Fuel for the Field: Feeding Your Dog Based on Workload

Your dog’s energy demands depend on the work he’s doing in the field and his overall lifestyle.

When it comes to fueling your hunting dog, many factors contribute to food choice as it applies not only to the performance of your best friend afield, but also to his overall health. The combination of nutrients, the activity level of your dog and even the weather can all influence the optimal choice of diet.

A hunter training a hunting dog in an open field.
Whether he’s training or hunting, Pineridge Grouse Camp’s Jerry Havel spends a lot of his year working his pointers. Premium Performance nutrition is important to him. Eukanuba Sporting Dog

A less-than-optimal blend of nutrients could leave your dog without key essential nutrients, which could result in decreased health. Poor digestibility keeps your dog from utilizing the food he eats, even if he eats a lot.

To feed your four-legged friend for the field, consider not just the workload you’re asking your dog to undertake, but the type of work. Matching the level of calories and nutrients to the dog’s task is key.

“For a serious bird guy, our dogs are important. But even the casual hunter who only hunts three or four days a year, you owe it to him to feed him premium food and to give them a healthy life,” said Jerry Havel of Minnesota’s Pineridge Grouse Camp. “If you keep dogs healthy and at a good weight, it helps their joints, their heart, everything. And on top of that, he’s going to run better and feel better. That’s why I feed Eukanuba’s Premium Performance 30/20 SPORT.”

Havel should know, he’s in the woods with his pointers from September to June guiding for quail in Georgia or grouse and woodcock in Minnesota, while usually squeezing in a stint to tune-up and guide with dogs he has in Argentina. In the spring and early summer, he and his string work to band woodcock for research. “I’ve been training my whole life, but when we started the camps in Minnesota and Georgia, I needed dog power, and good dogs that perform at the highest level and find birds. That’s what people are paying me to do,” he said. “Rain or shine, below zero or at 75 degrees, we have to be in the woods every day. I don’t have the luxury to not go out in the rain or freezing cold. I have to go out.”

A hunting dog in a brush blind.
Feeding all of a sporting dog’s systems is important says Eukanuba’s Russ Kelley, the Science Lead at the Pet Health and Nutrition Center. It’s called the Whole Dog Approach. Eukanuba Sporting Dog

That demand for day-after-day performance requires optimal nutrition to maintain overall health. It drives not only bird-dog hunters, but also the scientists who create performance dog foods.

For more than 50 years, Eukanuba has focused on developing premium foods possible for canine athletes. Russ Kelley, Science Lead at their Pet Health and Nutrition Center (PHNC), has devoted his career to sporting dog nutrition. And he’s not just a white coat in a laboratory; Kelley hunts upland birds and waterfowl, and has an affinity for pointing, flushing, retrieving and versatile breeds.

“At Eukanuba, we start with a ‘whole-dog approach’ to nutrition,” Kelley said. “That broader view examines how food impacts the dog’s entire bodily functions. It looks at the food’s relationship to the circulatory, respiratory, muscular, digestive, and other systems, and how nutrition can help elevate performance. Our scientists study muscle mass and movement, natural defenses, skin and coat, and strong bones and joints. The whole-dog approach helps Eukanuba scientists focus on all bodily functions which is different from focusing on one specific part or system.”

To that end, Eukanuba, the company that pioneered premium performance food for sporting and working dogs, has recently expanded their premium performance line. Now, four tailored formulas meet the nutritional needs of canine athletes that work differently.

“Eukanuba created formulas designed around the dog’s activity levels. The protein and fat sources are designed with the dog’s workload in mind. They’re getting into a specialty-type feed,” said Jared Moss of Best Gun Dogs in Utah. “I appreciate the quality of protein and how they’re delivering tailored nutrition to support muscle development and recovery.”

A hunter and his hunting dog in an open field.
Jared Moss of Best Gun Dogs works his string at high elevation and in rugged Chukar country. Properly fueling his client’s dogs is important so they can perform at their best. Eukanuba Sporting Dog

Moss trains hard daily in the offseason and hunts chukar and grouse in Utah during the season, and also hits South Dakota and Arizona every year with his German Shorthaired Pointers. His need for a premium dog food comes from rigorous training and hunting.

