March 1, 2016

New Zealand farm working dogs. 12. Dog Trials

  By Dr Clive Dalton

Photo of 'Old Hemp' bred in Northumberland (UK) and now has his DNA in dog trial and working dogs around the world.

Dog trials have been part of New Zealand life since the establishment of sheep farming.  The late Neil Rennie’s research found that the first NZ trial was probably held at Wanaka in 1867 although it was not reported in the press. 

However, Neil found a trial reported in the Oamaru Times (now the Oamaru Mail) of July 9, 1869 as the third trial held on June 22-23 at Wanaka.  So these trials certainly outdated what was considered to be the world's first dog trial at Bala in North Wales in 1873!  Neil was always very thrilled with this historical fact!

The first trials were a bit sporadic, and it wasn't until dog trial clubs were formed that regular events took place.  The first trial, which included huntaway events Neil found was at Black Forest station in 1870.

Dog trialing in NZ is controlled by the NZ Sheep Dog Trial Association which is made up of affiliated member clubs with meetings starting with the summer A&P shows and culminating in regional and national finals in about June.  There are shepherds trial and maiden dog trials for the less experienced held throughout the year.

Dog trialing, while still an important way to select top dogs, has through Television become a competitive sport with great public interest.

Entry qualifications for trials
The only qualification for a dog to enter a trial is its ability to work sheep.  Pedigree, colour, age or sex are not important.  Handlers can be of any age and there is no sex discrimination!  Competitors must be the bona fide owner of the dog being run, and should have owned the dog for at least 6 weeks before the competition.

Each trial has its rules of entry. At some you may have to pre-enter some days before with runs pre-scheduled to keep to a strict timetable.  In others you enter on the day but may have to wait till dusk to compete!

Most trial organisations now insist that dogs have a current hydatids treatment certificate

Check the rules
It's very important for competitors to check the rules of the particular SDTA before they start.  You can get them from any Dog Trail Club secretary and are fairly common to all trials.  However, there may be some non-standard events which are displayed at the trial. 

In almost all NZ trials one dog works three sheep.  The running of "doubles" where a shepherd works two dogs or more is a British practice and is only used here for television presentations to provide more entertainment for the viewer. 

Standard classes
There are four main standard classes for trials run under the NZSDTA.

Class 1: - Heading dogs - long head or long pull.
The competitor and dog stands in a ring from 200-500m in diameter, and in a direct line away from where three sheep are set free by a "liberator" or "slipper".  When the judge calls "time" the dog is sent on its "outrun" or "cast".  It should be free-running and the dog should not waver, tack or stop.  Most long-head runs start on a hill and finish on the flat, depending on the trial location.

A pear-shaped outrun is ideal and it can be to the left or right of the handler.  Generally most courses favour a right-hand cast.  A very wide outrun as used in a big paddock is not wanted but it's also important that the dog does not run so direct at the sheep that it panics them and they take flight.

When the dog completes the outrun, it should stop in such a position that when the sheep move, they come in a straight line to the handler.  This is known as "stopping on balance," before the dog "lifts" the sheep or starts them moving.

The dog now executes the "pull" or drive the sheep straight towards the handler.  The sheep should not stop on their journey and the pull is completed when the sheep enter the ring where the handler stands.  This is the "hold" and is "claimed" by the handler standing still with outstretched arms.  After the "claim" the judge will call "right".

To go for the perfect hold the handler moves around the sheep as they enter the ring so the final scene is the sheep facing the dog with the handler behind them. 

The time allocated for this event is usually about 9 - 14 minutes.

Class 2: - Heading dogs - short head and yard

The competitor and dog stand in a pegged quadrangle or "quad".  As in Class 1, the dog makes an outrun and pulls the sheep to the handler, entering the quad between the front markers.  Even if the sheep escape, they must be taken back to enter the quad through "the front door", and the handler cannot leave the quad until this is completed.

