Are you the proud owner of a working dog? Whether it’s a farmhand Border Collie or a sled-hauling Siberian Husky by your side, you’ll understand just how important it is that these dogs are able to sustain the amount of exercise that their job requires.
Your dog works their tail off all day - so in return, you’ll want to power them up with the right fuel to keep them going! The thing is, there’s a knack to picking the best food for working dogs, as the wrong kind might cause them to slow down, crash in energy or feel fuzzy-minded or nauseous while on duty.
In this post, we’ll explain how you can hone your working dog’s diet to keep them happy, healthy and performing at their best each day.
Your furry friend can be called a working dog if it has a specific purpose in your life aside from just snuggling, playing and going for walks. This could include a dog that goes hunting, herds sheep on a farm, is part of a police force, a racing dog, a rescue dog, or assists those with mobility issues. Specific breeds are more commonly used as working dogs, such as:
Swiss Mountain Dog
These kinds of dogs tend to have strong bodies well suited to endurance, and so long as they’re well-fed and physically healthy, can display impressive levels of stamina and agility.
It makes sense that a dog whose day-to-day is made up of intense physical activity needs to fuel their body with a generous amount of high-quality, high-energy dog food, but what makes up the ingredients of that food is hugely important.
If you were going to run a marathon, you’d want to fill up on calorific yet slow-burning foods that aren’t full of preservatives or sugar that would cause your energy to crash prematurely. You’d also want to recover well when your body is at rest. As working dogs get a long workout every day, their needs are the same - except a dog’s body is able to oxidise fat at a much greater capacity than a human’s (1).
For that reason, working dogs benefit the most from food containing a whole protein for muscle-building and recovery - such as turkey or lamb, or another form of meat, poultry or fish - and food with a higher fat and calorie content than normal dog food, to ensure slow-released energy and endurance (2). In high-quality food for working dogs there is usually a healthy mix of vegetables, herbs and complex carbohydrates included as well for those essential vitamins and minerals.
The main differentiator of food for working dogs versus normal dogs should be the higher fat, calorie content and level of protein for long-term energy release and muscle-building. It can also change a lot depending on the brand; commercial dog foods are more likely to use filler ingredients and have a lower protein percentage than brands which use all-natural, whole foods - whether they’re intended for working dogs or not.
Your working dog can eat regular dog food without being harmed, especially if the food is of high quality and made with whole food sources. However, a working dog expends vast amounts of calories per day and will wear out a lot sooner without the optimal calorie and fat content needed to sustain them.
To keep your hard-working dog sharp, fast and energised for the full day, it would be of most benefit to feed them a diet that’s been designed specifically to keep them going all day long! Food designed for working dogs will ensure they can happily stay active for longer periods, and that their joints and muscles will be quicker to recover.
Protein is a key ingredient for dogs that spend their days extensively running, jumping and problem-solving. The main superpower of protein is its rich BCAA content - branched-chain amino acids. Amino acids make up the building blocks of protein and form the structure of new muscle tissue - which is vital for all dogs (and humans), but especially those who are highly active to support recovery and endurance. Importantly, amino acids can’t be produced by the body on its own, so must be sourced through a healthy, protein-rich diet.
A working dog should eat at least twice a day - but more importantly is when you feed them, as it should never be too soon before or after exercise. Allow 1-3 hours before and after exercise to feed them a well-rounded meal, or your poor pooch could end up with a bloated or ‘twisted’ stomach (like stitch), diarrhoea or other digestive issues.
Also be aware of what you’re feeding them outside of mealtimes. Just like us, spoiling their meals with high-sugar snacks or treats will hinder their performance when exercising and potentially cause weight gain. If you indulge your working dog with treats or sneak them table scraps, do it only on occasion so they’ll stay healthy, strong and lean - and happier, too.
When it comes to serving sizes, the amount of food your dog needs depends on how active they are. A working dog tends to eat around 1.5 to 2.5 times the amount of food that a regular dog eats, and if they often work in extreme hot or cold temperatures, that amount needs to increase even more.
Remember, a highly active dog needs to be well hydrated, too - so be sure they have easy access to lots of water.
Whilst not an essential step, there are ways you can supplement a working dog’s diet for that added health boost. Their body needs to recover and regenerate after all that strenuous activity, and by adding some choice ingredients to your dog’s meals, your working dog will have the best chance of performing at their best without burnout or injury for many years to come.
Glucosamine is the ideal supplement for hard-working dogs whose joints and bones need to be at their strongest. Not only is it needed to form synovial fluid, a joint’s natural lubricant, it’s also vital in forming connective tissue in and around the joints and protecting them from wear and tear as well as the ageing process.
The best joint and bone supplements for dogs contain glucosamine alongside other key ingredients such as chondroitin and collagen, ideal for maintaining the movement and skeleton of a superdog.
A wonder supplement for working dogs, omega-3 supports cardiovascular and brain health and reduces post-run inflammation, which in turn can ease muscle pain and encourage tissue repair (3). For highly active dogs as well as pooches that use their brains all day (dogs for the blind, for instance), omega-3’s multiple benefits make it the ideal addition to a working dog’s food.
Oily fish such as salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, but if you struggle to incorporate this into your dog’s meals, an easily drizzled liquid form such as salmon oil is a great alternative.