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Feeding the Hardworking Dog

A hardworking dog is like an athlete. How well he performs depends upon his training, conditioning and diet. Conditioning and training require time and patience. Fortunately, providing the proper diet is easy with the availability of high quality commercial diets formulated especially for the active dog.
The hardworking dog uses a large amount of energy which must be supplied by a good quality, nutritious food. To obtain this necessary energy, the working dog can require as much as two to three times more kilocalories per pound of body weight than is required for normal activity. While giving the active dog all the food he needs to help ensure good body condition and stamina, he should not be maintained in an overweight condition. Conditioning the dog for performance is less stressful if the dog has been maintained in good condition during the off season. This includes feeding a good quality commercial diet and providing exercise for the dog.

The Feeding Program
A successful feeding program is determined, in part, by the level of activity of the dog. Due to its lower calorie content, a diet intended only for the maintenance of adult dogs who are not pregnant or lactating is usually not suitable for hardworking dogs. Any diet that is nutritionally complete and balanced for all life stages will provide adequate nutrition for the dog who is an occasional "weekend athlete."

Dogs involved in heavy work activity or in extended periods of hard hunting need a diet formulated with extra energy to help them maintain stamina and good body condition. Dry foods with a high nutrient density should contain at least 26 percent protein, 1,750 digestible calories per pound of food and elevated levels of vitamins, minerals and fat. Commercial diets such as Purina brand Hi Pro Dog Meal have been formulated to provide these special nutritional needs and have a higher nutrient density which means the dog can consume the food needed to meet higher energy requirements.

Usually, the normal dog will obtain the needed nutrition if fed once a day. For the active dog, twice-a-day feeding may be needed to maintain normal body condition. Moistening a dry diet, with warm water will increase its palatability and encourage the dog to consume more food to help maintain good body condition. Digestive problems can develop if the dog is fed immediately before or immediately after a period of hard work. A working dog can be fed a light meal two to three hours before activity occurs and then fed the remaining portion of the meal when he has calmed down and cooled off. Feeding too close to periods of heavy work can result in poor performance and digestive upsets such as vomiting and/or diarrhea.

When dogs work vigorously for extended periods, such as heavy hunting or pulling a sled, they may suffer from hypoglycemia (an abnormal decrease of sugar in the blood) and become fatigued and disoriented. Convulsions may occur in some dogs.

Some dog owners believe that giving a dog a candy bar will prevent these problems. This can be a dangerous practice because chocolate contains theobromine which can be toxic to a dog. Dog snacks or a handful of the dog’s dry diet fed periodically during extended periods of work will help prevent such problems. The dog should have access to fresh water at frequent intervals. Always carry water with you whenever you suspect that fresh, clean water will not be available. However, excessive water intake should be avoided just before a period of hard work. Immediately after working, allow the dog to drink cool (not cold) water and rest for a period of time. When a dog is not working, fresh drinking water in a clean bowl should be available at all times. When a good quality complete and balanced commercial dog food is fed, supplementing with vitamins or minerals is usually not necessary. In fact, oversupplementation can be harmful to a normal, healthy dog who is eating a nutritionally complete diet. Vitamin and mineral supplements should be given only in unusual circumstances and then only under the direction of a veterinarian. Use the feeding instructions on the dog food package as a rule-of-thumb in determining how much to feed. You should give your dog all it will clean up in a reasonable length of time of a complete and balanced diet.
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