Feeding & Conditioning Your DogYour best friend needs your support to ensure he’s ready for the hunting season. Has he been a couch dog all winter and spring? If so, you need to execute a conditioning plan immediately. A hunting dog’s desire is often greater than his heart or lung capability. If not conditioned properly, this desire can lead to serious injury or death.Let’s begin with the fuel that runs the engine. There are many dog foods on the market today which are advertised to the sporting dog owner. Most dog foods have the basic nutrient groups, i.e., water, carbs, fat, vitamins and minerals; however, it’s the level and quality of each nutrient that separates Native from the other brands.Native Performance Dog Food excels in quality ingredients. Native uses only the highest quality natural meats and grains with no corn, wheat or soy and no by-products. The Native aim is to deliver to your dog the most bio-available ingredients to ensure maximum nutrient digestibility with low stool volume and a long and quality life.The two ingredients typically listed at the top of every dog food ingredient label are protein and fat. Protein is usually listed first and has a higher content than fat. What is the purpose of protein? Protein is important to every single cell in a dog’s body (and your body). It is an important building block for healthy bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. When your dog is working hard, tissue is being broken down and needs to be continuously repaired. Protein is responsible for this repair work. Protein is a macronutrient; along with fat and carbohydrates. A body, however, does not store protein as it does fat and carbs. This means a body needs a large and steady supply since there is no back-up supply to draw from. Thus, protein must have a high content level in your dog food.Protein can be obtained from both animal matter and vegetable matter. For my dogs, I personally like getting the high protein source from chicken. Animal matter delivers protein more efficiently than vegetable matter.The second ingredient listed on a dog food label is fat. Fat is what delivers energy. The formula is simple: fat equals calories and calories equal energy. Also, fat has over twice the calories of carbohydrates or protein per gram which makes fat very important (since it results in energy) for the canine athlete. As with protein, chicken is a very efficient provider of fat.Native is the only dog food that provides a level system of protein and fat to meet the exercise and stress demands for year-round feeding. If you’ve been using the old fashioned system of feeding your dog less during off-season and feeding more just prior to hunting season, then you need to look at Native. The change in quantity of food is not good for your dog’s digestive system.Here’s how the Native system works. There are four levels. Each level has the same ingredients. What changes with each level is the protein/fat level. Therefore, you don’t change the quantity of food to achieve greater protein/fat content, you simply change the level. Level 1 has a 24/14 protein/fat content and is formulated for the dog getting only 2-3 days of exercise per week. Level 2 has a 26/16 protein/fat content and is for the dog getting 2-3 days of vigorous activity per week. I use Level 2 as a maintenance dog food for off-season. Level 3 provides the magic 30/20 protein/fat content that satisfies most of our bird dog hunting season requirements. Level 4 offers 35/25 protein/fat content and is used by many professional guides who run their dogs several days each week. Again, with the Native level system, you do not need to upset the digestive system of your dog by changing the quantity or by changing brands and content. Check out Native and locate a dealer.There is more to a good feeding program than just ensuring your dog gets a high quality food. Research by dog food scientists show that it takes at least eight weeks for the beneficial change in protein/fat level to be effective. Therefore, if your hunting season begins October 1st, you need to make the change August 1st.We’ve covered the fuel that runs the engine, now let’s put the engine to work. The heart and lungs are the key parts in that engine. And those parts are inter-related. The heart muscles feed off oxygenated blood from the lungs. Both the heart and the lungs must be in excellent condition before the beginning of the season.I exercise my dogs almost every day of the year. It may only be one mile of walking for me (three for dogs), but we hardly ever miss a day of exercise. That program is stepped-up in mid to late July. Since July and August are hot months, we exercise in the morning before either of us have breakfast. By mid-August, we’re doing three miles (nine for the dogs) per day and by mid-September, we’re shooting for five miles (15 for the dogs) per day. This puts both of us in prime shape for an October 1st opener.You, the hunter, must look at yourself in the same manner we’ve looked at the feeding and conditioning of your dog. You want to enjoy the hunt and that enjoyment will be greater if you’re also eating well and have conditioned your heart, lungs and legs. If you haven’t studied human nutrition, make an appointment with a nutritionist. It’s not about eating a candy bar mid-morning…it’s about a solid foundation of proper food.Be sure that both you and your dog have a well conditioned heart and lungs before the season begins and you’ll find the hunt to be much more enjoyable…and safe.Paul Fuller is a lifelong sportsman. He’s been an outdoor writer since 1971. He’s the host and producer of the award winning Bird Dogs Afield TV show (www.birddogsafield.com) and produced the epic video Grouse, Guns & Dogs. Paul shot over his first German short-haired pointer in 1961.