Moss and Havel both feed Eukanuba Premium Performance 30/20 SPORT, the new reengineered premium performance blend with 30-percent protein and 20-percent fat. Both report stellar results. Their dogs maintain weight, the nutrient-packed food means they feed less, and their dogs’ recovery is supported so they can work hard every day. With Eukanuba’s new formulas, owners can zero in and feed for their dog’s specific requirements.

Feeding the Whole Dog: Determining Nutrient Needs

To best determine your dog’s nutritional needs, you need to take the same whole-dog approach to feeding as Eukanuba scientists and nutritionists use when creating food formulas. Is your dog a sprinter that runs pick up at a weekend tower shoot? Does he cover miles of open terrain day after day? Are you training a couple times a week or going hard every day in preparation for the prairies? Are you hunting in extreme cold or is your dog repeatedly making retrieves in icy water?

The energy demands for your dog depend on the answers to those questions, and your overall lifestyle. As the duration and frequency of training, working or hunting increases, the nutrient needs of your dog change.

A hunting dog splashing in the water on a retrieve.
Hannah Criscoe of Whistling Wings Kennels runs Wheeler, her Boykin spaniel in hunt tests and for dove and ducks. Good nutrition helps Wheeler run hard again tomorrow. Eukanuba Sporting Dog

A pick-up dog at a tower shoot or a wagon dog working in tandem with pointers makes short sprints with recovery time between retrieves. These types of dogs likely don’t need the 30-percent protein and 20-percent fat. It’s too much, they’re not working long enough to tap into that fat for energy, rather, they need more carbohydrates to supply short bursts of energy – an idea that is anathema in some circles.

“Over the past decade and a half, carbohydrates have taken a backseat to protein and fat,” said Russ Kelley, the science lead at Eukanuba’s Pet Health & Nutrition Center. “Sporting and working dogs can function without carbohydrates. But just because they can doesn’t mean that they should.

“Grains like wheat, sorghum, and corn contain carbohydrates. When they are digested, they become glucose, which is the energy hard-working dogs use during a short, intense training session or hunt. If a dog produces more glucose than it needs, then the energy is stored as glycogen. The liver and muscles retain glycogen and deliver it to the body when it’s needed,” he continued.

As flushing and pointing breeds pound the uplands for miles, retrievers make repeated swims in icy water or hounds run over hill and dale, their bodies shift from using carbs for quick energy needs to tapping into fat as an energy source. Depending on how often and how long they’re working, they’ll need increasing amounts of fat to supply that energy and then protein to help support fatigued muscles after the hunt.

“When most people think of fat, they think of stored fat,” Kelley said. “Dogs metabolize stored fat at a different rate. Stored fat is a reserve that is utilized by the dog’s body when he has engaged in significant workloads over an extended period of time. As the dog metabolizes more readily available energy from fatty acids and carbohydrates, they then rely on fat reserves for additional energy.”

Several bags of Eukanuba hunting dog food.
Eukanuba Premium Performance-Line. Eukanuba Sporting Dog

With Eukanuba’s new line of Premium Performance formulas, you can feed your dog more appropriately, in varying amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates and other nutrients, to help meet their nutritional demands based upon workload. The four tailored formulas are targeted to meet your dog’s exercise levels and nutritional needs, and include:

Premium Performance 21/13 SPRINT (21% protein, 13% fat): Dogs that require bursts of energy for up to three minutes at a time need more carbohydrates and moderate protein and fat. Carbohydrates provide immediate energy for anaerobic activity.

Premium Performance 26/16 EXERCISE (26% protein, 16% fat): Dogs working for up to two hours at a time need carbohydrates for immediate energy, but higher quantities of protein to support muscles and systems, and fat to help supply reserved energy.

Premium Performance 30/20 SPORT (30% protein, 20% fat): Dogs that run for up to four hours at a time require an even higher percentage of protein and fat along with a tailored blend of carbohydrates.

Premium Performance 30/28 WORK (30% protein, 28% fat): Dogs that run for over four hours of time need higher fat for long-lasting energy, as well as high levels of protein. Specifically designed for herding and sled dogs.

By taking into account the type, duration and frequency of work your dog engages in, you can help meet his nutritional needs more accurately.