Eine Pruefung fuer den Hund und das Futter
(a test for your dog, and his food)
by Steve Wolfson
This article originally published at
The Canine Workshop
Sled dogs, considered the ultimate canine athlete, consume 12,000 calories per day. Human cyclists in marathon racing consume 7 - 8000 calories per day (1)
Often, we hear claims that profess the outstanding results and unsurpassed performance of dogs while consuming special diets or a certain brand of food. How these claims are derived and why they are made can reveal interesting responses. When asked what exactly is the criteria or test used to substantiate the claims of astounding performance many respond by saying, "Just look at my dog's coat;My dog is a show dog. My dog does therapy work. He looks so healthy (most often we hear the coat used as the defining example of health and fitness). Even when a poor quality dog food is used, some will justify using it by saying how great their dog looks as a rationale. Realistically, many just do not want to spend extra money on a superior brand of dry food.
Expecting a dog to run a few yards, catch a ball, adorning a lustrous coat, whelping several litters, running around the show ring several times is too simple a testimony for a dog's capabilities and its food. These requirements are a myopic view for what a good food and dog should be able to accomplish. Expect more from a dog than fractional measurements and gains. Expect performance and endurance demonstrated through competitive athleticism, a finely tuned sports car.
What is a precise measuring bar to determine the athletic output of a dog and the food it consumes? An analogy to use is; the body of the dog is the engine, food is the fuel. How the engine uses the fuel, what type of performance can one expect and how this is tested is the subject of the essay.
Part 1. BIOLOGY BASICS
An understanding of dog food components combined with a little basic biology is needed to make reasonable decisions when evaluating your dog's performance and the food you are using. Listed are the biology components in categorical order. Glucose, Protein, Carbohydrates, Fat, Water, Fatigue and Rest.
A. The Role of Glucose
Glucose is the only single sugar found in any quantity in the body. The other carbohydrates we eat are converted by the liver into glucose. Glucose is an absolutely indispensable component of blood. Normally, it is present in the blood and tissues of mammals in a concentration of about 0.1 per cent by weight. No particular harm results from a simple increase of glucose in the body, but a reduced concentration increases the irritability of certain brain cells, so that they respond to very slight stimuli. Because of impulses from these cells to the muscles, twitches, convulsions, unconsciousness and death may ensue. The metabolism of brain cells requires glucose for fuel, and a certain minimum concentration of glucose in the blood is necessary to supply this. There is an extremely complex mechanism involving the nervous system, liver, pancreas, pituitary and adrenal glands which maintain the proper concentration of glucose in the blood. (2)
The muscles are the mechanism that propels the dog forward. Muscles require energy to contract and the energy they require to fuel this contraction is glucose (a simple sugar). The blood maintains a supply of glucose that fluctuates up and down depending on the activity level of the dog. As activity increases, so does the supply of glucose. Animal starch called glycogen is stored in the muscles and liver and is readily converted into glucose by enzymatic action.
Protein is a necessity to build and maintain cell growth within the body, but the least desirable muscle fuel and is not stored like fats or carbohydrates. The conversion of protein to glucose yields less energy than fats and carbohydrates making it an expensive fuel. If used to produce sugar (when fats and carbohydrates stores are depleted), it is removed from the surrounding tissues and organs. Interestingly, it was found that performance dogs (sled dogs) required high levels of protein to maintain blood plasma levels for strenuous exercise. As the muscles increased in size, so did the capillaries, metabolic reactions and mitochondria volume (3) (a good example of the body utilizing proteins efficiently, yet not as a fuel).
Nonetheless, one should not underestimate the role of quality protein concerning performance, though the metabolism of protein is a last resort method to obtain glucose. Here is what you need to know about your dog food's protein content.
1. Its digestibility
2. The source of the protein
Not all types of protein in dog food are the same. Some dog foods contain protein that is not highly digestible. Ingredients in certain dry product may be sourced from by-product such as; chicken feathers, feet, cartilage, undesirable animal tissues. These are proteins (loosely defined) but pass through the gut with little benefit. A manufacturer may list the protein as 26%, however when consumed, the digestible protein percentage reduces to only 15%, maybe less. Easily digestible proteins, such as fresh, raw animal flesh are required. Dry dog food contains important nutrients, however raw flesh supplies higher digestibility and assimilates into the blood stream faster than dry product.
