Health & Nutrition | Dogs | March 26, 2020

Feeding the Working or Performance Dog – Myth vs Reality

Feeding the Working or Performance Dog

Many dogs these days are getting involved in the various dog sports and activities available. From dock diving, agility, flyball and ski-joring, to the more serious dogs who lead busy lives working for a living, there have been many theories over the years of the best way for feeding the working or performance dog. As a result, many myths about the best way to feed these active/busy canines have developed.

Myth 1: Dogs don’t need carbs

Reality: While dietary carbohydrates are not considered essential for dogs, carbs act as a quick energy source which is beneficial to working and sport dogs.  Moderate carb levels provide quick energy while allowing protein to be used for muscle function and repair.  Dietary fibre, a type of carbohydrate, is also useful in stabilizing gut motility in hard working dogs.

Read More: Do Dogs Need Carbohydrates?

Myth 2: High fat levels in my working dog’s food will make him fat

Reality: Fat supplies more than double the calories of protein or carbohydrate, and is the best way to provide the extra energy needed for endurance exercise. Dietary fat can be utilized for energy rather than depleting protein stores needed for muscle maintenance and repair.

Myth 3: Dogs need to eat before they work

Reality: Timing of your dog’s meals is important.  Dogs fasted for 6 – 12 hours and up to 24 hours before exercise should perform well as they have the ability to use energy stores from previous meals while avoiding having to work on a full stomach.  When dogs are fed 6 -12 hours prior to hard work, they use more carbs and fats rather than protein for energy, which helps maintain muscle mass.

Read More: A Day in the Life of a Service Dog

Myth 4: Dogs should eat immediately after working

Reality: Within 30 minutes after prolonged intensive work, feeding a carbohydrate supplement replenishes energy stores in the liver and muscle.

Normal feeding should occur after the dog shows signs of recovery from the exercise (e.g. heart rate and breathing return to normal).

When hard working dogs are fed post-exercise, the protein in their diet provides amino acids to help rebuild muscle.

Myth 5: Choosing the right food is complicated

Reality: Dogs participating in endurance exercise need more energy and protein in their diet than dogs doing sprint-type exercise. The below chart shows the recommended diet composition for canine sprint and endurance athletes. If you prefer to feed a lower fat diet for your endurance-trained dog, you can always supplement as needed to gain the extra calories.

Diet Composition for Canine Athletes

Myth 6: My dog must have lots of meat protein in his diet

Reality: As long as your dog receives a balanced diet that provides all of the essential amino acids and protein in the required amounts, the source of the protein does not matter.

Read More: How Much Protein is Enough in Dog Food?

The dog’s body does not distinguish between different sources of amino acids, so both plant and animal protein sources can be used to meet requirements. However, it may be difficult to meet the higher protein requirements for working dogs using only plant-based proteins.



Wakshlag & Shmalberg. Nutrition for working and service dogs. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2014;44:719-740, vi.