Feeding & Conditioning for You & your Hunting Dog

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 2010

This is the most important column of the year.

Conditioning, for both you and your dog, must be foremost in your mind this month. Perhaps you’re a conditioning guru and maintain a proper food intake and exercise program year-round. Congratulations if you fit into this category; a little tweaking may be all you need. Unfortunately, most of us are not conditioning gurus. We, and our dogs, are overweight and short of breath. With hunting season only a couple of months away, we had better get with the program.

You should have the intelligence to care for yourself, however, your best friend needs your support to ensure he’s ready for the season. Has he been a couch dog all winter and spring? If so, you need to execute a conditioning plan immediately. A hunting dog’s desire is often greater than his heart or lung capability. If not conditioned properly, this desire can lead to serious injury or death.

Let’s begin with the fuel that runs the engine. There are many high-quality dog foods on the market today. Most of them are sold in specialty stores such as pet supply retailers, grain and farm retailers, etc. High-quality dog foods are seldom found in grocery or big box stores. Most dog foods have the basic nutrient groups, i.e., water, carbs, fat, vitamins and minerals; however, it’s the level and quality of each nutrient that’s separates the high-quality food from the grocery store brands.

The athletic dog requires a minimum of 30% protein and 20% fat in his food. The fat content produces fatty acids. These fatty acids are required to feed the muscles. Your dog’s muscles burn fatty acids for energy and movement. Without the fat, your dog will not have the energy to hunt hard.

Eukenuba, Evo and Loyall all make a quality dog food. Personally, however, I prefer Native dog food. It’s the only dog food that provides a level system to meet the exercise and stress demands for year-round feeding. If you’ve been using the old fashioned system of feeding your dog less during off-season and feeding more just prior to hunting season, then you need to look at Native. The change in quantity of food is not good for your dog’s digestive system.

Here’s how the Native system works. There are four levels. Each level has the same ingredients. What changes with each level is the protein/fat level. Therefore, you don’t change the quantity of food to achieve greater protein/fat content, you simply change the level. Level 1 has a 24/14 protein/fat content and is formulated for the dog getting only 2-3 days of exercise per week. Level 2 has a 26/16 protein/fat content and is for the dog getting 2-3 days of vigorous activity per week. I use Level 2 as a maintenance dog food for off-season. Level 3 provides the magic 30/20 protein/fat content that satisfies most of our bird dog hunting season requirements. Level 4 offers a 35/25 protein/fat content and is used by many professional guides who run their dogs several days each week. Again, with the Native level system, you do not need to upset the digestive system of your dog by changing the quantity or by changing brands and content. Check out Native and locate at dealer at www.nativedogfood.com.

There is more to a good feeding program than just ensuring your dog gets a high quality food. Research by all the leading dog food manufacturers show that it takes at least eight weeks for the beneficial change in protein/fat level to be effective. Therefore, if your hunting season begins October 1st, you need to make the change August 1st.

We’ve covered the fuel that runs the engine, now let’s put the engine to work. The heart and lungs are the key parts in that engine. And those parts are inter-related. The heart muscles feed off oxygenated blood from the lungs. Both the heart and the lungs must be in excellent condition before the beginning of the season.

I run Dillon (my shorthair) almost everyday of the year. It may only be one mile of walking for me (three for Dillon), but we hardly ever miss a day of exercise. That program is stepped-up in mid to late July. Since July and August are hot months, we exercise in the morning before either of us have breakfast. By mid-August, we’re doing three miles (nine for Dillon) per day and by mid-September, we’re shooting for five miles (15 for Dillon) per day. This puts both of us in prime shape for an October 1st opener. This year, however, the entire program has been started earlier. We’re leaving for Montana on August 29th for the September 1st opener for Hungarian Partridge and Sharptail Grouse. That’s another column, however.

You, the hunter, must look at yourself in the same manner we’ve looked at the feeding and conditioning of your dog. You want to enjoy the hunt and that enjoyment will be greater if you’re also eating well and have conditioned your heart, lungs and legs. If you haven’t studied human nutrition, make an appointment with a nutritionist. It’s not about eating a candy bar mid-morning…it’s about a solid foundation of proper food.

Be sure that both you and your dog have a well conditioned heart and lungs before the season begins and you’ll find the hunt to be much more enjoyable…and safe.