Because they are less expensive to obtain and manufacture, carbohydrate (rice, corn, wheat etc) is the bulk ingredient of dry product. There is much written material concerning the pros and cons of the usefulness of carbohydrate for canids; however, it is still an excellent supplier of glucose and the second most preferable fuel for muscle contraction.
Starches are broken down into smaller molecules by enzymes in the stomach and intestines when consumed by the dog. As glycogen (simple carbohydrate), they can be stored in the liver and muscle tissues yielding a higher output of energy than protein when metabolized into carbon dioxide and water.
The quality of carbohydrate in dry product is as important as other nutrients, yet not all carbohydrates are alike. For example, many dog food companies use brewer's rice. Changed from its original form, brewe's rice is a second hand carbohydrate; it is processed. What remains after processing is the less than desirable former quality. Some manufacturers use plain rice as a carbohydrate however, plain rice also has a problem in its binding effect. The best carbohydrate for dry product is human grade corn. Its yield and digestibility are the highest.
The role of glycogen (simple carbohydrate) is important for canine athletics. As the muscles adjust to the higher demands of training and athletic competition, they grow in mass and develop a phenomenon called muscle memory. In his essay, Effects of Diet on Performance-Performance Dog Nutrition Symposium, 1995, Arleigh J. Reynolds DVM Ph D writes, "High carbohydrate diets in conjunction with endurance training led to a twofold increase in the muscle glycogen concentration of human athletes. They also showed that at exercise intensities similar to those encountered during a marathon race, endurance was highly correlated with pre-exercise muscle glycogen concentration. By eating a high carbohydrate diet during training, human athletes could store more carbohydrate (glycogen) in their muscle and run for a longer time at a marathon race pace. This concept known as 'carbohydrate loading' has become a popular and successful strategy for human distance runners."
Even though "carbo loading"; is mostly applied to human athletics, the ability of canid muscles to utilize glycogen more efficiently has an important function as well. The muscles can easily deplete the glycogen stored in their tissues; therefore, athletic training develops muscle memory in canines too. As an exercise program develops for the dog, so does the ability of the muscles to learn more efficient uses of muscle glycogen storage, metabolism and waste removal. In short, development of metabolic strategies. The more training and athletic competition, the better strategies the muscles and the entire physiology of the dog learn to apply. However, there is a major difference in preference of fuels; humans use glycogen; dogs use fat.
D. Fat is King
There are places where fat is welcome besides the local greasy spoon eatery.
1. Fat plays an integral role in the metabolism of energy.
2. Adds palatability to food.
3. Is a structural element in the body.
4. Are stored underneath the skin as an insulator for heat and cold.
5. Most importantly, yield twice the energy per gram than carbohydrate. (4)
Fat is the fuel of choice for canines. No high-powered exercise program can be successful without high levels of fat as a major component in the food. Many dog foods are especially low in fat content, yet will suffice for the average dog. For the canine athlete, the reverse is the necessary. As activity is increased, the readily available glycogen stores in the muscles tissues diminish; subsequently the muscles cannot sustain rapid contractions without supplies of fat in reserve. For intense exercise, dry product containing low fat will not support the dog's energy consumption and leads to depleted sugar levels, resulting in fatigue.
Though fat is stored underneath the skin and within the muscle tissues for distribution of energy use, it requires constant replenishment. Two interesting facts surfaced when a training program began.
1. The Free Fatty Acids increased in the blood stream from a high fat diet (6)
2. The muscles re-adjusted and were able to utilize blood stream lipids more efficiently (6)
3. Additionally, a program of high exercise kept the flow of fats in the blood stream at higher levels - a self-tuning of the dog's body. (7)
E. Importance of Water
Keeping your dog adequately hydrated is critical in any exercise program; it is more important than food! Martin Lieberman in his book of essays Feed them well... Test them hard (5) says, 'If a dog losses 10% of his water weight I doubt that the dog can be saved.' Monitoring the water intake and out flow is critical.
Water is produced as a by-product from the metabolism of the fats, proteins and carbohydrates the dog eats, however, it is excreted in large volume during high levels of energy expenditures. Great amounts of water are depleted through respiration, salivation, urination and transfer of heat dissipated by the tongue. This loss of water can also vary depending on the surrounding ambient temperature. It is imperative to compensate water depletion with readily available water.(8)
The administration of water during an exercise program must be parceled sensibly. Never allow a dog to drink heavy amounts of water before, during or immediately after exercise. Keep ice cubes on hand at all times with the addition of potassium chloride - 2 tsp per 1L mixed in. A good method of checking whether your dog is properly hydrated - excerpt from Feed them well... Test Them Hard, 'Run your thumb or index finger along the gum line. The gum line should be wet and slippery. Additionally, pull the skin from the dog's body. If it snaps back easily, the dog is OK. If not, the dog is in trouble.
