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How to Feed Your Dog: Keys to a Healthy Gun Dog Diet

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September 07, 2012

How to Feed Your Dog: Keys to a Healthy Gun Dog Diet

By Tom Davis

Training, conditioning, and diet—that three-part foundation determines how well a dog will perform in the field. Diet probably gets the least attention of the three, yet according to Brian Zanghi, a nutrition scientist for Nestlé Purina and a waterfowl hunter, a few tweaks can make a huge difference in your dog’s ability to hold up over the course of the season. Here are his tips to a better dog diet.

DO feed your dog a performance diet—30 percent protein and 20 percent fat are the benchmarks—throughout the year. This regimen primes your dog’s metabolism to process oxygen and convert food into energy. “A dog fed a performance diet,” says Zanghi, “simply has more stamina right out of the box than a dog fed a diet lower in fat and protein—what are often called maintenance diets.”

DON’T feed your dog in the morning. This is a hard sell. We can’t imagine skipping breakfast, and we assume our dogs need it, too. But dogs are different. “Dogs with an empty colon have twice the endurance of dogs fed four hours before exercise,” says Zanghi.

DO give your dog plenty of water, ideally by providing small drinks at frequent intervals. While there are several canine sports drinks on the market, Zanghi argues that because dogs don’t sweat, these electrolyte-rich products may actually contribute to dehydration. The best formula for dogs, he says, is still plain old H2O.

DON’T give your dog honey, corn syrup, or other sugary snacks unless there’s a veterinary reason for doing so. The energy these sources provide dissipates quickly, and the insulin spike can make your dog lethargic. Dog-specific products, such as K9 Restart Energy Bars (sportingdoghealth.com), deliver a sustained and healthy midhunt boost.

DO feed your dog far in advance of tomorrow’s hunt. Zanghi suggests feeding as soon as your dog has cooled down at the end of the day, when the capacity for replenishing energy stores and repairing muscle is high.

 

Comments (19)

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from redfishunter wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

My dog sure isn't going to be happy about no breakfast in the morning.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

Sorry, but I'm really in disagreement with just about all of the above. I always feed my dogs in the morning before I go hunting. If it makes them lethargic, I sure can't tell! Today I took my two labs and Brittany pup (1+ years) out in the field for the first time this season. We went goose hunting but did a heck of a lot of walking. I always carry my stuff out to the fields rather than drive across them. This gives the dogs some time to burn off some energy before we settle down to hunting. Even eight year-old Pearl who is supposed to be dying of terminal brain cancer (don't tell her!) ran back and forth pretty much non-stop for the first 3/4 mile. Later we checked out some ditches and fencelines and finally in the afternoon walked nearly two miles to sneak up on a large bunch of geese (they left just before we got to them). Then I took them swimming when we got back to town to clean them up. They are ready to go again as I write this.

So the dog has more juice running on an empty gut? Sorry, but someone doesn't understand the laws of physics!

If I fed my dogs food that was loaded with that much fat, they'd be total lardballs by the time season opened! The key is to feed them good food (not necessarily superman stuff) in moderation at the right times of the day. Dogfood that's loaded up with fat and protein will be overkill unless the portions are whittled back or the dog has a treadmill available. I doubt my dogs would stop bothering me all day if I cut their portions back any further. My three dogs were in EXCELLENT shape for the first day. And they performed PERFECTLY. As soon as I blew on that goose whistle all three were right in the brush behind me and sitting on their haunches. Wow! Better than I expected. Both labs weigh almost exactly 70 lbs and they are TRIM! The Brittany is just right for her breed (and when was the last time anyone saw a chubby Brittany?). I feed them each 1/2 a heaping butter tub of dry dog food in the morning and again in the evening (their alarm goes off exactly at 6:00 p.m.!). The Britt gets the same as the big dogs because she has a much higher energy level. I will give them a bit more for the morning helping and sometimes a small shot in mid afternoon on days when we work really hard hunting pheasants or if they get wet and cold goose hunting. Waiting till evening to compensate for overly strenuous days is just asking for some muscle strain issues.

Energy dog treats? Never heard of such foolishness. So, you boost the pooch's metabolism while it's working its butt off but cruising on empty? Sorry, but that just makes zero sense to me! Any tiny food reserves it might have left in its system just got burned up.

