This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Schutzhund USA Magazine.
We all know that active working dogs have higher nutritional requirements than the typical house dog. These dogs are athletes with the corresponding caloric requirements that go along with the elevated energy and activity levels. For the high performance dog, though, it’s not only about meeting nutritional requirements. When and how you feed can have a significant impact on the performance level of your working dog. Here are a few key feeding and management tips for hard working dogs.
Feeding Before Work
One of the most frequent discussions to come up with regard to feeding working dogs is how long to before extensive work it’s best to feed your dog. Regardless of how you might view working out yourself on an empty stomach, a dog that has fasted is likely to perform far better than a dog that’s been fed too recently. As dogs will store energy, feeding 6-12 hours before an extended work period is going to give you the best results. This allows for full digestion so your dog can store energy and also helps reduce the risk of physical issues like twist, or bloat.
Feeding After Work
Since your dog fasted before work you don’t want to make them fast too long after. You do want to make sure they have a sufficient cooling off period, though, before introducing food after the workout. Water soon after work followed by a 30-60 minute cooling off period should be sufficient for your dog to adjust. After that, feed when they’re ready and make sure to continue to offer plenty of fresh, clean water.
What to Feed
This one is pretty simple. For working dogs, you get the best results by feeding fat at higher levels than you would think is healthy. Optimally, your working dog should be getting a diet with 40-50% of the calories coming from fat. Dogs burn fat far more efficiently than we humans do and you’ll get far more endurance from a high fat diet. They still make use of protein and carbohydrates, but a high fat diet, combined with a fasting period before heavy work, allows your working dog to function at peak efficiency.
It’s also important to note that keeping your dog on a fairly high fat diet year round is likely to shorten the adjustment periods from lower activity needs to higher ones. Basically, feed a performance diet year round even if you need to feed a bit less when the dog isn’t working as hard. Decreasing the fat levels in the diet just to decrease the calories can actually be counterproductive to maintaining the desired fitness level.
Feeding and Management
Feeding a quality food is an essential component of working dog health and performance. It’s what we do here at Kinetic and we’re extremely passionate about it. Still, we recognize that there’s more to a feeding program than just the food. Proper feeding and management practices together can help you get the best performance from your working dogs as well as setting them up for optimal long term health.