Bird Dogs Afield host Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

Northwoods Sporting Journal

Bird Dog Conditioning

This column just might be the most important of the year. It’s about conditioning and preparation for the upcoming hunting season. During hunting season, I meet many hunters that aren’t in proper hunting condition and that usually means their dogs are in poor physical condition too. Poor conditioning can lead to heart attacks for both the hunter and their dog.

Let’s first discuss exercise. At the Fuller household, our dogs are run every day. We make time to do this. It’s beneficial for both the dog and the hunter. If you don’t have fields or woods adjacent to your property, locate a farmer or land owner with plenty of acres for you and your dog to cover. If you do this year around, you won’t have to worry about a crash exercise program before hunting season. If you haven’t been exercising, start this month. Begin with 15-20 minute walks. If it’s hot, go early in the morning. On hot days, we’re out at 6:00 am. After a week of 15-20 minute walks, extend the time to 45 minutes. If you have an October 1 opener, you should be walking and running your dogs a full hour by mid-September.

There is an old saying that we’re the product of what we eat. Your author travels thousands of miles every year and meets hunters from all over the country. It’s amazing how many hunters I meet that don’t know the brand of dog food they feed or the nutritional values in the dog food. We spend hundreds of dollars buying a puppy, perhaps hundreds of dollars for training, hundreds of dollars on vet visits, however, we don’t know anything about the dog food we feed? It doesn’t make sense. Let’s examine the nutritional needs of our hunting partner.

Your author is not a dog food scientist; however, I study the basics to ensure my dogs are fed well. Here are the basics. As with human food, the ingredients in dog food are listed on the bag or can. Protein and fat are very important and should be the two ingredients listed at the top. Protein is typically first and has more content than fat. Protein is a key building block for every cell in your dog’s body…and in your body also. Protein is important for building healthy bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. During high exercise periods, the tissue and cells in your dog are being broken down and need continuous repair. Protein is the repairman. It’s important to understand that a body (you and your dog) does not store protein. There is no backup to draw from. That means a canine athlete must have a large and steady supply of protein.

Protein can be delivered via either through vegetable matter or animal matter. Animal matter has been proven to deliver protein more efficiently than vegetable matter. And, chicken has been proven to deliver the protein more efficiently than other animal matter.

The second most important ingredient is fat. Fat delivers the energy required to keep moving throughout the hunt. Fat equal calories and calories equal energy. Also, it has over twice the calories of carbs or protein per gram which makes fat very important (since it results in energy) for the canine athlete. As with protein, chicken is an excellent provider of fat.

There is always a debate about grains in dog food. In our household, we avoid foods with corn, soy or wheat. They are hard to digest grains which means, even if they had any nutritional value, the grains pass through the digestive system without providing any benefit.

The question I most often hear is what level of protein/fat we feed. During off-season, we feed at 26% protein, 16% fat formula. Beginning about 45 days before hunting season, we switch to a 30% protein, 20% fat formula. However, if you only hunt your dogs on weekends, you should stay with the 26% protein, 16% fat formula. We hunt our dogs hard from September through November…they need the extra protein and fat.

There are several good brands of dog food on the market. The brand we choose to feed is Native Performance Dog Food. It has no corn, wheat or soy which is important to us. Those three grains are hard for dogs to digest. Also, you can switch energy levels without worrying about digestive issues since the basic formula is the same. We feed Energy Level 2 (26/16) during off-season and Energy Level 3 (30/20) during hunting season. This is our twelfth year feeding Native and the dogs love it.

You and your dog will enjoy the upcoming hunting season much more if you’re both healthy and well-conditioned

Copyright 2019 Paul Fuller

Paul and his wife Susan are co-hosts of Bird Dogs Afield TV ( Paul can be contacted at