What to Feed Your Working Dog?

by: Krystal Rohan

The foundation of health and energy for your dog comes from his daily intake of food and water. His performance and stamina are directly related to his maintenance of quality nutrition. I do not recommend cutting corners when it comes to choosing a feed for your dog. I do believe in getting what you pay for, but this is not always the case when it comes to purchasing dog food. Some dog foods are “hyped-up” just like designer clothes and not any better than the competitors’ at a lower price.

However, if you are trying to be thrifty and save money by buying the most reasonable feed, most likely you will be short changing yourself and your dog’s diet. By the time you reach the bottom of that feed sack, you will actually have spent more because you will have to feed a greater quantity in order to meet the same amount of nutrition to maintain a healthy weight. Regardless of flashy labels and fancy advertising, not all dog food is equal. This makes the decision extremely difficult when there are literally hundreds of choices that are all similar. Trying to explain dog food is not an easy task.

I will try to simplify and summarize a lot of information in a kind of "Dog Food 101". Start with readingthe label. Flip the bag over and read the back and or side panels. Look for the list of ingredients, notjust the Protein/Fat contents. The first ingredient listed is the majority or main ingredient and the mostimportant. The other ingredients are listed in order by weight content in descending order. Buyer beware! These labels can be very deceiving. Some dog foods post ingredients in several different individual forms to break up the list of less desirable ingredients. These are more detailed and further down the list to appear to be a better quality. For example, a product’s ingredient list could say: Chicken, Ground Yellow Corn, Corn Wheat, Ground Wheat, Corn Bran, Corn Gluten, Wheat Flour, Wheat Middling, etc. If you were to add all the corn products together, they could out weigh the amount of chicken. At first glance, you are left believing you are purchasing a chicken‐based product, but truthfully it may be a corn‐based product.

Here are some definitions to help you better understand a few of the ingredients on those labels:
Meat: Meat is the clean flesh of slaughtered animals (chicken, cattle, lamb, turkey, etc.). The flesh can include striated skeletal muscle, tongue, diaphragm, heart, esophagus, overlying fat, and the skin, sinew, nerves and blood vessels normally found with that flesh.
Meat By-Products: Meat by-products are clean parts of slaughtered animals, not including meat. These include lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone, stomach, and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth, or hooves.
Poultry By-Products: Poultry by-products are clean parts of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, and internal organs (like heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, abdomen, and intestines). It does not contain feathers.
Fish Meal: Fish meal is the clean ground tissue of un-decomposed whole fish or fish cuttings, with or without the oil extracted.
Beef Tallow: Beef tallow is the fat derived from beef.
Ground Corn: Ground corn is the entire corn kernel ground or chopped.
Corn Gluten Meal: Corn gluten meal is the by-product after the manufacture of corn syrup or starch and is the dried residue after the removal of the bran germ and starch.
Brewers Rice: Brewers rice is the small fragments of rice kernels that have been separated from the larger kernels of milled rice.
Brown Rice: Brown rice is the unpolished rice left over after the kernels have been removed.
Soybean Meal: Soybean meal is a by-product of the production of soybean oil.
BHA: BHA is Butylated hydroxyanisole, a fat preservative.
Ethoxyquin: Ethoxyquin is a chemical preservative that is used to prevent spoilage in dog food.
Tocopherols: Tocopherols (e.g. Vitamin E ) are naturally occurring compounds used as natural preservatives.

Now that you may have a little better knowledge of what those ingredients mean, keep in mind that dogs are natural carnivores that would generally consume some, but little vegetation if left in a natural environment. If available, meat is going to be the best ingredient to feed your dog. It is important to know what ingredients are in the dog food rather than to rely on the name and protein/fat contents. Most of the time, we don't think enough about the makeup of the protein/fat percentages. Take an old piece of carpet, some grass, and some cardboard. Grind it all up and make it into a dry kibble. Then spray some flavoring on it, and you can get a dog to eat it. Have it tested, and it will have proteins and fat levels that can be measured and labeled as percentages. It may even be something like 21/10 %. If it is cheap enough, I bet somebody would buy it and feed it to their poor ole dogs. So even though a dog food is analyzed and proven to have high protein and fat percentages does not mean that it has any nutritional value whatsoever.

For your dog’s sake, take the time to flip the bag and read the ingredients. If you are going to try and feed a high protein, make sure it is a protein that will benefit your dog. Not all dog food is equally made. The more often the dog is getting strenuous exercise, such as hunting 3‐4 days a week, the higher the protein and fat that will be required in the feed. This food is usually labeled as a performance feed with about a 26% to 28% protein. Dogs convert protein into energy and muscle. When a label reads "high performance" or "energy plus", don't be persuaded. There are not any regulations on how the name or title of the dog food is labeled. Read the ingredients for yourself. A quality feed can cost anywhere from 30 cents per pound on up. Usually the better the quality of feed, the less amount is required to maintain healthy weight and condition of the working dog. So spend a little more and feed a little less. This means your feed goes a lot further and costs less in the long run. The dog’s appearance and energy level are usually the first indications of switching over to higher quality feed. However, the dog’s ability to maintain a good weight, with muscling over the bone, and the stamina of a conditioned working dog are going to give you the real proof of quality nutrition. Dogs that are only hunted a few times a month may only require a little more feed per feeding around those times of exercise and will do fine on a lower protein. Senior dogs do better on a lower protein as it is easier for their internal organs to process.

Another hint as to how well your dog is processing its food (pretty disgusting but true), is to observe the fecal matter. Smaller portions left behind after digesting the food are also a good sign of good feed. I want to see small, firm, and well‐formed stools in my kennels. Not only is it easier to clean up, but it lets you know the food has a high digestibility and more of the food was actually absorbed by the dog. Some dogs do better on different formulas of feed and may take a few trials and errors in order to find what works best for the individual. A sign that a particular food is not working is distended bellies af ter eating. The dog may look fat or bloated for hours or even days until heavy exercise and then begin to look drawn‐up. A well conditioned dog should have defined muscle and good stamina when eating quality food. A dull, dry, rough coat and dull eyes indicate lacking nutrition. Hip bones, ribs, and back bone allprotruding and defined, unable to maintain muscle required of a working dog, also mean it is not receiving adequate nourishment.

If your dog is worth feeding at all, then it is worth feeding well. Starting with a healthy nutritional foundation will save you money and headaches in the long run.

This article was published in the Sept. /Oct. 2007 issue of Wild Boar USA magazine.