This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of Schutzhund USA Magazine.
Following our previous Feeding and Management article we received some requests for additional details and clarification. In recognition of both the interest and the quality of the inquiry, we wanted to provide a follow-up article addressing the specific questions raised. Keeping in mind that feeding, in general, can be a bit of a balancing act, here’s how we’d try to accommodate some of the questions raised.
Much of the traditional feeding wisdom has held that two smaller meals about 12 hours apart, each followed by an hour of crate rest, can help reduce the possibility of gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), or bloat. Are there more current sources which disprove or challenge that concept? How does this work with the guidelines within your article?
GDV, or bloat, are thought to be caused by the combination of large feeding amounts and activity. Consequently, one very large feeding can increase the risk of bloat if activity follows. If you’re required to feed larger than normal amounts to maintain body condition, it may be necessary to do two feedings, separated by 4-5 hours or so, after work in the late afternoon and evening. This will allow you to minimize this risk while still providing ample fasting time. This is the feeding program I typically use with my dogs when working heavily. Feeding before work, with only one hour of rest before working, doesn’t allow for nearly enough time for digestion and can also increase the risk of GDV due to the mass of food bouncing around in the gut during work. Dogs process food in the stomach more slowly than humans and might still have the entire mass of the meal in the stomach after an hour.
Many handlers of both sport and working dogs feed their dogs their two daily meals during morning and evening training sessions when those sessions don’t involve bite work. How can this be woven into an optimal performance feeding schedule?
In addition to the risk of GDV, digesting food both generates heat and uses water as part of the process. While it may be a fairly common practice to feed during work, it can increase the risk of not only GDV, but also heat exhaustion and dehydration. These are both major factors in why dogs perform better after fasting. The simple answer is that you really can’t incorporate feeding during work into a feeding program for optimal performance. You could safely incorporate a very small volume of treats or small kibble into your regimen but not enough to create any significant mass to be digested.
Workout Intensity a Factor
One final caveat we would add is that the intensity of the work can increase or decrease the impact of all of these. Feeding 3-4 hours before light training and exercise (e.g. obedience or walking) probably wouldn’t be reason for much concern. On the other hand, we would be very hesitant to let my dog do any intense training or running, even for short durations, less than 3-4 hours after a meal. Many of the military working dogs we deal with do a mandatory gastropexy for this specific reason since they can’t always predict or control their work schedule in relation to feeding times.