Conditioning For Hunting Season

Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

August 2012

This month’s column is devoted to my annual writing on conditioning. If, like me, conditioning for both you and your dog is part of your daily routine, then kudos to you. Every fall, however, I encounter hunters and dogs that have not been properly prepared for the hunting season. Hunters die of a heart attack. Dogs die because their heart and desire are often greater and more demanding than the conditioning provided by their owner.

At the Fuller household, dogs and people get run every single day and often twice a day. This keeps everyone trim and happy. If you don’t maintain a daily exercise program for your dog, then you must begin one in August to be prepared for hunting season. In the heat of mid-summer, our routine is a major run of at least one mile at 6:00 am and then a short run at 5:00 pm. As the weather begins to cool, the major run is extended to two miles.

As we all know, however, good health is a combination of exercise and diet. Proper diet is often overlooked by dog owners. Your author attends numerous events and presents seminars throughout the year. I talk personally with hundreds of dog owners. Many don’t even know the brand of dog food they’re feeding…let alone the nutritional value. We need to pay attention to what we feed our best friend or it is unfair to ask him to perform in the field this fall.

I’m not a veterinarian, scientist or nutritionist; however, I study the basics of dog food to ensure my dogs are fed properly. Here’s a primer. The two ingredients typically listed at the top of every dog food ingredient label are protein and fat. Protein is usually listed first and has a higher content than fat. What is the purpose of protein? Protein is important to every single cell in a dog’s body (and your body). It is an important building block for healthy bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. When your dog is working hard, tissue is being broken down and needs to be continuously repaired. Protein is responsible for this repair work. Protein is a macronutrient; along with fat and carbohydrates. A body, however, does not store protein as it does fat and carbs. This means a body needs a large and steady supply since there is no back-up supply to draw from. Thus, protein must have a high content level in your dog food.

Protein can be obtained from both animal matter and vegetable matter. For my dogs, I personally like getting the high protein source from chicken. Animal matter delivers protein more efficiently than vegetable matter.

The second ingredient listed on a dog food label is fat. Fat is what delivers energy. The formula is simple: fat equals calories and calories equal energy. Also, fat has over twice the calories of carbohydrates or protein per gram which makes fat very important (since it results in energy) for the canine athlete. As with protein, chicken is a very efficient provider of fat.

Now that we know that protein and fat are the two most important ingredients in our dog food, what are the levels necessary for the activity and stress level of your dog. During the off-season, a maintenance level formula is required. If your dog is active just two or three days per week, then a 24% to 26 % protein level is adequate. For hunting season, the accepted formula is 30% protein and 20% fat. When and how do we make the switch from maintenance to hunting season levels? The scientists refer to this as a “metabolic transition”. A “metabolic transition” takes at least two months. If your hunting season begins October 1st for example, then you need to switch your dog to the 30% protein/20% fat level on August 1st.

There are a few good brands of dog food on the market. For many years, my wife fed her Great Dane California Natural and had excellent results. Eukanuba is also a good dog food. For the canine athlete, however, the Native brand has been more carefully formulated for the elevated nutritional needs of the working dog. It’s the only dog food which comes in four protein/fat levels. All the other ingredients remain basically the same. This means when you change the protein/fat level to meet the activity and stress level of your dog, there is much less chance of upset stomach or bowel issues. The one thing you don’t want to do is simply increase or decrease the quantity of food based on energy demands. This practice can lead to multiple problems with both willingness to eat and digestive issues. Native solves those issues.

Be alert to both your condition and that of your dog and you’ll have a much happier and enjoyable hunting season.