I do agree with the H2O only thesis. On hard hunting days I'll also give them some milk at the end of the day. The calcium helps with sore muscle issues and the milkfat will help them sleep more restfully.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

Re: sore muscle issues: I don't hesitate to give my labs a half asparin at the end of the day if they get really sore. Of course I wait till they have eaten and I let them wash it down with some milk. However, even if the dog seems to snap out of it I take a lesson from my own capacity to recover: sore muscles are trying to tell me something. Take it easy! So I'll rotate the sore dog out for a morning or afternoon as needed. I'll hide a bird for the dog that's held out of action just before I return to the vehicle and then let her find it quickly while the other dogs are loaded up. Did this many days last season while Pearl was recovering from her snake bite. After a day or two she expected to charge out and find it as soon as the vehicle door opened when I returned. I remember getting skunked one afternoon and having a heck of a time getting her to give it up and get back in the car. "Dad, I know there's a dead bird out here somewhere. Always is!"

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

With all the squirrels, birds, grub worms and moles that come into my back yard, a bag of dog food lasts twice as much

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Big Bob W wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

I have read this info a couple of times now. Seems to be just this one guy from Purina that is presenting this protocol. I have tried to research looking for published studies and reports and talked with my home vet, my Louisiana vet and a vet that I often hunt test with. None of them have seen any documented studies. Tom, how about some documentary evidence?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Big Bob W wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

Ontario Honker,
Try using a triple buffered aspirin or ascriptin (dog aspirin) the buffered coating helps protect the stomach. I have my 15 year old English Pointer on a once every other day regimen to help with arthritis. She is also on a glucosamine, chondrotin, msm and vitamin C supplement at every feeding. The desire to hunt and go is still strong, she throws a fit every morning when I get the shotgun and my Lab and head for the dove fields, but she can only hunt about two hours every third day.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

Thanks, Bob.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

Bob, can you bring home some birds for your old gal to find in the yard? She'd love ya for that! As I write this I just mentioned "the game" for the first time this year and Pearl is now bugging me nonstop. I'll have to go out and hide one of the geese I shot this morning somewhere in the back yard for her to find. When hunting is slack I'll make the dogs sit and stay at the edge of the field while I go out and hide a goose under some straw. That is also "the game." It is a great training exercise and also helps relieve the boredom between flights. They have become pretty sharp at figuring out when I drop the bird so I have to be quite sneaky these days. They will stay put as long as they can continue to see me. I have stashed some birds as far away as a half mile.

As soon as Chad gives up a new Browning O/U for gundog tips I'll fire in the above. It is a good one!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Big Bob W wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

OH,
Thanks for the suggestion. I actually train with a very diverse group as we have folks that train upland dogs and others of us that train retrievers and some like me that work on both. What I usually do for Katie is get a couple of quail to plant on training Saturdays to let her find. Like I said previously she has no quit in her. She just goes bigger and bigger if birds are not close by. I also use her as a field dog in an annual planted bird hunt that a local pointing dog club hosts for the NSSF youth program. I also have a friend that I can get chukars and pheasants from that I use in training, so she does still get to play her game.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

Bob, check out today's goose hunting report in the Answers section. My two labs sure did me proud. Opal (age five) has a better nose than even the Brittany pup. Now that's saying something! I couldn't believe she found that goose in a sopping wet alfalfa field 3/4 mile away. All three dogs are already performing like guided missiles and only the second day of hunting. They will be doing great by the time we get to Montana next month for pheasants.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from achrisk wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

I was tempted to be a pessimist, and say that Brian from Purina was interested in pushing some product, but the K9 bars he mentions aren't made by Purina. I am also tempted to defer to the nutrition scientist on these topics. It's one thing to watch your dogs performance and make resonable decisions based on observation, but to completely disagree with recommendations from someone in the field, without much to back it up except your own experience, is erroneous. Have you tried that recommendation for a period of time with substandard results? The burden of proof is on you, not the professional. From my own readings, the nutritional requirements of canines and their digestive systems work much differently from humans. Sure it doesn't make sense for you or I to run around all day on an empty stomach, but dogs are different. I only give my dog a biscuit in the morning. He eats his only meal at night. His performance is exceptional. Who's right? It's better to just consider all options with some credibilty and question.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from FishinDaddy wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

