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Best Diet for Working Dogs: Nutrition to Optimize Performance

Working dogs, such as police, military, search and rescue, and hunting dogs, have demanding jobs requiring them to be physically fit. Proper nutrition is essential for these dogs to perform at their best, maintain their health, and prevent injury.

But with so many dog food options in the market, finding the right diet for working dogs can be challenging.

The best diet for working dogs to optimize performance includes sufficient protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Supplementation can also aid in preventing injuries, increasing stamina, and promoting mental agility.

Regarding working dogs’ diets, there are several factors to consider, such as their age, breed, activity level, and health conditions. Additionally, you should tailor their diet to meet their specific nutritional requirements and energy needs. 

This article will explore the best diet for working dogs, including the essential nutrients they need to optimize their performance, common dietary mistakes to avoid, and tips for selecting the right dog food.

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Best Diet for Working Dogs. Military German Shepherd

What Qualifies A Dog As A Working Dog?

If you’re wondering whether your dog is a working dog or not, it’s more than just checking a breed list. Many of you know that I have a German Shepherd and worked the street for 30 years as a Police Officer – but my dog isn’t a working dog just because she is a GSD.

According to Dr. Melissa Brookshire, a pet food category expert, a working dog, such as a sled dog, does extreme exercise. 

However, any dog that engages in this level of physical activity can be classified as a working dog. So, whether your dog is on the working group list, it may have specific nutrition needs.

If you’re considering getting your dog started as a working dog, it’s important to remember to consider their welfare and gradually increase the level of work. Dr. Brookshire advises that just because a dog is athletic doesn’t mean it can go from a sedentary lifestyle to doing lots of physical activity. 

So, whether you’re planning to go on daily runs or participate in other physical activities, working with your vet and having thorough checkups to ensure your dog is ready for the challenge is essential.

In addition to providing your dog with the necessary exercise, getting your dog working can also be a great way for you to stay active too. 

Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just starting, doing physical activities with your dog can be an excellent bonding experience. Just remember to take things slowly and listen to your dog’s needs, so you can get the most out of your new routine.

How Should A Working Dog Be Fed?

When it comes to feeding a working dog, there are many factors to consider, such as the intensity and duration of their work, as well as their environment and temperament. 

Although general guidelines are available, each dog should be considered individually. Their Body Condition Score (BCS) should be the main physical benchmark when calculating the food to be fed. 

Dogs that perform low or moderate-intensity exercise should be kept at a BCS of 4 or 5, whereas dogs performing high-intensity exercise are usually kept at a BCS of 3 or 4.

The energy requirements for working dogs can vary greatly, depending on their activity intensity. 

Dogs in the high and moderate-intensity classes usually require energy from digestible carbohydrates and fats. In contrast, dogs that undertake low-intensity activities require mainly fat as an energy source and negligible amounts of digestible carbohydrates.

Dogs subject to high-intensity exercise should get 40% or more of their calories from their diet’s nitrogen-free extract (NFE) section. In comparison, dogs in the moderate-intensity category should get 15-40% of calories from the NFE.

Although studies on dogs have resulted in conflicting results regarding the rapid reloading and replenishing of glycogen stores following a workout, it is assumed that dogs in the high and moderate-intensity categories will use some of their glycogen stores during exercise that will be replenished as efficiently as possible. 

Therefore, dogs in these categories must have some energy requirement supplied as digestible carbohydrates. 

With the right amount and type of training, glycogen stores can be increased, improving a dog’s performance by delaying the onset of acidosis.

Pack of Husky Sled Dogs. Diet and Nutrition for Working Dogs.

What To Look For In Your Dog’s Food

When choosing a high-quality diet for your working dog, ensure it meets its dietary requirements. 

A “complete and balanced” diet should contain the right protein, carbs, and fatty acids your dog needs to stay healthy. Look for dog foods that are “balanced” and “complete” and contain all the necessary nutrients.

Protein is essential for working dogs. According to the Association for American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a dog’s food should contain a minimum of 18% crude protein. 

However, working dogs require higher protein levels, with many dog foods containing 30% crude protein. Balancing protein levels in your dog’s diet is essential, as too much or too little can cause health issues.

Working dogs require more calories than the average companion animal. The number of calories your dog needs will depend on their breed, type, and frequency of activity. 

Foods formulated for working dogs are usually higher in calories to meet their energy requirements. Talk to your vet to determine the right calories for your dog’s diet.

The Best Diet For Working Dogs

A high-intensity working dog needs 40% extra calories to cope with their performances and agility, while a working dog, in general, needs a diet containing high-quality protein, high mineral volumes, and a proper balance of vitamins, iron, calcium, and other essential nutrients.

The best diet is totally dependent on the working level of your dog. For instance, you may have to feed multiple bowls when your working dog works more than usual.

If you’re formulating a balanced diet, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Choose easily digestible fats. This will reduce the chances of obesity.
  • Choose direct sources of proteins instead of processed or treated ones.
  • Choose foods with high-calorie contents.
  • Choose foods with low GI carbs.

Here are a few foods you can choose which are highly recommended for working dogs:

Feeding your working dog with a combo of proteins and probiotics can enhance its strength and allow them to sustain longer on the ground.

This is yet another premium food loaded with fiber, easily digestible fats, omega fatty acids, and proteins meant to build stamina.

If you’re new to creating a balanced diet for working dogs, it’s highly recommended to consult a dietician who can formulate a diet based on your dog’s working style and daily patterns.

What To Avoid In Your Working Dog Food

Avoiding low-quality protein in their diet is important to keep your working dog healthy. 

