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Your Hard Working Dog

Working dogs of any breed are very special. They perform a job for us without asking much in return. Working dogs can be hunting dogs, guard dogs for livestock, guard dogs for property, police dogs, assistance dogs, search and rescue dogs and many others. This article will focus mostly on the bird-hunting dog. An extremely wide variety of breeds may be used for hunting birds. Many of these dogs have natural instinct for the work because of their breeding and environment but all of them require intensive training that is costly in time and money.

Just like human athletes, nutrition is very important to these canine athletes. A dog that is not receiving ideal nutrition will be unable to perform adequately. More than just the amount of time that a dog is working becomes important when determining what and how much a dog should eat. Factors such as bad weather, dogs that hunt in the water, and ground conditions can all put additional strain on a dog’s body. A highly digestible formula is very important, with the digestibility of the fat being the most important. Chicken fat is a highly digestible fat source that is ideal for working dogs.

A study done on sled dogs showed that dogs eating a high carbohydrate diet lost body condition and showed symptoms of injury during the sledding season. When fed a high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diet, these same dogs maintained good condition and their symptoms of lameness disappeared. (JAVMA 162:470-473)

Diet should be changed to a performance formula at least 3 weeks prior to the start of the season, but ideally sooner would be better. Conditioning should also start at the same time (after the transition of diets). Dogs suffer more from the effects of being under-conditioned than they do from the effects of hot, humid temperatures. Of course, when starting to work in hot weather, make sure to allow your dog frequent rests and carry adequate water supplies (squirt bottles work well) to give him frequent drinks.

As far as the best time to feed your dog or dogs, you have to figure out what works best for you. Many people choose to feed working dogs one time daily. Feeding at least 4 hours prior to exercise, and about an hour after exercise is completed is recommended. For dogs that are working under intense conditions, feeding 24 hours prior to exercise is recommended. Breeds that are prone to bloat, such as Labrador Retrievers might be better served by two feedings per day and longer times between feeding and exercise. Dogs that will be out working all day, especially in harsh conditions, should have frequent rest periods and snacks should be given. Small meals (10% of total daily ration) are one option for the rest period.
Most hunters have their dogs checked by a veterinarian just prior to leaving on a big hunting trip. While this is required to obtain a health certificate, it might be best to make your main check-up appointment prior to beginning the training. Making sure that your dog is in good health prior to starting an exercise program will optimize your results.

Heartworm prevention year round is a good idea for all dogs, but especially for dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors. There are many options and you can choose the best one for you and your dog.

Special equipment such as jackets, vests, and boots might also help your dog avoid injury in harsh conditions.

Above all, be smart. You wouldn’t go out and run a marathon without training. Don’t expect your dog to do this either. Good nutrition and regular veterinary care will keep your canine athlete in peak condition.

Please note that this information does not replace professional veterinary care. It is solely for educational purposes. Your pet's medical condition should be evaluated by a veterinarian before any medical decisions are implemented. If there is a potentially life-threatening emergency involving your pet, take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary facility immediately.

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