Hunting Dogs

Do You Sleep with your Dog?

Do you sleep with your dog?

by Christine Cunningham               

Staff  Writer   Alaska

I was staring at about a thousand ducks sitting on the water when my hunting partner suggested ...

Read more: Do You Sleep with your Dog?

Planting birds to train your dog

Train your Upland Dog
by Christine Cunningham, Staff Writer, Alaska


The Sleeper Move - Planting Live Birds for Your Upland Bird Dog

Read more: Planting birds to train your dog

H20 - Are you in the Know?

Water – not your dog’s food – is the most important ingredient of its daily ration

Most hunting dog owners think of the proteins, carbohydrates, fats and minerals listed on the back of their dog’s feed bag as nutrients - necessary for the energy, focus and strength required in the field.  They might be surprised to know that water is actually the most critical nutrient of all, vital to the function of every cell in a dog’s body.

A dog’s body consists of 90 percent water.  There’s not a single process in a dog’s system that doesn’t have a water molecule associated with it.  Water, as a major component of blood, helps move oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.  It’s essential for food digestion, regulation of body temperature and waste elimination.  And it’s especially important for cushioning the joints of hard-working hunting dogs.

Water Sources

Dogs obtain water in three ways:  by drinking it, consuming it as moisture in feed and during the metabolic breakdown of dietary carbohydrates, fats and protein.

Providing water free choice is the preferred method of supplying water to dogs.   Except for extreme circumstances such as severe dehydration or prolonged exercise, dogs should be allowed to self-regulate their water intake.

The amount of water derived from a dog’s food depends on whether it is dry or canned.  A typical diet of dry feed is typically 8 to 10 percent moisture, contributing little to a dog’s daily intake.  In contrast, the amount of moisture in canned feed can exceed 75 percent.  A dog on an exclusive canned-feed only diet may not voluntarily drink free choice water.

Causes of Water Deficiency

Loss of water in dogs occurs primarily as a function of respiration and production of urine and feces.  Your dog lacks sweat glands, so it pants and drools in an attempt to cool itself.  While it might take weeks, months or even longer before clinical signs of most nutrient deficiencies become noticeable, evidence of water deficiency can appear in a matter of hours or days, with as little as a 5 percent decrease in body stores.  Serious health consequences and even death from organ failure can result as losses approach 10 to 15 percent.

A major cause of water deficiency is poor animal husbandry – failure to keep water containers clean or periods of interrupted water supply.  Water consumption can be encouraged by keeping water fresh and cool.  In large areas, keep more than one water container available.  Weighted bottom bowls are less likely to be knocked over by rambunctious dogs.

When traveling, stop and offer water at regular intervals.  It’s also helpful to take water from home to avoid refusal of “foreign-tasting” water.

Disease or illness can lead to water deficiency – weakened animals are often unable to reach and consume water normally or suffer excessive fluid loss due to vomiting and/or diarrhea.  Dogs most at risk are those who suffer from kidney disorders, cancer and infectious diseases, as well as elderly and pregnant or nursing dogs.  Subsequent losses of electrolytes including sodium, chloride and potassium and other substances can also lead to various nutritional deficiencies.

Signs of water deficiency

1. The predominant sign of water deficiency is loss of elasticity of the skin.  To test, pinch a bit of skin on the dog’s shoulders between your thumb and forefinger.  It should pop back quickly when you release it.  Skin that is slow to move back or doesn’t pop back at all   can be an indication of water deficiency.  Tip - you should have an idea of what your dog’s skin looks and feels like under normal conditions; do this before the your dog is showing signs of deficiency so you'll have a baseline comparison.  Remember, the skin of younger or fatter dogs can have more elasticity than older, thinner dogs.

2. The dog’s eyes appear sunken and lack moisture.

3. Dog’s mouth, gums and nose appear dry and there is a delayed capillary refill time.  Press against your finger against your dog’s gums until they turn white.  Remove your finger and see how long it takes for the blood to return to the gums, turning them pink again.  The gums of a water-deficient dog could take several seconds to return to their original pink shade.  Again, if you do this test when your dog is normal, you will have a basis to compare against.

4. Loss of appetite

5. Rapid heart rate

6. Lethargy

7. Depression
If your dog shows visible symptoms of water deficiency, take it to the vet for immediate attention.  Your veterinarian can administer fluids under the skin or directly into the blood stream to replenish fluids.  If you are unable to go immediately, keep the dog in a cool place and offer it water in small amounts – too much water or gulping can cause it to vomit resulting in further fluid loss.  Products such as Pedialyte can help replace lost electrolytes.

Preventing Water Deficiency

Adverse environmental conditions, particularly summertime heat and very cold temperatures, can affect your dog’s water requirements.  So can increased exercise experienced during hunting or training.  Dr. Brian Zanghi of Nestle Purina PetCare offers these five tips for keeping your hunting dog properly hydrated during periods of work and environmental stress:
1. Ensure that water is consumed the night before periods of high activity levels.