Competitor and dog then move the sheep along a pegged 20m-wide lane towards two parallel hurdles.  They cannot stray outside the lane on this "first drive".  The handler can move across "the drive" but shouldn't get ahead of the shoulder of the leading sheep or move backwards.

Points are lost for excessive movement or running, or for the competitor and dog changing sides during the drive.  This first drive ends at a peg in the middle of the lane, 10m away from the hurdles through which the sheep have got to be driven.

After all the sheep have passed the peg, the handler may move about freely to help the dog drive the sheep through the hurdles.  The sheep are now in the "free working area" ready to pass through the hurdles that are 3m apart.  All sheep and the handler must pass through the hurdles.  So if any slip past, they must be brought back.

The "second drive" is similar to the first and ends at a line 10m from the yard.  Once over this line, the competitor can go to the 2m square yard and open the gate until it hits a stop that prevents it opening more than 90 degrees.  Once the hand is on the gate, it cannot be released until the sheep are completely inside the pen.

The gate cannot be used to frighten the sheep and drive them in.  That's the dog's job!  No part of the competitor, including the stick which must be no more than 1m long, is permitted to come forward of the line extending along the gate and out from its head.  Only behind this line can the competitor move about to assist the dog.

The run is completed when the sheep are penned and the gate shut.  The time for this event is usually about 10 - 14 minutes.

Class 3:  Huntaways - Zigzag hunts

For the "zigzag" or "huntaway with slew" the competitor stands at the bottom of the course, usually in a pegged area and facing a steep hill.  Three sheep are liberated at the top of the course and at the call of "time" the trial starts.

The competitor directs the dog to hunt the sheep in a straight line through the first two pegs marked on the course.  The sheep must then change direction or "slew" towards a second set of makers and then proceed to the top markers in line with the first.

The dog must "face-up" to the sheep.  In other words it must bark at the sheep, and not at the handler.

The time for this event is usually around 8 - 10 minutes.

Class 4:  Huntaways - straight hunt

This begins in the same way as the zigzag but the only markers are those at the top of the course.  The sheep have to be hunted directly to the centre of these top markers - in as straight a line as possible.

At some trials, class 3 and 4 are run on the same course, with the two sets of markers being ignored for the straight hunt.

Time allowed for this event is usually about 8 - 10 minutes.

General points
·      The aim of trials is to demonstrate a high level of stock handling and dog control.
·      The challenge is to be able to assess quickly the sheep's strengths and weaknesses.
·      The aim is to direct force at stock from a distance.  The dog must be careful but firm.
·      The first contact of the dog with the sheep is a critical time and must be accomplished with great care.
·      There is no disgrace in not finishing a run.  It's better to withdraw with grace than hound some other person's sheep to injury or exhaustion.
·      Withdrawal is indicated by a wave to the judge or walking off the course.  If you cannot control the sheep, then leave them for the officials to handle.

Judges are all experienced dog trialists who aim to judge each run with impartiality and to a uniform standard.  Judging in nearly all NZ trials is by one judge who takes points off the perfect score of 100.  There are a large number of reasons to deduct points.  Here are some major ones:

·      Not completing the run.
·      A dog that loses concentration and stops to sniff an area or urinate.
·      A huntaway that shows inattention to the sheep, eg looks back and barks at the handler called "barking off the stock".
·      A heading dog that makes a slow outrun without much purpose
·      A heading dog that bites sheep.

Cattle dog trials
Although sheep dogs work cattle, trials to demonstrate this skill have not been popular in New Zealand.

The Stud Book
The NZ Sheepdog Stud Book, in which all dogs that win trials can be entered started in 1940.  It is run by a stud book committee and a registrar. 

Further information
New Zealand Sheep Dog Trail Association, PO Box 307, Hastings, New Zealand.

Further reading
Burns, M and Fraser, M.N. (1966).  Genetics of the Dog.  London: Oliver and Boyd

Dalton, D.C.(1983).  Farm Working Dogs.  Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries AgLink advisory leaflets.  FPP 613, 695, 696, 697, 698,699, 700, 701, 702, 703,704, 775.