Fatigue is the enemy of all athletes; it severely limits the performance and endurance of any dog's athletic accomplishments. It is important to understand what fatigue is so it is recognized when undertaking an exercise program. Fatigue is- A muscle that has contracted many times exhausted its stores of organic phosphates and glycogen, and accumulated lactic acid, is unable to contract any more and is said to be fatigued. Fatigue is primarily induced by this accumulation of lactic acid, although animals feel fatigue before the muscle reaches the exhausted condition. (7)
A training program facilitates the muscle's ability to process:
1. Fats as the primary source of energy
2. Carbohydrates as a secondary source
3. More efficient elimination of toxins
By replacing old strategies when the dog was not involved with heavy exercise, training teaches the muscles to maximize their efficiency by developing better metabolic pathways. As training progresses, the muscles increase in size (larger blood vessels), and density. Pathways eliminating toxins (lactic acid) which build up during heightened exercise also increase. As mentioned previously (section one - part C), glycogen depletion is also a factor in diminishing the power of the muscles. Without training, the muscles quickly exhaust the existing glycogen stores and quickly become fatigued.
The unsung hero for an exercise program is rest. Without rest, there can be no repair of tissues or building of muscles. During the course of high volume exercise, the tissues are broken down from stress, strain, then repaired and replenished via the rest period. While at sleep, the system utilizes metabolized proteins which were broken down into their component amino acids to replace cells that were ruptured or destroyed during the dog's activities. To optimize the growth of muscles and the entire system, a day of rest is imperative; one day work, next day rest...one day work, next day rest is a good methodology to follow. Without a rest period, a dog is easily wasted.
Part 2: What and Who is tested?
Sitting on a house deck or ruining up and back in the show ring is no measure of a dog's athletic capabilities. Neither is the brilliant luster in a dog's coat a measure of a dog food, nor the amount of puppies a bitch can whelp. It is easy for many to pontificate. The former results are no more than fractional gains. Improvements such as, stronger bones, speed, endurance, greater athletic capabilities, general improved vigor and smaller stool volume through more efficient use of rations are achievable.
How can we accurately test a dog and its food? What type of dog should take this test to evaluate the food and the caliber of athleticism? First, there are two different types of dogs to test.
1. The dog that has had no prior training or special food.
2. The dog on a modified diet that begins an exercise program
It is best to test a dog that has had no prior athletic training or has not begun any special diet. This is a more accurate way to assess the dog's food and the raw athletics the dog has inherited from the pedigree. In short, a test for the dog's natural abilities. A dog that is on a special diet, has begun roadwork or other muscle-extending program has the advantage of a primed system that will skew the results positively.
Secondly, we can test two modalities for each dog in the above examples.
A. Explosive power.
Some might argue that raw testing of a dog will lead to the premature damage of muscles tendons or other tissues of the body. This is certainly possible; however, it is the most accurate way to test the natural athletics of the dog. To prevent possible trauma to the musculo / skeletal system, engage the dog in a 5-minute warm up by trotting in a circle at the end of a lead.
Modality A. Explosive power
Explosive power is From a static position, a sudden burst of energy initiating volatile push. Examples of this are weight pulling, running recall from a platz, or sit position, the courage test, retrieving the dumbbell and jumping the six-foot wall. These examples require the dog to power up from a static point to a sudden explosive thrust in an instant.
How can explosive power be measured? There are two possibilities. One most often used and easily quantified is to measure the weight a dog can pull. This means of explosive power is measured at weight pulling contests. The dogs are tasked with measurable weights and required to pull them a specific distance. The more weight, the more power the dog can generate.
Second, and less obvious, is by noting the time it takes for the dog to go from point A to point B, a 50-yard distance using a stopwatch. Interestingly, different breeds will produce varying results. However, certain factors influencing the outcome are fundamental to all breeds.
1. Temperament of the dog
All dogs react differently. The slow, lethargic dog will not be inclined to exert itself and is not a good candidate for working. The energetic dog (best type for working temperament) reacts quickly and enthusiastically.
2. Poorly muscled dog
This dog may engage the exercise with enthusiasm, but has difficulty with the response time. Improvement in response time will occur with an exercise program.
