Dog Food Done Right

The original version of this article by Tony J. Peterson appeared in the October 2015 issue of Gundog Magazine.

Kinetic at NAHRA event in Alaska

Kinetic’s John Howard has made it his mission to give sporting dogs exactly what they need nutrition-wise

At 46 years old, and having grown up in Eastern Iowa, it would be safe to assume that Kinetic’s John Howard, would have a history of pheasant hunting. And you’d be correct, but if you also assumed that he grew up with bird dogs, you’d be wrong. As he puts it, “When it came to the rough stuff, I was the bird dog. My dad and I loved to hunt and fish together, and we always had dogs on the farm, but we never had real bird dogs.”

It wasn’t until later in life when Howard would become friends with Steve Ries who owns Top Gun Kennels, that he would start to catch a serious case of bird dog fever. “I started working pointing dogs with Steve and realized that I had to get a dog. Seeing how much energy those dogs expended, it was amazing.” Howard ended up getting a Lab, and now owns two.

At the time when he picked up his first pup, Howard also happened to be working for Kent Feeds, and was instrumental in the launch of their Native brand of dog food. He also worked closely with the hunting dog world, and got to see what worked for the dogs and what didn’t. And it’s what didn’t that led him to go out on his own as he recalls, “We saw how different aspects of business would drive formula decisions and that was always in the back of my mind when I decided to leave and start my marketing firm.” After forming Frontera Marketing Group, which would take him in several new directions, Howard realized that he missed the dog business. He started having conversations with current business partner, Dave Dourson, about what they’d do if they started a dog food company.

John Howard Kinetic Dog FoodHoward and Dourson, along with the help of Ries (who was working with Hubbard Feeds at the time) started to develop a plan to launch their own brand. As Howard explains, it wasn’t an overnight process by any means, “We worked through some of the dietary issues with our formulas and started testing them out at a number of kennels. It took almost three years of refining them before we were confident that we had it right. Ries then connected us to some of the folks at Hubbard Feeds who were interested in distributing our line and we launched.

“I’m a marketing guy by trade. I ended up in the dog food business by accident,” Howard explains before continuing, “After I got out of college, I didn’t really know what to do. Ending up in the dog food world just happened, and I had no idea how much I’d enjoy the people in the industry, and hunting dog owners specifically. They are literally some of the best people out there, and we’ve found that to be even more true now that we are involved as sponsors in NAHRA and UGA. It’s amazing, but there is so little ego in the bird dog world, everyone just loves dogs. It really is all about the dogs.”

The Details

Feeding bird dogs isn’t quite like feeding house dogs, or other canines with different purposes. Our dogs should only be fed at certain times, with a once-per-day feeding oftentimes the best option. This is what Howard aimed for with Kinetic, and as he explains, it’s not all they did to help out our dogs, “Our goal from the beginning was to pack enough nutrition into our formulas to ensure that a once-daily feeding would be enough to keep dogs healthy.

“For the hunting crowd, our 30k and 32k formulas are ideal. We also have a 26k and Puppy formula that can work for both hunting dogs, and less-active companion animals. Throughout our entire lineup, there are aspects that are good for any kind of dog, like the vitamins and trace mineral packages we include. Our trace mineral package is expensive, maybe the most expensive on the market, but we wanted something all dogs could truly benefit from.” While sales are increasing every year, Howard admitted that there is a bit of an education challenge to selling high-end dog food to the masses, and not always for the reasons one would expect.

“In the last two decades, a trend has developed among dog owners to try to feed dogs the way they themselves would want to eat. This is why you see some dog foods advertising ingredients that are good for people, but don’t necessarily do much for canines because they aren’t really digestible to dogs. Including vegetable or plant elements into the food like sweet potatoes, blueberries and whatever else appeals to us, but offers the dogs only starches and sugars at best.”

Amongst the hunting crowd it’s no secret that non- and especially anti-hunters spend a lot of time anthropomorphizing animals to be, in their eyes, as human as possible. What those folks tend to overlook is that animals are different than us, with different dietary needs. Fortunately for gun dog owners, there are folks like Howard and Dourson who remain focused on the nutritional, rather than the emotional, foundations so our dogs get the right stuff at each feeding.

To elaborate on this further, Howard explains, “We basically ignored the give-people-food-to-dogs trend and stuck to core nutrition principles. This is why our formulas contain multiple animal protein sources, plenty of digestive fibers, and good fat sources. Of those, the protein sources are extremely important to understand, especially when you start dealing with meat by-products. By-products get a bad reputation because we don’t want them in our food, but a lot of by-products are highly digestible and contain essential amino acids. Wild dogs or wolves don’t eat deer backstraps and leave the intestines for the crows, they eat it all and they start in the guts first because it’s what they need. Our dogs need a wider variety of animal proteins than we do, which is why we have put so much into our formulas.”

Present & Future

Howard spends his days working with his marketing company, with Kinetic, and working with his dogs. He admits to being an upland hunter at heart, but is eyeing up some of the waterfowl opportunities available on the nearby Mississippi. He readily admits, “We are happy with our formulas and our primary focus is on bird dogs and right now, our biggest problem is keeping up with demand through distribution. We’ve gotten requests from sled-dog owners, and even police stations’ K9 units for our food, which is really cool.”

When asked if the Kinetic line will witness any expansion in the near future, Howard alluded to the possibility of looking into the supplement side of things, but quickly followed with this simple statement, “We created this business because we love bird dogs, and bird dog owners. This company is my retirement plan and I intend to run it until I’m old because I enjoy it too much to quit.”

That dedication to the sporting dog world is pretty cool to witness in a company’s owner, and portends well for the future of Kinetic. It’s also not a bad thing to hear as a bird dog owner looking to keep his dog healthy and full of the energy necessary to roust pheasants, grouse, woodcock and whatever else into the air within the reach of an arm-cradled shotgun.