Some dog foods contain meat “meal” as a top ingredient, meat with all the water and fat removed. While meat meal is just as nutritious as unprocessed meat, it may be more difficult to digest, which can be problematic for dogs always on the go.

To ensure your dog gets the best possible diet, look for food with unprocessed meat as one of the main ingredients.

Working dogs burn more energy than regular dogs, so they need several times more calories to keep them going. 

This amount may increase even more if they work in frigid conditions. Dogs have Resting Energy Requirements (RER), the number of calories they burn performing essential bodily functions. 

For example, a 10-kilogram dog’s RER is 400 calories. Ohio State University’s Veterinary Medical Center recommends working dogs eat 2 to 5 times more than their RER. 

In comparison, a neutered adult dog requires 1.6 times their RER. And lastly, avoid overfeeding your dog. 

Do Working Dogs Need More Water?

Oh boy, can you imagine working up a sweat and not having any water to quench your thirst? 

That’s the same for our furry friends! Dogs lose a lot of water when they exercise, and keeping them hydrated is important. 

I mean, I know I can’t go a day without my trusty water bottle, so I can’t blame dogs for needing the same!

If you’re outdoors with your pup, pack some water for them too. They may not carry their water bottle, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need them. 

And let’s face it. No one wants a dehydrated dog on their hands – it’s not a good look.

So don’t forget the H2O for your four-legged friend! They’ll appreciate it just as much as you do, and you’ll both be able to enjoy your outdoor adventure to the fullest.

Working Border Collie rounding up sheep.

Should I Give My Working Dog Vitamins?

If you have a working dog, you might wonder if you should give them vitamins to help them perform better. 

The answer is; it depends. 

Antioxidants such as Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and selenium can be helpful for dogs during exercise. Still, it’s important to remember that high doses of a single antioxidant can have the opposite effect and increase oxidative stress. 

It’s best to use a lower dose of a multi-nutrient antioxidant, as these vitamins work synergistically. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are now the supplements with the most scientific proof of their effectiveness. The balance of Omega-3 fatty acids is crucial for cognitive function and as an anti-inflammatory, especially in the treatment of osteoarthritis.

Many working dogs need extra brain power, and a question often asked is whether a diet fortified with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – rich fish oil or supplements is advised to assist with cognitive ability. This study of 48 Beagle puppies found that a diet rich in fish oils improved their cognitive function following weaning.

Do Working Dogs Need Larger Portion Sizes?

So, you know how humans have that saying, “never trust a skinny chef”? Regarding our furry friends, we should probably trust the vet’s advice on feeding instead. 

Even the most active dog can pack extra pounds if they’re overfed consistently. So, it’s important to ask your vet how much you should feed your dog daily and stick to that amount.

And listen, I know it can be hard to resist those puppy-dog eyes when your furry friend begs for more food, but don’t give in! 

Most dogs beg out of boredom or because they smell something delicious, not because they’re hungry. So, try to keep your pup entertained with toys or other activities and stick to the feeding schedule recommended by your vet. 

And make sure everyone in the household is aware of the schedule too, so you don’t accidentally double-feed your dog. Trust me; nobody wants a chunky monkey for a furry friend!

Do Working Dogs Require An Extra Meal? 

When it comes to working dogs, their caloric needs may be higher than the average couch potato pup. 

This may mean that some working dogs require an extra meal to sustain their energy levels throughout the day. However, you should consult your vet before changing your dog’s feeding schedule.

If your vet does recommend an extra meal, it’s best to split the food into three smaller meals instead of two large ones. 

This can help reduce the risk of stomach issues and make it easier for your dog to digest the food. Plus, it gives them more daily opportunities to chow down and refuel for their next task.

Red Cross Rescue Dogs In Snow. Good nutrition for working dogs.

Do Working Dogs Need To Eat Before And After Activity?

When it comes to feeding your working dog before and after an activity, timing is everything. 

It’s best to avoid feeding your dog right before or after physical activity as a full stomach can be uncomfortable and hinder their performance. 

Instead, feed them a few hours before or after the activity, and consider giving them smaller meals throughout the day.

After physical activity, it’s important to provide your dog with water to replenish its fluids immediately. 

However, wait for at least 30-60 minutes before feeding them to allow them to cool down and prevent any stomach discomfort or bloating. This will help keep your working dog healthy and performing at its best.


Is It Better To Feed My Working Dog Dry Or Wet Food?

Whether to feed dry or wet food to a working dog depends on personal preference and the dog’s needs. Dry food may be more convenient and cost-effective, but wet food can provide more moisture and potentially be more palatable.

It’s vital to choose a high-quality food that contains lean protein sources, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats to provide sustainable energy for the dog’s active lifestyle.

What Role Do Carbohydrates Play In A Working Dog’s Diet?

While fat is preferred for low-intensity aerobic activities, carbohydrates need to be replenished. While dogs don’t have a dietary requirement for carbohydrates, they have a metabolic requirement for glucose, which is used for aerobic and anaerobic metabolism.

Adequate carbohydrates help spare protein for tissue repair. Complex carbohydrates contribute to dietary fiber.

Can Supplements Improve A Working Dog’s Performance?

Complete, balanced supplementation can help prevent injuries and increase stamina in working dogs. Supplementation provides essential nutrients like B vitamins, iodine, selenium, and antioxidants to support cellular processes during stress.

Phytochemicals in broccoli, kale, cranberries, blueberries, and carrots can boost energy and mental agility. Nutrient intake can affect neurotransmitter levels.


  • Sharon Waddington

    Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Find her on Linkedin!