2. Frequent small volumes of water given through periods of high activity are better than large volumes.  Studies have shown that dogs allowed access to water on multiple occasions during exercise drank sufficient amounts to meet, if not exceed, total evaporative losses.  Keep a dedicated bottle on hand for direct administration.

3. Allow panting to slow after exercise before allowing consumption of large volumes of water.

4. Monitor consumption.

5. Remember, it is better to maintain than try to regain proper hydration levels.


Trust Their Instincts

This was the first thing I learned when we were training our dog to hunt. We have a gorgeous English Pointer who answers to Roy. We got Roy from a breeder in North Carolina at 7 weeks old. I don’t think I let that dog off of my lap those first few weeks because I knew he would be running all around in a month and I wouldn’t be able to hold him on my lap if I wanted to. Roy was a part of the family and we had big plans for that bird dog.

We knew that pointers were not natural retrievers so we had to convince Roy that he was born to retrieve. From the time we got him, we started playing fetch with him. We made it a fun game that he looked forward to. Before we knew it, he loved to retrieve.

We also had heard horror stories of dogs being gun-shy. So, from the day that we got Roy, we exposed him to every sound possible. We would take him with us in the car so he could hear sounds of horns, trucks, and construction. I would walk him around the neighborhood where I knew loud construction was going on so that he could see there was not a reason to be spooked. When he would eat, we could clap loudly or make loud noises around him. As I’m writing this I realize that our neighbors probably thought we were losing our minds.

We would take Roy out to the property to test his range. We let him explore but made sure he knew the commands when he ranged too far. This was the hardest thing to manage… for those that have a wide-open pointer, you know they love to range as far as they can. So, we went back to the basics. We made sure he knew “Come”, “Stay”, and “Sit.” When he would range too far, we would shout the command and he listened, because we had shown him what happens when he disobeyed. We started teaching him the commands on a lead, which I would recommend.

A few months had gone by and it was time. It was time to shoot over Roy. We started small with a 22. That dog did not even flinch. So we skipped right to the 20 gauge and Roy looked at us as if he were saying, “Alright guys, where are the birds?”

Roy was six months old when we took him on his first quail hunt. I was nervous because thoughts of failure went rushing through my mind. What if he just devours all of the birds? What if he all of sudden develops a fear of guns? What if he can’t find the birds? What if he breaks a point?  Then, I realized that I needed to give his instincts some credit. We released a few quail from the box and that puppy immediately took off and locked on point. We came up behind him ready to shoot and he was frozen.

The best feeling was when the bird flew up and we dropped it. Roy took off and gently picked it up and brought it right back to our feet as if it were the rope toy we had been throwing in the backyard.

I needed to trust Roy’s instincts. Training helped, especially in regards to the commands, but I knew he was born to be a bird dog and there wasn’t much I could do to mess it up.  Just like his mama, he was born to hunt.  Here is a picture that I’m so glad I captured of Roy’s first hunt that day.


Optimal Nutrition For The Working/Sporting Dog

Kevin Howard
Ph: 573-898-3422
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Date: April 2010
FOR RELEASE: On receipt

Optimal Nutrition For The Working/Sporting Dog

For everyone of us that has ventured afield with a canine companion, we know the value of having a well-bred dog that has strong hunting deisre, is healthy, and well trained.  All of these traits contribute to the overall performance of the dog in the field.  Yet, there is one underlying factor that can undermine or optimize all of these traits either directly or indirectly, and that is the food the dog eats and the nutrients it receives.

I think you would all agree that the ultimate goal with any hunting dog is to optimize its performance, which can mean learning faster, hunting longer, finding more game, or many other things that lead to hunting success.  We all know that hunting success with our dogs is intricately linked with training and conditioning of the dog, along with time in the field hunting.  What may not be obvious is that our hunting dogs are essentially elite canine athletes.  Lets briefly think about what they do during a hunt; they willingly run prolonged distances, possibly up, down, and across difficult terrain, over and under obstacles, sprint periodically or often, swim periodically, and occasionally carry something in their mouth, likely while running.  The only thing that is missing is bike riding, but then it would be called an Irondog event.  Strenuous exercise is inherent in hunting and training and can be physically and mentally challenging to the dog.  Therefore, one strategy for addressing these physical and mental challenges is to "optimize the nutrition", which can optimize endurance and ultimately promote "optimal performance".

We hear everyday that if we eat "better", we can be stronger, leaner, healthier, and/or more alert.  This logic can be applied to our dog's well-being and hunting performance, but what does "better" mean?  When you think of "better" nutrition, think of optimizing nutrition.  This is the consumption of key nutrients in an optimal balance that provide optimal benefits.  The six basic nutrient groups are water, protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals.  They can all be found in any dog food, but the optimal levels and balance of these nutrient groups are what separate different types of dog food for targeted applications.  For example, a maintenance food is different from a senior food is different from a weight management food, because of differences in the balance of nutrients and nutrient groups.  Likewise, performance food for hardworking dogs is different than a maintenance food, and for a variety of reasons.