Fox, M.W. (1965).   Canine Behaviour. Springfield: C.C. Thomas.

Fox, M.W. (1972).   Understanding Your Dog. New York: Coward. McCann and Geoghegan.

Kelly, R.B. (1958).   Sheep Dogs. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

Longton, T and Hart, E (1969).   Your Sheep Dog and its Training.  Battle (Sussex):  Alan Exley.

Lorenz, K (1953)   Man Meets Dog.  London:  Penguin Books.

Rennie, N (1984).   Working dogs.  Shortland Publications, Auckland NZ.  96p

Scott. J.P. and Fuller, J.L. (1965).  Genetics and Social Behaviour of the Dog.  Chicago: University of Chicargo Press.

New Zealand farm working dogs. 11. The Law and your Dog

 By Dr Clive Dalton

The law
Ownership of a working dog carries with it some clearly-defined legal responsibilities under current legislation.  Your main responsibilities are to:

·      Make sure a dog is registered and that the certificate is in a secure place and readily available.
·      Have collars, discs, or tags for all dogs and make sure they wear them at all times.
·      Notify any change of address, either permanent or temporary if you move, or if you sell the dog.
·      Ensure discs or labels are not tampered with.
·      Present all dogs for treatment for hydatids as required.
·      Keep dogs under control at all times.
·      Make certain dogs are well housed.
·      Ensure dogs are well fed.

The dog is also covered under legislation that states that an animal must be provided with adequate food, water, and shelter, and given adequate exercise.  Ill-treating your dog or cruelly ill-treating it is an offence under the law.

All dogs must be registered annually with a "territorial authority" such as a borough council, county council, district council or city council, or a hydatids and dog control authority acting on behalf of these.  All farm dogs over 3 months of age must be registered. 

The fees vary with each territorial authority and some charge lower fees for working dogs and neutered dogs.  You are not allowed to shop round for the cheapest authority - you register your dog where you live! 

Proof of ownership, other than the owner's certificate is the label or disc that the dog should wear at all times.  This shows:
·      The territorial authority where the dog is registered.
·      Year of registration, also shown by the colour of the tag.
·      The dog's ownership number.

New collars can be purchased from the authority.  Old ones can be used provided the current label or tag is firmly attached.  If a collar or disc is lost, you can apply to the authority for a replacement and you'll have to pay for it. 

Remember that if a dog is found without a collar, it will be "deemed as unregistered" until you can prove the contrary.

Selling a dog
When selling a dog, if it's under 3 months of age, there is no obligation to register it before sale.  If you sell the dog when over 3 months of age you must notify the territorial authority in writing within 14 days that the dog has been sold.  There's no fee charged for change of ownership. 

When selling a dog you must:
·      Give the new owner a current treatment certificate showing that the dog has been treated for hydatids in the last 42 days.
·      Provide the authority with the name and address of the new owner and the address where the dog in normally kept.

Buying a dog
If you buy a dog under 3 months of age, the vendor doesn't have to produce a hydatids treatment certificate.  As a new owner you must:

·      Register the dog before it's 3 months old
·      If over 3 months old, get the original owner to provide a certificate to show the dog has been treated for hydatids in the last 42 days.
·      Notify the territorial authority in writing within 14 days of purchase the name of the authority the dog came from.

Moving with your dog
If you move within the same territorial authority, then notify the territorial authority of your address change, in writing, within 14 days .

If you move to a new authority, notify them in writing within 6 weeks of moving where the dog came from.   Then inform the authority you have just left that you've moved, and give them the new address where the dog is kept.  It would pay to do this in writing too.

These two situations are important for stockpersons doing casual work and for those having dogs on trial before purchase.  It's also important for people traveling outside their district to always carry their dogs' hydatids treatment certificate. It should show that treatment has been carried out within the last 42 days.

