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 Nestle 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.