For this discussion, I am defining a performance food as a formula with 28-30% protein and 18-20% fat, compared to a maintenance food that has 24-26% protein and 12-16% fat.  A dog can adequately hunt and live an active and healthy lifestyle with the maintenance food, but the key here is optimal performance.  With a performance food, some examples that are worth discussing are how protein and fat optimize endurance, optimize mental alertness, and promote optimal body condition.

Nutrition studies with dogs have shown that feeding a food with higher levels of fat will result in more fatty acids being present in the blood before exercise, and these levels will increase more after exercise compared to a food with lower fat and higher carbohydrates.  Fatty acids are important for hardworking and hunting dogs because these are the nutrients that are critical for endurance based exercise.  Ultimately, more fatty acids in the blood means more nutrients to promote endurance metabolism, as they are present and ready for use by exercising muscles. 

These fatty acids get used by the muscles to make energy for movement, which occurs in the "furnaces" of the cells called mitochondria.  In dogs fed a high fat food, their muscles have more mitochondria, which means more capacity to use or "burn" the fatty acids.  Finally, dogs on high fat foods also have a greater capacity to metabolize oxygen, which also occurs at the mitochondria.  Elevated dietary protein complements the benefits associated with the increased fat metabolism, as a greater abundance of protein building blocks (ie. amino acids) from the food promotes a state of muscle growth that enables increased mitochondrial biosynthesis and increased vascular capacity.  For prolonged endurance, efficient use of oxygen is critical, which is why is it called aerobic-based exercise.  If you have ever watched a marathon, you don't typically see any runner breathing very hard, primarily because they are conditioned, but equally important is that they can efficiently use the oxygen they are breathing at the moderate speed and intensity that they are running.

So what does all this mean?  That a performance food can deliver more fat and protein nutrients, promote an increase in capacity to metabolize the fat, and promote a higher oxygen use capacity, all to increase metabolic capacity and energy generation.  In short, this means that the food can "metabolically prime" our dogs to promote optimal endurance.

Now, let's flip this rational on its head and describe why feeding a performance formula all year long is optimal.  For some of you reading this article, dog training and conditioning may be a year-round process, so feeding performance all year may be part of your regimen.  For others, training/conditioning may begin in August or September to get the dogs ready for the upcoming season. 

If having our hunting dogs on a performance food during the hunting season provides the metabolic benefits for promoting endurance, then switching to a maintenance food in the off-season will reverse the effects.  So, when February/March rolls around and a person decided to make this switch because the dog is not hunting or training, this is basically "de-training" your dog metabolically.  This is in addition to the fact that the dog is likely not as active as in the hunting season.  It is worth mentioning that this process of metabolic transition takes about 2-3 months.  Therefore, anyone that decided to start training again in August and made the switch back to a performance food at that same time, optimal metabolic endurance may not be achieved until the end of September or October.  This is 2-3 months of sub-optimal training, and if the food switch occurred later, then this could possibly overlap with part of the hunting season, depending on where in the country you are located. 

We have all had dogs that have gone beyond their limit during training, and focus and trainability are reduced. Our goal is to avoid this and provide opportunities to help the dog retain its focus and trainability.  No food ever takes the place of proper training and conditioning, but having a feeding strategy of using a performance food all year can allow the dog to be metabolically primed and at a better starting point once training/conditioning begins. 

Now, every strategy comes with a condition and this is no exception, but it is easy and critical for success.  Like every person, every dog is an individual.  Therefore, the amount of food to be fed should be directly related to the individual dog's body condition and adjusted based on the calorie needs. When dogs consume excess calories, they gain weight.  When they consume less, they lose weight. The key is to feed an amount that is appropriate to maintain a healthy body condition, and thus stable body weight during the hunting season and in the off-season.  So, that is the bottom-line to the "strategy". In the off-season when your dog is less active, hunting less, sleeping the summer days away...feed less performance food to maintain an ideal body condition.  To determine your dog's ideal body condition, I suggest you discuss this with your veterinarian, who will likely have Nestle Purina body condition charts or literature for you to take home.  In addition, I have included a website that provides an overview of how to assess your dog's body condition -( There are simple things you can evaluate and regularly monitor to ensure that your dog is getting the right amount of food to maintain a healthy weight.

Finally, performance formulas can also provide a benefit to promote optimal mental alertness, and is another way to get a little more out of early training sessions or keep them going stronger towards the end of the hunt.  One of the ways fatigue sets in with people and pets is the depletion of blood glucose levels during exercise.  Glucose during exercise mostly comes from body stores of glycogen in muscle and liver.  Glucose released from the liver is critical for brain function.  As blood glucose levels start to decline, fatigue sensation occurs and mental alertness is reduced.  To address this, the foods with higher fat promote a situation where the body stores less and uses less glycogen from the muscles during exercise.  Therefore during exercise, the blood glucose from liver glycogen is more readily available to support brain function for promoting mental endurance, whereas the fatty acids from the performance food are available for the muscles to promote physical endurance.

Performance formulas give our dogs those extra calories they need during the hunting season when working hard and temperatures drop.  But, there are many more benefits than just providing the extra calories.  Optimizing these benefits all year long can help to make every hunt and every season the best it can be for you and your hunting.