Control of dogs
This part of the act is important for farm dogs.  It covers the fact that dogs must be kept under control at all times.  If a dog is considered to be out of control, then a number of things can happen.  Important examples are:

·      A Dog Control Officer can impound it.
·      The occupier of the land on which the dog is found can impound it.
·      If the dog is in a public place from which dogs are prohibited, anyone can seize the dog, or arrange for it to be seized and impounded.
·      Anyone can impound a dog (or dogs) if they consider it to be causing distress, annoyance, and damage to property other than the owners.
The occupier of land where a dog causes a nuisance can either return the dog to its owner or hand it over to a Dog Control Officer or Dog Ranger.

Barking dogs
If a barking dog has been reported to a Dog Control Officer or Dog Ranger, and there are reasonable grounds to believe that its barking constitutes a nuisance, an officer or ranger can:

·      Enter the land or premises (other than a dwelling house) at any reasonable time to inspect the conditions under which the dog is kept.

·      Give the owner a written notice requiring him/her to abate the nuisance or remove the dog.  The owner may object within 7 days.

Disqualification from ownership
A territorial authority may apply to a court to disqualify a person from owning a dog if convicted of a range of listed offences in the legislation.

Dogs attacking people or livestock or rushing at vehicles
Anyone who sees a dog attack stock or poultry, or who is themselves attacked, can either seize the dog or destroy it immediately.  Note that police dogs are exempt!  Once you have seized the dog, you must hand it over to its owner or to a Dog Control Officer or Ranger.

If you cannot catch the dog, you may call a police officer who can shoot it.  It need not be caught in the act for this to happen, but the office must have reasonable ground for believing the attacks took place.

The police officer is empowered to destroy the dog only if he/she is unable to seize it.

Dangerous dogs at large
It is an offence for owners of a dangerous dog to have it at large without a suitable muzzle.  A "dangerous dog" is one that has attacked people, stock, poultry or property of any kind.  If you keep it in a vehicle or cage, then this is acceptable.

Destroying dangerous dogs
A court can order the owner of a dangerous dog either to keep it under proper restraint or make an order for it to be destroyed.

Seizure or destruction of a dog found at large among livestock
If a dog is found running at large among livestock or poultry, the owner may either seize a dog or destroy it.  Owners can also request their "agent", a constable, a Dog Control Officer or Ranger to do this on their behalf.

If seized the dog must be returned to its owner or delivered into the custody of a Dog Control Officer or Ranger.

Dogs seen worrying livestock
If a dog has been seen worrying livestock of poultry, the owner may make a complaint to the District Court.  The court as a result may make an order of restraint or an order to destroy the dog.

Liability of the owner for damage
The owner of a dog is liable for all damage done by the animal.

Dog control bylaws
A territorial authority can make bylaws for a range of purposes.  Those of interest to farm dog owners are:

·      Prescribing minimum standards for accommodation of dogs.
·      Limiting the number of dogs kept on land or premises.
·      Requiring dogs to be tied up during the hours of darkness.
·      Requiring owners to remove faeces left in public places or other people's land.
·      Requiring a bitch to be confined but given adequate exercise.
·      Impounding dogs found at large.

Wounding of dogs
If you wound a dog while trying to shoot it, you are under no criminal or civil liability for injury to the dog or for its death.  However, it's incumbent on you to take all reasonable steps to terminate the animal's suffering.

Offences relating to offal and untreated meat
It is an offence to:
·      Own a dog infected with hydatids or that has been infected twice in the last 12 months.  Your only defence will be to show you took all reasonable steps to prevent the second infection.
·      Feed a dog raw offal or raw sheep or goat meat.
·      Sell offal or untreated sheep or goat meat for feeding to dogs.
·      Leave the carcasses of any sheep, cattle, horse, deer, goat or swine to lie in the open accessible to dogs.

New Zealand Farm working Dogs. 10. Practical Feeding

By Dr Clive Dalton

Old  dogs need special care after many years of loyal service
 Balanced feeding
Dogs need a balanced diet, which has everything in it to meet their needs for maintenance and production.