I feed my dog Alpha and he does really well on it. It’s grain-free, and I supplement it with the duck & potato dog food roll as a special treat before a long day.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

achrisk, you presume that I have never tried it any other way. You presume wrong. Once upon a time I did feed my hunting dog late in the afternoon only once a day. It didn't work out that well. Not from what I could see anyway. I can't recall ever seeing my dogs bloat up or throw up in the field after eating their half day's ration morning meal. However, I have seen them do that after eating when they didn't get out to go hunting. And I'm sure I'd see a LOT more of that if I gave them the full dosage all at once in the evening. Ocassionally I'll forget to buy dogfood when they ran out after the evening meal and they go hunting without eating in the morning. Yes, I do notice a huge difference! They're done for by noon.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from achrisk wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

Ontario, apparently you don't read for comprehension, because asking someone a question is not presuming. It's the opposite. I simply suggested taking all advice into consideration.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

Okay ... my bad.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Chris Link wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

"Sorry, but I'm really in disagreement with just about all of the above. I always feed my dogs in the morning before I go hunting. If it makes them lethargic, I sure can't tell! Today I took my two labs and Brittany pup (1+ years) out in the field for the first time this season. "
Just because it works, doesn't mean it's the best idea. Dogs and humans don't have the same digestive systems. Dogs run on protein and fat, humans mostly carbohydrates. Then again,i f it works for you, it works.
However,feeding your dog before hunting is a good way to induce bloat, which in itself is a good reason to only feed dogs AFTER they work hard.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

I feed the dogs as soon as I get up in the morning. It's usually quite a while later before we get to where we're hunting so the grub has a chance to get started digesting. Of course, I would never feed them just before we started hunting. That would be looking for trouble. And I also only feed them half ration. Even if it's an hour or more before we get to hunting they would undoubtedly get sick if I gave them the whole day's feeding.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from PAShooter wrote 1 year 30 weeks ago

This debate over feeding dogs twice a day vs once a day has shifted back and forth even with the experts. Bloat seems to be a greater problem with deep chested dogs. I have always fed my dogs twice a day with good results. However, during hunting days, my dogs do not get fed in the morning if I am hunting in the morning. They could care less about the morning feed when they are in hunt mode. Good high protien dog food is important to the hunting dog. My nephew's wirehair pointers lose weight during the season even when they are in the best of shape he suppliments them with hot dogs which are easy to carry and provide protien and fat.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from PAShooter wrote 1 year 30 weeks ago

(site posted before I was finished-by itself!)
We rotate our dogs when hunting so that they do not over stress themselves. They get a day of rest between hard hunts,fortunately we have a good dog pool. Our dogs hunt flat out and we keep them hydrated. Everyone seems to have an opinion on this based on their own experience, rightly so. This modified double feed system has worked for me for nearly forty years on pointing dogs, however I am always open to new sound methods. We dog lovers are always trying to do the best for furry frends.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from redfishunter wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

My dog sure isn't going to be happy about no breakfast in the morning.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

Bob, can you bring home some birds for your old gal to find in the yard? She'd love ya for that! As I write this I just mentioned "the game" for the first time this year and Pearl is now bugging me nonstop. I'll have to go out and hide one of the geese I shot this morning somewhere in the back yard for her to find. When hunting is slack I'll make the dogs sit and stay at the edge of the field while I go out and hide a goose under some straw. That is also "the game." It is a great training exercise and also helps relieve the boredom between flights. They have become pretty sharp at figuring out when I drop the bird so I have to be quite sneaky these days. They will stay put as long as they can continue to see me. I have stashed some birds as far away as a half mile.

