What's best and at what time?

On a shoot day you obviously want your gundog to perform at his best and remain fit and healthy. So what should your feeding programme for the day be? What’s the best time to feed before energetic exercise and how much? And what happens after the shoot day is wrapped up?

We asked Shooting Times contributors – specialist vet Tony Buckwell and gundog trainer Ellena Swift – for their advice.

Feeding your gundog on a shoot day – the vet’s point of view

My gundogs get a small feed at around 6am and exercise from around 9.30am.

You should try and leave at last an hour and a half or two hours before your dog undertakes any strenuous activity. In fact, the longer you can leave it, the better.

So if you’re meeting to go shooting at 9.30am, make sure you feed your dogs by 6.30am, so that they can digest their food sufficiently.

Take plenty of clean water with you to the shoot so the dog doesn’t get dehydrated. Relying on streams and puddles isn’t a good idea.

Dogs going out into the field regularly will be burning through their ‘fuel’, so make sure they are being fed a good quality food with suitable protein content. You don’t want them to lose weight and be undernourished.

After the shoot day in the evening feed your dog at around 5.30pm – you might want to add some raw tripe too.

gundogs in the field

Working dogs must have good quality food

Gundog trainer Ellena Swift advises

I rarely feed twice a day. I feed raw and all of mine are fed once a day unless they are working serious overtime. For example,  sometimes they are out for 12 days in a fortnight. In that case I simply increase their food so they have morning and evening feeds.
I try to avoid feeding in the morning before a day’s work at all. If I do feed in the morning I feed at least 3 hours before they start. (Obviously puppies and pregnant bitches are another issue).

I very, very rarely (if ever) need to give mine a snack in a work day. I genuinely feel if what you’re feeding is good enough quality, a dog with no medical problems should be able to work and be sustained comfortably for one day’s work just on their normal diet. If you have to supplement, then I’d be questioning what the dog’s daily food is lacking.

I’m working six dogs in the next few days (they are doing three days on the trot) and I am not giving any of them anything midday. If a dog has a problem (for example with low sugar) then a wafer biscuit is good, like a Kit Kat – the chocolate content is low but the sugar is high. But a fit and well dog shouldn’t need it.
I feed normally within two hours of finishing work. This gives the dogs a chance to settle and be warm and dry before their body has to focus on digestion.
I only feed raw now. I find dogs drink very little on it. Much less than when on kibble. On the other hand, I do offer my gundogs water as much as possible when working.