The dog days of summer are ideal to start training and conditioning your duck dog for the upcoming hunting season. Proper nutrition, though, is just as important. A dog's diet and feeding regimen are critical for a top-notch performance from the blind. Follow these tips to help ensure your retriever is nutritionally primed to give you his or her all come fall.
DO Keep Your Dog Properly Hydrated
Water is the most essential nutrient for retrievers. Summer heat can be dangerous, so keeping your dog cool and hydrated is a must. Exercise produces heat, and water helps to dissipate about 60 percent of heat through water evaporation in the respiratory tract. Water also helps to remove the byproducts of energy metabolism, perhaps the most important determinant of endurance and performance.
Purina Senior Manager of Sporting Dog Programs Karl Gunzer advises, 'Be sure your dog always has access to fresh water. Keep several gallons of water with you as a consistent water source to help hydrate your duck dog, offering water from a squirt bottle every 10 to 15 minutes while working. Afterward, wait for his or her panting to slow before allowing the dog to drink a large volume.'
After exercise, you also can encourage your dog to drink by soaking his or her food with water to create a light soup, giving ice cubes, and baiting water with low-sodium chicken broth or Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets FortiFlora canine probiotic supplement.
DO Feed Once a Day
'A dog shouldn't be fed in the morning before working. Otherwise, the blood flow is diverted and used for digestion, negatively impacting the dog's energy. A retriever performs best on an empty stomach," says Gunzer.
Instead, Gunzer recommends feeding your dog once a day and as many hours prior to exercise as possible. A dog also should have time to empty his or her bowels before work to help make him or her more comfortable.
DON'T Feed an Overheated Dog
Just as you wouldn't want to eat a heavy meal following a day spent under the sun, neither should your duck dog. After a retriever has worked and is panting, he or she cannot properly digest food due to the dog's increased intake of air, causing discomfort.
'Although a dog does best on a feeding schedule, it's OK to push it back an hour to give your dog ample time to cool off and get a drink before he or she is fed,' says Gunzer.
DO Reduce the Amount Fed
Did you know that as temperatures increase, it is not unusual for a dog's food consumption to decrease? As a general rule of thumb, dogs need about 7.5 percent fewer calories for every 10 degrees the ambient temperature rises above the moderate temperatures of spring and fall.
'Give the proper amount of food to help your retriever maintain ideal body condition, meaning the ribs are palpable without excess fat covering,' Gunzer says. 'It's also best to avoid free-feeding, or allowing your dog to eat throughout the day as he or she pleases. Otherwise, you don't know how much your retriever is eating, making it difficult to catch problems such as increased or decreased consumption.'
DON'T Switch Dog Foods
It's not advantageous to switch to a dog food lower in protein or carbohydrates during the summer months. Purina Research Nutritionist Brian Zanghi, PhD, explains, 'Switching to a maintenance diet in the off-season is like metabolically detraining your dog.'
Rather, Zanghi advises feeding a high-protein/high-fat performance dog food year-round, such as Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 Formula. 'It's best to reduce the portion fed in the off-season and monitor body condition to help keep your dog healthy and fit.'