Feeding and Management for Optimal Canine Performance

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This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Schutzhund USA Magazine.

Some of the most common questions we get don’t have much to do with the actual nutritional aspects of our products. These questions fall more under the “Feeding and Management” areas of canine care and are more about when and how often to feed. We’ve touched on these subjects in past articles but they’re important enough that we wanted to address them in more detail.

Fasting Performance Is Higher

To lay some groundwork, it’s important to understand that dogs perform much better under fasting conditions than humans do. They use slower burning energy sources, such as fat, much better than we do. Consequently, they’re able to store and use energy long after feeding much better than we do. By increasing the time between feeding and work, you’re also increasing the likelihood that your dog will burn fat during exercise rather than protein or carbohydrates. This is a good thing for improved performance. At a bare minimum, we’d prefer to see 6-8 hours between feeding and extended work periods. Optimally, your dog will perform better with at least 12 hours and as much as 17 or 18. While even more might be helpful in some cases, it usually isn’t practical due to daily activity requirements.

Once or Twice Per Day Feedings?

Based on the preferred fasting time, once per day would be the obvious preference for feeding frequency as it would allow you to maximize the fasting period before work. Unfortunately, there are a couple factors that can make this problematic. The first is that a dog needs to cool down a bit after work so you’d need to wait around an hour to feed. Even with that, some dogs won’t want to eat enough so soon after work so a second feeding may be required.

Feeding Working Police DogThe second factor that can drive two feeding is the amount of food required. Your dog may not get enough food in just one meal to support their calorie intake requirements. In either of these cases, feeding a couple of meals after daily work is a reasonable alternative that will allow you to get enough calories into your dog and still allow a fasting period of at least 12 hours.

After Work Feeding Benefits

Another benefit to feeding after work, beyond just the fasting period for the next day, is the repair work that’s fueled for the day’s work that was just completed. While the fat is going to be essential in fueling tomorrow’s work, the protein is needed to recover and repair the wear and tear from today’s work. After a cooling down and rehydration period of 30-60 minutes, getting protein into your dog can jump start the muscle healing and replenishing process that will sustain activity in successive days.

Performance Feeding Checklist

Here’s a short feeding and management checklist for reference.

  • Fasting before work, preferably for 12 hours, allows your dog to perform at a higher level.
  • Once per day feeding of a high fat diet would be optimal.
  • If once per day isn’t feasible, two feedings will work provided you can still allow a 12 hour fasting period.
  • Work should be followed by a 30-60 minute cooling and rehydration period.
  • Refueling your dog with protein around 60 minutes after work ends provides the fuel to build and replenish muscles.

If you can follow these practices, combined with the proper nutrition, you should be able to keep your dog performing at a high level day in and day out.

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