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Scott Rall: Dogs are oh, so hungry, but don't overfeed

BY SCOTT RALL

The Globe outdoors columnist

Last week I wrote about eye conditioning for shooters and the many ways that you can practice to become a better shooter. Conditioning the hunter and the dog for physical exertion is also very important.  

The hunters in the best physical condition don’t get that way by sitting on the couch.  When someone asks me if I am physically fit, my response is that I am fit enough to do the things I enjoy.  I could certainly not run a marathon but I can walk a tall grass field for a few days in a row without complications.

Being an out-of-shape hunter is caused by the hunter.  Having an out-of-shape dog, on the other hand, is not the dog’s fault.  It is the dog owners’ fault.

It’s pretty simple. A fat dog is eating too much.  If there is one feeding mistake that I see dog owners make almost all of the time is that they over-feed their dogs. When running in the non-professional dog circles, I would say that 8 out of 10 dogs are too heavy to some degree. I will tell these folks that if you want the dog to live as long as possible and be as healthy as they can be for those 11-13 years (the average life expectancy of a Labrador retriever) you need to keep their body weight in the proper range.

The answer from the owner is always the same.  The response is that the dog always seems like it is starving. The gobble-up-their-food behavior by your hunting dog is a instinctual one.

Back when all dogs were wolves, the pack would make a kill and the pack members would eat in the order of dominance in the pack. The dominant members would eat first and the rest would wait their turn.

When it was their turn they ate as much as they could as fast as they could. They never knew when they might get the chance to eat again. It might be the next day, or the pack might not make another kill for more than a week.

Another human answer is that the dog only gets 4-5 cups per day.  I say cut that back to 3-4 cups per day for three weeks and see what happens.  If the dogs weight is still too high, then it might require an even smaller portion until proper weight is achieved. It’s not like your dog will stop loving you if you feed it two less cups of food per day.

Feeding time for me is always the same. The research people at most of the top-level dog food manufacturing companies recommend that you feed your dog one time per day in the evening.  

The recommendation has several relevant thought processes behind it.  The first of those is that when a dog has a belly full of food it takes energy to digest that food.  That can use up some of the energy reserves your dog would use during an early morning hunt.

The second is that a dog that is highly energized with a full stomach is more prone to an intestinal contortion -- more widely known as a twisted gut.  This is where the dog’s intestines do a flip flop inside the dog that causes a blockage. It can be fatal in a high number of dogs that suffer one of these episodes.

The last, but not least, is that feeding a dog once in the evening makes the dog more likely to settle down during the periods of the day when the human hunter wants to put his/her feet up as well. Just imagine you after a turkey day feast on Thanksgiving.  Not many go-getters on that afternoon in my household.

When it comes to dogs and their health, I trust the scientists to provide the answers as to what is best for my dog.  There are many dog owners out there that steer clear of this well documented researched recommendations and feed anywhere from 2-4 times per day. I guess there are as many different owner ideas as there are different dog breeds.

The only food you should consider feeding your dog is a high-quality food. Some folks just buy the absolutely cheapest food available and call it good.

There are many good foods out there that are not $50 a bag. Read a few of the ingredient lists and I think the non-chemist in you can quite easily see the difference in the first few lines.

The moral of the story is a fat dog will live a shorter life and be prone to more joint and muscle issues than a slimmer hunting partner. Condition your dog with the right diet and exercise and have a great hunting season this fall.  In a few weeks I will cover some of the best dog conditioning exercises you can do in 15 minutes a day.

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