3. Overweight dog
This type may make the effort, but the extra baggage hinders the response time. Improvement occurs when the additional pounds are reduced.
4. A medical or musculo / skeletal problem
Dogs, which have hip, bone or cruciates problems, are not good candidates for obvious reasons; the former problems impede them and may reveal additional hidden malfunctions through this process. Dogs with medical problems such as: digestive disorders, hormonal imbalances, heart conditions etc. are also not viable candidates.
Modality B. Endurance - the ultimate athletic test
Although explosive power tests the Sudden burst of energy a dog can output at a specific point in time, dogs possessing explosive power may not be able to sustain this energy repeatedly. For example, a dog in mediocre physical condition, with weak muscling, eating a poor quality dog food is still capable of explosive power but the burst of energy may not be of high capacity or may not be sustainable. The ultimate test of a dog and its food is the endurance test!
It is important to define the type of endurance. An uninterrupted action which sustains a rapid yet steady contraction of the musculo/skeletal system such as: the Ausdauerprufung (AD), road work, herding, cattle droving, sled racing and is a minimum of twenty minutes in duration.
The endurance test challenges the dog and its food by demanding the highest output from both. Explosive power will only task the energy reserves and muscles to a specific point. After arriving at that point, a brief moment, the whole system can rest and recoup its losses. In an endurance venue, there is no rest, no time to recharge.
Unlike other athletic endeavors, endurance exercise exerts great demand on the entire system of the dog by tasking the upper limitations for the heart and lungs, musculo /skeletal system, cardio-vascular system, the food it eats and temperament. Any failure among these components together or individually will result in poor or limited performance, maybe complete shut down.
An endurance test examines the following areas by asking these questions:
1. Is the dog getting enough proteins, carbohydrates or fats in the diet?
2. Is the quality of nutrients high enough to replenish what the body has metabolized?
3. Is the food just maintaining the dog or is the dog loosing weight?
4. Is there an abundance of one ingredient?
Other questions concerning the physical condition of the dog are answerable.
1. Is the dog overweight or underweight?
2. What is the cardio-vascular state of the dog?
3. Is the dog structurally capable to enter this endeavor?
The test is simple and extraordinarily revealing. Take your dog/bitch and run it 5 miles, at a pace between 4-8 mph (depending on the stride of the dog; large dogs have a longer stride than shorter dogs) without any rest period on a road. This road must include a hill with slight incline, varying surfaces such as dirt, sand, asphalt, or pebbles. The time taken to complete the test is 1 hr. or less.
The test should be on a cool, cloudy day, but can also be in the early evening. Since the core body temperature (average 101.5-102.5) of the dog rises dramatically from the intense exercise, the ambient temperature outside should not be over 75-degrees. The humidity should not be excessive either.
This test will make obvious, the pluses of your dog and the food. It will also reveal the not so desirable characteristics of your dog, including the inadequacies of the food, if any.
A dog in good health, structurally sound, with correct temperament and fed a diet supplying at least adequate nutrients, will have no problems with this test.
It is a modified form of the German Ausdauerprufung without addition of the grueling 7.5 miles. The AD was designed to weed out inferior specimens possessing structural faults and does a good job of doing that. However, it does not take into account the nutritional requirements needed to complete it or certain observations dealing with nutrition.
Dogs not candidates
1. Do not use a dog that has previously been road worked. This skews the test in the dog's favor; the accuracy is dubious.
2. Do not use an overweight dog. Because of the extra baggage, this dog will fail the test immediately.
3. Any dog that is sick i.e.: diabetic, hormonal imbalance etc, or has an obvious structural malady (limping, cruciates problem etc.) is not a candidate.
The Tested Systems of the Dog
A. Structural (angulation, feet, pasterns, croup set, neck set, proportions etc.)
A dog possessing sound structure will prevail. Its bones and musculature can withstand the stresses and pounding because its design performs according to the laws of physics '2the most efficient locomotion with the least amount of effort.'
For a dog to pass the test, it must have the minimum musculature (the engine / power train of the dog) and adequate tensile strength within the ligaments and tendons holding the muscles to the bones. This also includes correct thickness for the pads of the feet.
C. Internal Organs
The harmonious synergy of the heart and lungs, digestive system, blood vessels, kidneys/urinary system is vital.
Nutritional values within the food (adequate proteins, carbohydrates, fats) to fuel the muscles and sustain the dog for the test.
