This month I am taking a little different approach focusing on our four-legged family members. For many of us, our dogs are our fur-babies and beloved running companions. We enjoy miles with them out on the trails and want to make sure they are well taken care of.
My family welcomed a puppy just about a year ago, and as a first-time dog owner, it has been a journey and I am learning a lot. In our first months together, we were able to figure out some of the basics of puppy care like potty-training, kennel training, and basic obedience and tricks mostly through You-Tube videos, tips from friends, and advice from our veterinarian. But in the last couple of months, my dog entered adolescence and we started getting frustrated with some challenging behaviors and I had lots of questions about how best to care for our dog on longer and longer adventures on the trails and in the snow.
Thankfully I found an amazing team at Buddy Dog Training and Care in Truckee to help. We opted to do a one on one training sessions with Lilith Erlenbusch, the owner of Buddy Dog Care, and also signed up for a week long Board and Train program in which our dog stayed with Michael and Jen Raffaeli (aka Team Alaska). Their approach uses positive reinforcement to train dogs and they taught us how to create a stronger connection to our dog, which was a great fit for our ethos of dog ownership.
Michael and Jen have an extensive history working with athletic dogs specifically raising, training, and racing dog sled teams. Working with them set this experience apart for me as not only did they teach me and my dog some new skills, they also shared advice and resources on how to care for the special needs of endurance performance dogs through pages and pages of emails and in person discussion. They are true experts, excellent teachers, and were very patient with all of my newbie questions. They have given me permission to share their advice and resources with the DPMR family and I have done my best to summarize below.
Feeding and Nutrition: First off, the best ways to tell a dog is getting proper nutrition are based on weight, coat, stools, and energy. Chart below shows how to determine if your dog is ideal weight. Your dog’s coat should be shiny, not dry. Stools should be formed but not dry. Your dog should have good energy while running.
One of the big things we focused on for our sled dogs in training was ensuring that they had enough protein and fat to burn for energy since sled dogs metabolize fats the way humans use carbohydrates for energy while exercising. We fed a 32% protein kibble in winter and supplemented with a lot of fat (a tri fat blend made up of a mix of vegetable oil, fish oil, and chicken fat to provide the right balance of omega 3 and 6) due to the cold temperatures on the trail. An example of a tri fat blend oil is Ultra Oil Skin and Coat Supplement which can be added to daily feeding. In summer we fed around 26-28% protein and much less fat during the warmer months. Some of the brands of kibble that we have fed and like for our sled dogs over the years include Dr. Tim’s Momentum, Annamaet, and Red Paw.
It is important to consider the timing of feeding too. You never want to feed a dog immediately before or after strenuous exercise. Give at least 1 hour to digest meals before strenuous activity and allow time to cool down after before feeding her a big meal. Training treats/ snacks are fine before, during and after exercise. We snack sled dog teams all the time with small meals as they are running.
After puppyhood, dogs are typically fed larger meals two times a day. The only downfall to feeding larger meals 2x daily is that some dogs can eat very quickly. Dogs that eat quickly, especially large, deep chested dogs like huskies and labs are more susceptible to bloat (aka gastric dilation volvulus or GDV) which can cause a life-threatening situation. Here is a basic summary of bloat https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/health/dog-bloat-causes-signs-and-symptoms/. One way to prevent a dog from eating quickly is to use an interactive feeder like the Outward Hound Slow Feeder.
You can also consider adding supplemental raw food. You can feed fruits and veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes, blueberries, etc, if your dog enjoys them. You can also add additional proteins for treats like peanut butter, cottage cheese, sardines, and raw bones from a local butcher. Bones are important as they keep teeth and gums clean and healthy and are better than anything else we have found. They also keep a dog happy and entertained for a good amount of time. This free recipe book download from Furbal Remedies has some more ideas and information on adding in raw foods.
The other thing to focus on for athletes, of course, is hydration. Dogs should always be offered free water throughout the day. A product that is well tested for post run recovery is Annamaet Glycocharge. You might consider feeding your dog water baited with this after long runs especially in the summer months.
Annamaet also makes a great joint supplement product called “Endure” which dogs may need as they get older. The veterinarians we worked with felt that green lipped mussel sources of joint support were one of the few that is actually usable for a dog’s body. In addition, they make a powdered protein supplement called “Impact” that we used to use to increase protein and calories for our sled dogs when they were maxing out on kibble to provide the calories they needed. (https://annamaet.com/products/)
One of the primary sled dog (and canine athletes in general) nutrition researchers is Arleigh Reynolds. He is a long-time sprint racing dog musher and researcher with University of Alaska Fairbanks and Cornell. His research is often funded by Purina, but he is first and foremost a dog musher and a researcher and he won’t back anything that hasn’t presented the data and first-hand experience he is looking for in his dogs. Keep in mind that “sprint” racing for dogs is often 20-25 miles at 25-25mph. Distance racing sled dogs typically do 50 mile runs at about 8-12mph with 4-6 hours rest and then repeat throughout a 1,000-mile race in the middle of harsh Alaska winter conditions so the feeding program we put dogs on is going to be different than what is best for a dog accompanying a runner on the trail at various lengths. Nutrition should be individualized based on the dog’s level of activity. This link has helpful nutrition advice for a wide range of athletic dog breeds based on Arleigh’s research. (https://www.purinaproplanvets.com/media/1463/getresourceaxd-11.pdf)
Dog Care in the Snow:
If you notice that your dog starts forming lots of snowballs on leg fur or paws, you may want to consider purchasing Absorbine spray. Comb it through the fur before going outside to help prevent/ reduce snowballs forming. We used it with success on long haired sled dogs in Alaska and have recommended it to several folks to try out here on their dogs this winter.
We also recommend booties to protect paws from snowballing. There are two brands we like: the finished top Mountain Ridge Booties and these Denier Cordura Booties. These mushing style booties are much simpler and lighter weight than typical pet dog booties and dogs tend to tolerate them and keep them on better in the snow. Use the size chart on the website to determine the right size. Purchase a couple extra as they will eventually wear out and get holes and can come off or get lost in really deep snow until you perfect your technique for putting them on. We recommend the 300 or 500 Denier Cordura booties…don’t ever get the fleece ones.
Booties are for protection from snowballs not for warmth. In certain snow conditions when the snow is fresh or sticky, snow can ball up between the paw pads much like a rock stuck in a shoe and cause discomfort while running and even damage to the paw. Only use the booties as needed. It is best to leave booties off in icy conditions to allow the dog to use the texture of their pads in addition to their nails to gain as much traction as possible and reduce the risk of slipping and pulling a muscle. Booties or paw wax like Musher’s Secret would also provide protection from ice melt salt that can be harmful to paws.
Jen demonstrates how to put on booties in videos found on Buddy Dog Care’s Blog https://www.buddydogcare.com/post/booties-protect-paws. My dog Zorii is the pup seen in the video 🙂
I hope that this summary has been enlightening but, if you are like me and still have questions specific to your canine running companion or need help with dog training, I encourage you to seek out Buddy Dog Training and Care services directly. They are a wonderful team and worth the time and money we spent with them.
Meggie and Zorii