As soon as Chad gives up a new Browning O/U for gundog tips I'll fire in the above. It is a good one!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from PAShooter wrote 1 year 30 weeks ago

This debate over feeding dogs twice a day vs once a day has shifted back and forth even with the experts. Bloat seems to be a greater problem with deep chested dogs. I have always fed my dogs twice a day with good results. However, during hunting days, my dogs do not get fed in the morning if I am hunting in the morning. They could care less about the morning feed when they are in hunt mode. Good high protien dog food is important to the hunting dog. My nephew's wirehair pointers lose weight during the season even when they are in the best of shape he suppliments them with hot dogs which are easy to carry and provide protien and fat.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from PAShooter wrote 1 year 30 weeks ago

(site posted before I was finished-by itself!)
We rotate our dogs when hunting so that they do not over stress themselves. They get a day of rest between hard hunts,fortunately we have a good dog pool. Our dogs hunt flat out and we keep them hydrated. Everyone seems to have an opinion on this based on their own experience, rightly so. This modified double feed system has worked for me for nearly forty years on pointing dogs, however I am always open to new sound methods. We dog lovers are always trying to do the best for furry frends.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

Sorry, but I'm really in disagreement with just about all of the above. I always feed my dogs in the morning before I go hunting. If it makes them lethargic, I sure can't tell! Today I took my two labs and Brittany pup (1+ years) out in the field for the first time this season. We went goose hunting but did a heck of a lot of walking. I always carry my stuff out to the fields rather than drive across them. This gives the dogs some time to burn off some energy before we settle down to hunting. Even eight year-old Pearl who is supposed to be dying of terminal brain cancer (don't tell her!) ran back and forth pretty much non-stop for the first 3/4 mile. Later we checked out some ditches and fencelines and finally in the afternoon walked nearly two miles to sneak up on a large bunch of geese (they left just before we got to them). Then I took them swimming when we got back to town to clean them up. They are ready to go again as I write this.

So the dog has more juice running on an empty gut? Sorry, but someone doesn't understand the laws of physics!

If I fed my dogs food that was loaded with that much fat, they'd be total lardballs by the time season opened! The key is to feed them good food (not necessarily superman stuff) in moderation at the right times of the day. Dogfood that's loaded up with fat and protein will be overkill unless the portions are whittled back or the dog has a treadmill available. I doubt my dogs would stop bothering me all day if I cut their portions back any further. My three dogs were in EXCELLENT shape for the first day. And they performed PERFECTLY. As soon as I blew on that goose whistle all three were right in the brush behind me and sitting on their haunches. Wow! Better than I expected. Both labs weigh almost exactly 70 lbs and they are TRIM! The Brittany is just right for her breed (and when was the last time anyone saw a chubby Brittany?). I feed them each 1/2 a heaping butter tub of dry dog food in the morning and again in the evening (their alarm goes off exactly at 6:00 p.m.!). The Britt gets the same as the big dogs because she has a much higher energy level. I will give them a bit more for the morning helping and sometimes a small shot in mid afternoon on days when we work really hard hunting pheasants or if they get wet and cold goose hunting. Waiting till evening to compensate for overly strenuous days is just asking for some muscle strain issues.

Energy dog treats? Never heard of such foolishness. So, you boost the pooch's metabolism while it's working its butt off but cruising on empty? Sorry, but that just makes zero sense to me! Any tiny food reserves it might have left in its system just got burned up.

I do agree with the H2O only thesis. On hard hunting days I'll also give them some milk at the end of the day. The calcium helps with sore muscle issues and the milkfat will help them sleep more restfully.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

Re: sore muscle issues: I don't hesitate to give my labs a half asparin at the end of the day if they get really sore. Of course I wait till they have eaten and I let them wash it down with some milk. However, even if the dog seems to snap out of it I take a lesson from my own capacity to recover: sore muscles are trying to tell me something. Take it easy! So I'll rotate the sore dog out for a morning or afternoon as needed. I'll hide a bird for the dog that's held out of action just before I return to the vehicle and then let her find it quickly while the other dogs are loaded up. Did this many days last season while Pearl was recovering from her snake bite. After a day or two she expected to charge out and find it as soon as the vehicle door opened when I returned. I remember getting skunked one afternoon and having a heck of a time getting her to give it up and get back in the car. "Dad, I know there's a dead bird out here somewhere. Always is!"

