There’s no doubt that hunting is a sport, which means that hunters and their canine partners are, indeed, athletes. This classification is especially true for waterfowling dogs, who often deal with wildly adverse conditions on a single hunt. 

On any given day, your hunting partner will spend hours running prairie, navigating flooded timbers or bursting through thickets in hot pursuit of prey. And that’s before they eagerly leap into often frigid water to retrieve the birds. These dogs burn calories just standing still and keeping warm, not to mention when they’re bounding into action. They’re largely endurance athletes, but that doesn’t exclude regular bursts of sprinting. 

In short, duck dogs are Iron Men triathletes. 

Appropriate nutrition

Like humans training for an Iron Man event, your four-legged iron man needs different nutrition than a less active dog. According to the study "Nutrition for Working and Service Dogs" by Joseph Wakshlag and Justin Shmalberg, an average sized hunting dog that weighs between 33 and 66 pounds and works approximately three hours in a cooler climate expends double the National Research Council’s maintenance energy requirements for a typical active dog.

They’re working twice as hard, which means they need more energy from their dog food.

After water, energy is the most important element gained from a dog’s diet. Calories are the fuel that makes the body go, so it’s plain to see that more intense activity requires more calories. The energy needs of working dogs vary with duration, intensity and frequency of exercise, but the number of calories spent is directly related to distance traveled. And duck dogs cover a lot of ground. 

But not every calorie is the same. Dog foods provide energy through three nutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fat. However, different activities require different percentages of different nutrients. For instance, carbohydrates are the preferred fuel for sprinting dogs, who tend to respond better when fed a food that provides up to 50% of their calories as carbohydrates with lower fat content. A high-carbohydrate nutrient profile allows for quick and easy conversion of food to energy.

For endurance dogs who need to go faster and farther for longer, fat is the preferred energy source. In contrast to the way human bodies operate, high-fat/low-carb diets are known to have an incredible impact on stamina in dogs. Multiple studies, including treadmill trials for beagles and real-world trials with sled dogs, have proven that energy-dense dietary fat allows canine athletes to keep a higher pace for a longer time.

But let’s not sleep on protein. Athletic dogs need more protein than even an active pet dog, because exercise and conditioning causes muscle and connective tissues to grow while speeding the metabolism. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are essential to these gains because they help create enzymes, blood proteins and new muscle tissue. They also help repair the “damage” to muscle and connective tissue that happens during exercise. 

Basically, protein helps the exercise have a lasting impact while aiding in the recovery from that exercise. You know how you’re sore after your first workout in a long time? Protein is what helps you feel better and not be so sore next time. Same goes for dogs, who often don’t pace themselves as well as you might.

What about the offseason?

You might think an amino acid-rich, high-fat/high-protein diet should only be used during training and peak hunting season, but in reality you should feed a performance diet to your hunting partner year round. If you switch to a typical maintenance-diet dog food that is higher in carbs, you can actually hurt your dog’s performance when peak season returns because it will be harder to metabolize the fats they need. 

That said, when using performance diet in the off season, monitor your dog’s weight. You’ll likely need to offer smaller portions since they’re not burning as much energy.

What’s in the bowl?

Nutrition plays a vital role in keeping your hunting partner in optimal condition. Like humans, canine athletes’ bodies are finely tuned machines, and they need finely tuned food to maintain conditioning and weight and prevent fatigue and injury. Whether swimming through frigid waters, bolting through the prairie or just being at the ready in the duck blind, your trusty companion needs a food that provides appropriate amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrates in an easily digestible formula.

This article is provided by Diamond Pet Foods.