Dog Nutrition

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.

October 2008

October, just saying the word sends shivers down my backside. If you’re an upland bird dog man, you’ve been counting down the months since the end of last year’s hunting season. In fact, I’m fully supportive of eliminating the month of March and adding those days to October.

My August and September columns dealt with finishing a pointing dog. Congratulations to those of you who have worked with your dog and now have a dog that is steady on point, flush and shot. In my opinion, if you’re an avid gun dog man, it’s all about the dog and not how many birds you shoot. You’ll enjoy working with a finished dog. Remember, however, be patient and consistent. My good friend Dean Clark, who has trained numerous pointing dogs, has this to say: “Working with pointing dogs is a never ending confrontation with unforeseen variables that create confusion and frustration for both the trainer and his dog…and we love it.”

I have a lot to cover in this column; however, I do want to mention one of the emails I received after the last column. The reader asked if he should use his e-collar to stop his dog from breaking point and chasing birds. He said he’s been hesitant to do so. In the dog-training world, there are definitely two points of view. One opinion is to never stimulate your dog while the bird is still on the ground…it may lead to blinking. Another opinion is it’s okay if you use very light stimulation. You need to know your dog. If you have a soft dog (a little timid), then avoid using the collar. If you have a “scared of nothing” dog, then light stimulation is probably okay. However, never introduce a dog to the e-collar in the field. E-collar training always begins with yard training. My advice is to have a professional trainer evaluate your dog before using the e-collar while your dog is working a bird.

In last month’s column, I promised I would cover dog nutrion. As with any aspect of dog training, there are many different opinions on hunting dog nutrition. Keep in mind that you may have bought the best bred pointing dog available and have spent thousands of dollars with a professional trainer; however, if you don’t feed your dog correctly, you’re cheating yourself and your dog.

I have read many of the published papers on dog nutrition issued by both Purina and Iams dog food companies. Also, I recently interviewed Bob West of Purina. Bob is also a trainer, hunter and has written numerous articles on gun dogs.

Most of us know the simple formula that fat equals calories and calories equal energy. Fat also has more than twice the calories of protein or carbs per gram. It’s not that simple, of course. If it were, we could simply feed our working dogs lots of fat and have an all-day-long jet propelled dog. What we really need to do is find a balanced dog food. Working dogs are constantly tearing down and rebuilding muscle tissue and that process requires protein. Many experts believe that animal protein is better than plant protein and chicken delivers that protein better than anything else. So, our working dogs need a balanced diet of fat and protein.

The question is “balanced for what activity?” A balanced diet for sled dogs? For working bird dogs? For couch dogs? For working bird dogs, the next question is how often do you work and hunt your dog? If you’re a weekend hunter only, then your dog doesn’t need the highest fat/protein food. A food such as Purina One or a similar dog food from another manufacturer will do the job. The Purina One with chicken and rice formula provides 26% protein and 16% fat. This formula is ideal for year around feeding for a dog exercised twice a week during the off-season and hunted only two or three days per week during the hunting season.

So you’re not a weekend hunter. You exercise and work your dog hard year-around and hunt hard throughout the fall…maybe even through February in certain states. Your dogs need more energy from more calories that come from more fat. Your dogs need a 30% protein and 20% fat formula. With the 30/20 protein/fat formula, your dogs will have the energy and stamina to hunt longer and feel better the next day. Examples of the 30/20 formula would be Purina Pro Plan Performance or Eukanuba Premium Performance Sporting Dog Formula. Both Kent and Science Diet have similar products.

Again, keep in mind that you need to balance the dog food with the level of exercise your dog receives. Feeding a high protein/fat diet to a minimally worked dog will result in obesity and stress on the liver and kidneys.

I spoke recently with my good friend Calvin Robinson. Cal is a Maine resident who trains and works his pointing dogs year around. Cal guides for upland birds in New England in October and then guides at and manages a 27,000 acre quail ranch in Kansas from late fall through January. Cal’s dogs work hard so he feeds the highest protein/fat ratio he can find. This man is the ultimate professional and knows exactly what he’s doing. Visit Cal at

If you decide to make serious changes to your dog’s diet, I suggest you consult with your local veterinarian first. Also, don’t forget the importance of hydration!

In my September column, I promised a bird forecast for northern New England. Brad Allen, Maine biologist, is looking for a good year. He feels weather for nesting and hatch survival was very good for all birds including grouse, woodcock and turkey. Brad says that 2005 was the low end of our grouse cycle so we’re on the upward side of the 10-year cycle. New Hampshire biologist, Julie Robinson, reports that the weather during the brood and hatch period was very good in the southern part of the state and good in the north. Julie is asking readers who hunt grouse in northern New Hampshire to participate in their volunteer ruffed grouse wing and tail survey during the hunting season. Please go to to find where you can pick up packets in the survey area. John Gobeille, Vermont biologist, feels the season will be average overall for the state. The best hunting should be in the Northeast Kingdom.