Some dogs have more demanding jobs on a farm, for example, herding sheep or cattle from one pasture to another, separating specific animals from the herd at their farmer’s request.  Dogs can also work in search and rescue, scrambling through the wilderness or a collapsed building to lead rescuers to people in trouble. Other dogs keep pace with humans who play hard.  Instead of a 15 minute walk, they might join their owner for a 40 minute run every morning or spend their weekends camping and trekking for hours.  Dog agility competitions are popular, and the dogs need to train and practice.  And now there is a new trend in human and canine fitness.  Canicross takes jogging with your dog to the next level – canine and human cross-country competitions.

These dogs are supreme athletes.  These jobs put great demands on their bodies, and just like human athletes, their bodies need more intense care than the average couch potato.  If we ask this much from our dogs, we need to give them much in return.  That means food and care appropriate to their needs, not the average pet dog’s needs.

Feeding the Active, Athletic Dog

A dog that is doing intense physical work every day doesn’t just need more food than the average pet.  He needs the right kind of nutrient and calorie rich food.  Protein is very important.  Active dogs need plenty of protein, so that’s a key thing to check for on the dog food label. The Engage Premium Country Dog Food range offers various levels of protein in their products from 20% – 29%. The Engage line offers a higher oil content to provide the energy they need while keeping their coats glossy and gorgeous. Available in Beef, Chicken, Duck & Rice, and Salmon & Rice, Engage foods include a feeding guide based not only on the dog’s size but her activity level.

The Engage dog food also offers a Salmon and Rice puppy food that can also be fed to the mother dog during pregnancy. The demands on a mother dog with pups are intense.  She needs nutritional support as well as love and care so she in turn can give her pups everything they need to thrive.

In general, dry dog nuts have more calories than wet food, so most active dogs do better on dry food.  Dogs that do more than a half hour stroll a day need food that gives them adequate nutrition to protect their joints. Connolly’s RED MILLS Leader Supreme dog food includes high levels of glucosamine and chondroitin to promote healthy joints.

Owners also need to know what their dogs do not need.  Most of us feel entitled to extra treats – some pizza, a slice of cake or a bit of chocolate -when we’ve exercised more than usual.  But that isn’t how professional athletes train, and it isn’t how you should feed your dog.  (And chocolate is poison to dogs.) Your working dog can have some treats, but resist the temptation to indulge him with inappropriate human food.  Yes, he’ll burn off the calories if you give you a batter sausage, but it won’t help him feel good or be strong.  Your dog is putting significant demands on his body, so he needs excellent nutrition – not junk.

One exception to that rule is egg.  Eggs are great source of protein, and many dog owners swear an egg a week keeps their dog’s coat shiny and healthy.  While some insist raw eggs are fine for dogs, they pose a real risk of salmonella poisoning.  Boiling is the healthiest way to cook eggs for humans or dogs because it doesn’t add any fat to the egg.  And it’s pretty easy too.  Few dogs are fussy about how runny the yolk is!

What Else Do Hard-Working Dogs Need to Thrive?

Besides high-quality food, very active dogs don’t need much. They don’t need fancy exercise equipment, although dogs doing canicross do need a specialized harness and lead.  In winter, they are warm while they are active.

All dogs should have access to drinking water all day.  If you’re going on a hike, remember to carry water for your best friend too.  You can find all kinds of lightweight, easy to carry dog water bowls now.  If your dog is working on a farm all day, remember that he needs water in the field.  Small, frequent drinks are better than letting him drink too much at once, which can upset his stomach.
The big thing the very active dog needs is your attention.  Dogs are extremely stoic and will try to conceal any sign of lameness.  It’s an instinct rooted in pack survival.  The weak members of the pack are driven out because they threaten the pack’s ability to hunt.  So we have to watch carefully for any sign our dogs is overdoing it or has been injured.  Check his paws regularly.  If your dog is active on hard surfaces, he might need his nails trimmed less than a couch potato dog. But you should still check them weekly. (Of course, his dew claws don’t get worn down and still need trimming.)

A dog that work hard will really enjoy a nice brushing at the end of the day.  It’s like a massage.  And by the way, he’d like a massage too!  Yes, you can give your dog a nice rub down and you don’t need to be a trained masseuse.  Just use a firm touch to stroke him in the direction his fur goes.  Dog massage is a great chance to bond and to discover any scrapes or sore spots he might have.
Our dogs’ biggest goal in life is to please us.  They enjoy being active and many breeds especially enjoy having a job to do.  But a large part of their motivation to do their job on our terms, to hike alongside us, is their love for us.  Really, what your hard-working dog needs most is to know that he’s doing a good job and you appreciate it.