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

With all the squirrels, birds, grub worms and moles that come into my back yard, a bag of dog food lasts twice as much

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Big Bob W wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

I have read this info a couple of times now. Seems to be just this one guy from Purina that is presenting this protocol. I have tried to research looking for published studies and reports and talked with my home vet, my Louisiana vet and a vet that I often hunt test with. None of them have seen any documented studies. Tom, how about some documentary evidence?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Big Bob W wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

Ontario Honker,
Try using a triple buffered aspirin or ascriptin (dog aspirin) the buffered coating helps protect the stomach. I have my 15 year old English Pointer on a once every other day regimen to help with arthritis. She is also on a glucosamine, chondrotin, msm and vitamin C supplement at every feeding. The desire to hunt and go is still strong, she throws a fit every morning when I get the shotgun and my Lab and head for the dove fields, but she can only hunt about two hours every third day.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

Thanks, Bob.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Big Bob W wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

OH,
Thanks for the suggestion. I actually train with a very diverse group as we have folks that train upland dogs and others of us that train retrievers and some like me that work on both. What I usually do for Katie is get a couple of quail to plant on training Saturdays to let her find. Like I said previously she has no quit in her. She just goes bigger and bigger if birds are not close by. I also use her as a field dog in an annual planted bird hunt that a local pointing dog club hosts for the NSSF youth program. I also have a friend that I can get chukars and pheasants from that I use in training, so she does still get to play her game.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

Bob, check out today's goose hunting report in the Answers section. My two labs sure did me proud. Opal (age five) has a better nose than even the Brittany pup. Now that's saying something! I couldn't believe she found that goose in a sopping wet alfalfa field 3/4 mile away. All three dogs are already performing like guided missiles and only the second day of hunting. They will be doing great by the time we get to Montana next month for pheasants.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from achrisk wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

I was tempted to be a pessimist, and say that Brian from Purina was interested in pushing some product, but the K9 bars he mentions aren't made by Purina. I am also tempted to defer to the nutrition scientist on these topics. It's one thing to watch your dogs performance and make resonable decisions based on observation, but to completely disagree with recommendations from someone in the field, without much to back it up except your own experience, is erroneous. Have you tried that recommendation for a period of time with substandard results? The burden of proof is on you, not the professional. From my own readings, the nutritional requirements of canines and their digestive systems work much differently from humans. Sure it doesn't make sense for you or I to run around all day on an empty stomach, but dogs are different. I only give my dog a biscuit in the morning. He eats his only meal at night. His performance is exceptional. Who's right? It's better to just consider all options with some credibilty and question.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from FishinDaddy wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

I feed my dog Alpha and he does really well on it. It’s grain-free, and I supplement it with the duck & potato dog food roll as a special treat before a long day.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

achrisk, you presume that I have never tried it any other way. You presume wrong. Once upon a time I did feed my hunting dog late in the afternoon only once a day. It didn't work out that well. Not from what I could see anyway. I can't recall ever seeing my dogs bloat up or throw up in the field after eating their half day's ration morning meal. However, I have seen them do that after eating when they didn't get out to go hunting. And I'm sure I'd see a LOT more of that if I gave them the full dosage all at once in the evening. Ocassionally I'll forget to buy dogfood when they ran out after the evening meal and they go hunting without eating in the morning. Yes, I do notice a huge difference! They're done for by noon.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from achrisk wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

Ontario, apparently you don't read for comprehension, because asking someone a question is not presuming. It's the opposite. I simply suggested taking all advice into consideration.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

Okay ... my bad.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Chris Link wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

"Sorry, but I'm really in disagreement with just about all of the above. I always feed my dogs in the morning before I go hunting. If it makes them lethargic, I sure can't tell! Today I took my two labs and Brittany pup (1+ years) out in the field for the first time this season. "
Just because it works, doesn't mean it's the best idea. Dogs and humans don't have the same digestive systems. Dogs run on protein and fat, humans mostly carbohydrates. Then again,i f it works for you, it works.
However,feeding your dog before hunting is a good way to induce bloat, which in itself is a good reason to only feed dogs AFTER they work hard.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

I feed the dogs as soon as I get up in the morning. It's usually quite a while later before we get to where we're hunting so the grub has a chance to get started digesting. Of course, I would never feed them just before we started hunting. That would be looking for trouble. And I also only feed them half ration. Even if it's an hour or more before we get to hunting they would undoubtedly get sick if I gave them the whole day's feeding.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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