Why are Working Dogs Different?
Working and sporting dogs earn their keep, whether retrieving for the ‘hunting, shooting, fishing’ brigade, rounding up sheep, guarding secure premises, fighting crime, rescuing people, winning races at the track or providing a vital lifeline to disabled people. Dog breeds that are traditionally used as working and sporting dogs are often high energy dogs; full of beans and requiring plenty of exercise, but more than capable of coping with a day of work. Also highly intelligent and well-trained, they make great pets, being particularly suited to an active family life or owners who enjoy spending lots of time outdoors. It is supremely important for these dogs to remain fit and well, and a nutritionally balanced diet is the key to that. Their diet needs to be carefully monitored to provide the right balance of nutrients to keep joints supple and offer fuel for all that hard work and exercise.
Dog Food Criteria for Working Dogs
When confronted with the vast array of dog food available in the supermarket, agricultural suppliers or pet store, it can be hard for an owner to know which food is best for their working or sporting dog. Some things to look out for include:
- Protein levels – puppies, pregnant mothers and working dogs all require higher amounts of protein than adult domestic dogs that aren’t working. It is the fuel that keeps their engines going. Protein levels of between 20-25% are a sufficient level without being so high that it puts a strain on the kidneys.
- Fat levels – working dogs need higher fat levels than non-working dogs, but these need to be the right kind of fats. Omega 3 and 6 keep their joints well-oiled and supple. A fat content of between 8-15% is a good level for working dogs.
- Supplements for joint well-being – yucca, flaxseed oil and green lipped mussel extracts are all great examples of supplements that provide a source of glucosamine and chondroitin to keep joints extra healthy.
- Supplements for ligament health – manganese ensures good ligament health, which will help prevent injury.
- Supplements for good eyesight – zinc and vitamin A are vital for good eyesight. Where would we be without our working and sporting dogs’ superior vision?
It is worth mentioning a common problem here: joint inflammation. Working and sporting dogs tend to be larger breeds, which are naturally more susceptible to joint inflammation due to their extra weight putting pressure on joints. Some pedigree breeds, such as Retrievers and Labradors, are famously more susceptible than others, due to the careful breeding which takes place. When these larger breeds are also working or sporting dogs then joint inflammation becomes even more likely. It is important to watch out for the symptoms of inflamed joints, make sure they rest if their joints do seem stiff and ensure their diet contains plenty of supplements to prevent inflammation.
Controlling the amount that a working dog eats is also very important. The dog needs to eat a sufficient portion size to provide all the nutrients they need for a hard day’s work, but not so much that they start to become overweight, which would put extra strain on joints and prevent them doing their work well. The best way to do this is to carefully weigh out their portion according to pack instructions for the approximate weight of the dog. This may then need to be adjusted slightly for the dog’s individual weight, appetite and how busy their working day is. Many people find a way of measuring out portions by volume with a cup to make day-to-day feeding times more convenient. This is fine, as long as every so often this is weighed to ensure the correct amount is still being used.
Monitoring your Dog
Regular monitoring is the key of course. Responsible dog owners will always be on the look-out for signs of ill health and will know their dogs well enough to judge very quickly if they are out of sorts. Checking that eyes are clear and bright, ears for signs of discharge, and grooming soon become second nature to a good dog owner. Similarly, noticing if a working or sporting dog is showing signs of discomfort in their joints (reluctance to walk, not wanting to be touched, limping etc) comes naturally when an owner cares about their dog. Simply patting a dog and running a hand along its stomach can tell an owner what shape their dog is in. There should be a good covering to the ribs, but they should be easily felt when the flesh is pressed lightly.
Our country’s working dogs provide a service that is often unappreciated by those who don’t work directly with them. If they all magically disappeared tomorrow, we’d soon notice the massive role they play in our society. It is a simple matter to provide them with a good diet, so that they can continue doing their job in good health for as long as possible.