barbed-wire and snouts full of porcupine quills. Traumatic? Yes. Toxic? No.
A dog that returns to the hunting rig after rolling in a steaming cow pie or wallowing in putrid roadkill is relatively pleasant compared to a cur that’s taken a full-bore load of skunk musk at close range.
German shorthairs, Brittanies and English setters – every breed that’s joined my kennel has sooner or later been anointed with the foulest of common scents. This is the rare moment a dog is not man’s best friend, especially if you’re 100 miles from home and driving a Subaru.
Bathing the fuming mutt in a lake won’t do any good, and I don’t advise strapping it to the vehicle roof rack. You’re going to stew in the rankness together if you’re not prepared.
Growing up in Montana, my family never questioned the traditional cure of bathing a skunk-sprayed dog in tomato juice. Indeed, it worked – eventually. As I remember, the odor always subsided within a week.
Two decades ago I used that method for the last time, but it wasn’t in the wilds while chasing pheasants. This time a skunk blasted my Brittany, Radar, with no warning as I let him out behind our house. My wife drove to the store and brought back a few quarts of tomato juice as I donned coveralls.
Meredith also bought tomato paste. “It’s more concentrated,” she said intuitively if not from experience.
Per tradition, I slathered Radar in the red juice, snapped on a leash and took him for a walk upwind from my least favorite neighbor while the natural acids tried to do some magic.
Everything was going reasonably well until one of the neighbors, a teenage girl, came out of her house. She shrieked when she saw us.
“What happened?” she squealed.
“Skunk got him,” I said.
“Oh my God! Oh my God!” she screamed, running in place with her hands cupped around her mouth.
Turns out the odor hadn’t hit her yet, but she thought Radar was coated with blood from a skunk attack. Took me five minutes to calm her down.
And Radar still stunk when I rinsed him off.
The column I wrote about that incident was among the most productive in my career. Calls came in with all sorts of remedies, including vinegar solutions and commercial products that have some merit.
But the life-changing advice came from Eastern Washington University chemistry professor Jeff Corkill, who mailed a clipping from a chemical trade publication in which a group of unheralded chemists gave the world one of the greatest gifts since penicillin – a cheap, effective treatment for a skunk-sprayed dog.
The de-skunking recipe is simple: One quart of hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda, 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap.
Mix ingredients as needed – not in advance – when a skunk renders your dog unfit for human cohabitation. Apply to the dog liberally, using a washcloth around the face to keep the solution out of its eyes.
Let it work a few minutes and rinse thoroughly. In my wealth of experience, the odor will be neutralized and the peroxide does not change the color of the dog’s coat.
Some people prefer to bathe the dog again with a pet shampoo for good measure.
From experience, I realized the key would be to have these ingredients on hand at all times, at home and in my rig for any trip involving the dog. This evolved into a Skunk Disaster Kit I’ve given as gifts to hunting buddies.
The de-skunking kit includes a small rectangular Tupperware-type container just big enough to hold two quart bottles of hydrogen peroxide, two plastic zipper bags with measured amounts of baking soda, a small plastic bottle with dish soap, a wash cloth, a small drying towel and a couple pairs of latex gloves.
I upgraded to this “double recipe” kit after a hunting trip in Montana when my Brittany and my buddy’s Lab found a skunk at the same time. Being able to deodorize two dogs avoids the coin flip to see who rides and who walks to camp.
Should your dog get sprayed, you can mix the ingredients in the plastic container and remove the odor in the field (if you have rinse water) without stinking up your rig.
I received numerous testimonials on the recipe after republishing it. The best came after I took a midnight call from a friend and his daughter who’d gone fishing in Montana and ended up in dire straits.
They were camping with his wife’s brand new SUV and she’d warned them in no uncertain terms that they’d better take mint-condition care of it in her absence.
But their golden retriever ignored a skunk’s warning flag 300 miles from Spokane. The father-daughter needed help or they’d be in the dog house with the dog.
I gave them the recipe. Two days later I found a thank-you card on my doorstep as well as a bottle of fine red wine – with a nice bouquet untainted by their adventure.