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What should I feed my gundog on a shoot day?

What's best and at what time? Shooting Times contributors Tony Buckwell and Ellena Swift offer their advice.

Dogs on shoot day

The end of a shoot is an ideal time to bring in a young dog for an easy pick up

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? (Read our advice on feeding dogs – before or after exercise?)

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

I will give my gundogs a small first feed at about 6am. They don’t start exercise until around 9.30am. Always 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. (If you feed your dog just before strenuous exercise they can get ‘bloat’.

So if your shooting timetable is to start at 9.30am, make sure you feed your dogs by 6.30am, so that they can digest their food sufficiently and have energy for the day ahead.

Take plenty of clean water with you to the shoot so the dog doesn’t get dehydrated. It’s not good to let your dog just drink from streams and puddles.

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. (Make sure you also read how to look after dogs after a shoot day.)

working dog diet

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.
Working dogs

Make sure you have plenty of clean water with you and a water bowl for the dogs

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. (Read how to keep your gundogs warm in kennels in winter.)
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.

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been updated.