A willingness to perform.
Part 3: Evaluating the Results
Revealing covert problems
Any dog not structurally sound will develop a problem somewhere within component A, B or both. From a previous Canine Workshop article AKC Structure vs. European type, 7/01,
;By gaiting a dog only once around the ring we will see obvious problems that were noted during the critique segment. However, to determine a hidden problem in structure not apparent during the up and back or side gait, one must observe the dog while it expends greater amounts of energy.
While traversing the ring 8-15 times, underlying faults become apparent. Hidden problems with joints, tendons or muscles will surface when the dog is pushed to exert itself. The correctly built dog, overtly or covertly will show no signs of problems though it endured sustained running time.
Examples of the former statement are several dogs that were immediately excused after they started in a particular AD test. One developed a hock problem, the other a hyper-extended shoulder. Not surprisingly, these problems occurred .05 miles into the test; showing that the two dogs had a covert structural condition revealed by the test.
Any area of the dog with a covert problem will become apparent during this test. Hocks, shoulders, low pasterns, poor cruciates, thin pads, hidden weaknesses surface from this repetitive action. Even dogs that have no structural problems but have incorrect proportions according to the standard will eventually demonstrate their limits and fatigue early.
The Nutritional Component
In the area of nutrition, dogs fed marginal rations will not be able to sustain the rigors of this test. Because of an inadequate energy resource, these foods fall drastically short from a competition viewpoint, resulting in early fatigue. Low priced dog foods do not meet the high standards necessary for the competitive edge.
Attitude and fire are necessary components of the dog's temperament; otherwise, no dog will perform willingly. This willingness to perform is an inherited attribute in any working dog temperament and essential to the general performance. Dogs without this attitude cannot endure the rigors of the test and eventually fall far short of the finish line. An additional aspect to this test is observing whether this trait is present in the dog. In the beginning of the test, it is not apparent, but after the midway point, when energy reserves fall, the dog with proper working temperament will push on, the dog lacking this trait will succumb.
The factor of fatigue is important. It must be determined what is causing fatigue; be it poor nutrition or buildup of lactic acid?
If the dog slows down, starting to lag, yet makes the effort, a nutrition problem may exist; the blood sugar levels have fallen from depleted energy reserves. Improving the quality of food will make a difference. If the dog slows down from cramped muscles, it is a buildup of lactic acid. Providing a daily exercise program will improve and greatly diminish muscle cramping.
Part 4: Summary
Now, armed with a basic knowledge of the biology for muscle contraction, utilization of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, including the overall performance of the dog during and after the test, one can re-assess their dog.
Some may argue this test does not relate to the average dog. That is correct. This test is for the working dog, A working dog is designed to work. It must withstand reasonable stresses and strains of a working environment. No tool has value unless it is used and can perform what its design specifies. One should not design a performance car and then leave it in the garage untested. One should not own a working dog simply for its appearance. Many enjoy the trappings and mystique; that come with owning a working dog, but will not test, or demand performance minimums. Finding out that their dog may fall below standard when tested can be a wake up call that many do no want to hear. This requires a hard, objective look at the dogs they own. It is easier to remain with the fantasy.
The way to improve our dogs is by testing what the dog can or cannot do; revealing the potential of the dog's performance. After making these assessments, remove from the gene pool inferior specimens that cannot pass the test. Breed to those dogs that pass testing and improve the breeding stock through a process of elimination.
1. Hinchcliff, Kenneth W., B.V.S, M.S. Ph D., Performance Dog Nutrition Symposium, page 5, Sponsored by the Iams Co. 1995.
2. Ville, Claude A. Harvard University, Biology, W. B Saunders Co Publisher 1964, page 26.
3. Reynolds, Arleigh J., DVM, Ph.D., Performance Dog Nutrition Symposium, page 13, Sponsored by the Iams Co. 1995.
4. Ville, Claude A., Harvard University, Biology, W. B Saunders Co Publisher, 1964, page 28.
5. Lieberman, Martin J., Feed them Well... Test Them Hard, 1997.
6-7. Reynolds, Arleigh J., DVM, Ph.D., Performance Dog Nutrition Symposium, page 17, Sponsored by the Iams Co. 1995.
8. Dorosz, Edmund R. BSA, DVM, Water, Net pets, <www.netpets .com/dogs/reference/food/water>
9. Wolfson, Steve, AKC Structure vs. European Type, Canine Workshop, 7/01.