Steve provides some tips on feeding and hydration before, during and after hunting your dog.
Feeding Your Dog For Performance
As a breeder and trainer of canine athletes, we’ve spent many years refining our feeding program to ensure peak performance and condition throughout the year. Consequently, we get a lot of questions about the feeding regimen in our kennel. The following is a summary of some of the key points to consider regarding daily feeding requirements.
Focus First on Hydration
Before you consider how to feed, you must address the top priority. Dehydration is likely the greatest risk you face when moving from your off-season routine into the hunting season. While dogs don’t sweat, they lose water through a variety of other activities. The importance of a constant supply of clean, fresh water cannot be underestimated, and is likely the greatest contribution you can make to the health of your dog. Maintain a steady supply of water throughout the year and allow your dog to replenish with frequent small doses while hunting.
Special Attention To Puppies
Puppies have 2-3 times the maintenance requirement of a similar sized adult. This makes it more difficult to meet their caloric needs as activity increases. We tell our customers that their puppy burns a lot of fuel but has a small tank. Consequently, we suggest feeding in small increments 3-4 times daily until at least six months of age to make sure energy needs are met. Since obesity can also cause major health issues down the road, we avoid overfeeding to consistently maintain ideal body condition.
Adult Dog Requirements
Feeding an adult dog is easy during the off-season since there is little fluctuation in their requirements. A fifty pound dog can generally maintain proper body condition on 1000-1500 calories daily with normal temperatures and activity levels. As activity increases for the hunting season, calorie requirements can increase by as much as 50%. It is important to monitor your dog to make sure he maintains the proper condition to perform at the desired level throughout the season.
Canine Feeding Time
In our kennel, we place a great deal of importance on feeding times. Whatever the age of your dog, it is important to time feedings to allow for proper digestion before periods of activity. Here are a few quick feeding tips to help you avoid digestive issues with your dog.
- Avoid feeding in the heat of the day as this can result in increased body temperature caused by the digestive process.
- Allow at least 2 hours between feeding and exercise to help avoid digestive issues like indigestion and bloat.
- Break daily feeding into at least 2 meals (e.g. morning and evening) as this also helps avoid digestive issues.
It’s also important to train your dog to eat when offered. This will allow you to more easily adhere to the tips noted above and avoid problems while maximizing performance.
Outdoor Dogs Need a Winter Coat
We’ll close with comments on how environmental factors affect calorie requirements. If your dog spends the winter in low temperatures, his body is forced to generate its own heat. He may need up to 30% more calories to generate the required body heat. If he’s curled up indoors with you, though, it’s best to avoid the extra calories and keep him lean and mean. This will make it easier to get him back into hunting form when the weather warms.
Dog Health and More Birds
With the hunting season just around the corner, now is a good time to start thinking about conditioning your canine athlete for early season performance. We wouldn’t think about going out and running ten miles one day without some prior physical training, and it doesn’t make any more sense to expect it from our dogs. By getting our dogs in shape before the season, we go a long way toward ensuring a healthier and more effective hunting companion.
A high level of physical fitness contributes to a dog’s mental fitness because a tired dog will focus less on commands and finding birds. Risk of injury is also reduced during both training and hunting when muscles and tendons are strong and joints well lubricated. Training the body to recover from a work out will prepare your dog for longer hunts and more days hunting.
Before You Start
Before you get to work, it is important to consider three factors that can have a tremendous impact on your dog’s ability to function at a high level. We recommend you think of the following before starting any conditioning program.
See Your Vet – A good overall examination will ensure that your dog is fit for training and free from clinical problems and parasites that could adversely affect health and performance.
Choose A Quality Food – Rather than focus on a specific brand let’s just agree that nutrition is very important. Your dog must consume high quality protein to build and repair muscle tissue while supporting his immune system and overall health with high quality vitamins and trace minerals.
Replenish Fluids – Making sure that your dog stays hydrated may be the single greatest factor in health during hunting. If he won’t drink water, find a good hydration supplement to encourage him to drink.
3 Steps To Bird Dog Fitness
Now we’ll get into the meat of the conditioning program. We base our conditioning program around three basic areas that complement one another for a complete workout of the entire body and organs. You don’t need to do everything every day but you should try to do something each day.
Roadwork – We road our dogs on gravel early in the morning when traffic is sparse. We hook four dogs to a harness to pull a four-wheeler three miles with the engine off. This helps build endurance and strength while conditioning the paws for the rigors of hunting. This should be done at least three days per week.
Fieldwork – During the heat of the afternoon, we “freelance” our dogs by letting them run and hunt in large pastured areas at a slow but steady pace. This allows the dog to improve lung capacity and scenting abilities at the same time. It is important to condition a dog in the same heat of the day that they will be exposed to during hunting. We freelance our dogs only on days that we don’t do roadwork and for no more than 45 minutes.
Swimming – We swim our dogs several nights a week to work different muscle groups while creating less stress on joints and tendons. We have noticed a big improvement in performance since introducing this to our program. We limit this to no more than an hour, and often swim with them.
Developing a solid conditioning program is very important to the health and longevity of our canine friends. Make sure that you work your dog into condition over a 30-45 day period before the start of the season. In the end, you’ll have a much better performing dog and a more successful hunting season.