What does a dog need for maintenance?
Table below has a mass of information on the energy and protein that a dog needs.  First, look at the layout. 

  Note these features:
·      There is information for three weights of dogs.
·      The maintenance needs per weight of dog are shown in kcal of energy and in grams of protein.  So a small dog (15kg) needs 1005kcal of energy and 72g of protein each day to sustain its body functions.
·      There is a range of diets in the left column and their energy and protein contents are shown beside them.
·      Look back in the column for each weight of dog and you can see how much of that diet to feed and how near that quantity comes to meet the maintenance needs.

For example: 450 g of meat will provide 900 kcal of energy and 81g of protein.  This is 105 kcals of energy too little, and 9g of protein too much.  It's "near enough" you could say.

What about 'production' (working)  needs?
Here you have to provide feed over and above maintenance.  See Table below which shows the number of times you multiply the maintenance feeds by to meet the dog’s nutritional needs.

Dogs in work
Light exercise                 1.5 x M
Medium exercise            2.0 x M
Heavy exercise            2.5 x M

Late pregnancy            2.5 x M
Early lactation              3.0 x M

Up to 7 weeks                  2.0 x M
7-9 weeks                        3.0 x M
9 weeks onwards            decrease to adult levels

Calcium and phosphorus
The Calcium and Phosphorus daily needs for a dog are shown in table below.

The table shows when supplements are needed for that range of diets.  If you need to add Ca or P, how much do you provide - the answer is in table 4, using the most readily available sources of dicalcium phosphate or bonemeal, and calcium carbonate.

Minerals and vitamins
Look at table below to see which type of diet is likely to be short of minerals and vitamins.

Note that the all-meat diet is short of all those listed so has serious implications for health.   Note also that vitamins D and E are going to be short in all the diets.

The all-meat diet
So many farmers will tell you that an all-meat diet is ideal for a working dog and they'll back their opinion with a lifetime's experience of feeding meat.  They point out that dogs are carnivores so meat is their natural diet.

These opinions are flawed!  But there are hundreds of farmers who won't accept these basic facts and nutritionists are regularly criticised for their ignorance of real life on a farm.  Owners also argue that commercially available diets are too expensive and there are plenty of cull stock to eat up which have little market value.  Again, remember my first question of what is a dog worth to your business.

There are all sorts of problems with all-meat diets for working dogs, and they require substantial supplementation with minerals like calcium, phosphorus and iodine, as well as vitamins.  Dogs on these so-called all-meat diets are in fact supplementing them by scavenging.  They are eating dung, carrion and goodness knows what else.  They maybe look all right but are not being kept at peak fitness, which a balanced diet allows.  Skinny underweight dogs are unhealthy and are even more prone to parasite attack.

The second common error is thinking that adding milk will balance an all-meat diet.  This is not true either. 

Bones with a red tinge of meat on them provide very little nutrients.  Bones are good dental exercise - and that's about all.  They do contain some calcium and phosphorus but it's better to supply these important minerals in other more digestible forms if needed. 

How long was the meat frozen?
This is a concern on farms where there are many shepherds using meat out of the same freezer.   There are no problems if the meat is cut up, bagged and dated, but so often this doesn't happen and you don't know how long the meat has been frozen.  If you mark on plastic bags remember the ink may come off or be hard to read when iced over.  Tie-on labels are always readable.

The rule of holding meat at minus 10 degrees C for 7 days is a MINIMUM.   Please note well this point.   And it's important to make sure the meat is at minus 10 right at the centre.  As many old freezers are used for dog meat, they sometimes are not at peak efficiency.  If you have any concerns, get your Dog Control Officer to check the freezer.

Big bags of mince for example will take much longer than 7 days to get to minus 10 C in the middle so they are not treated properly.

The key is to have a system that rotates the meat, and that everyone involved in using the meat understands it.  If you buy low-grade carcasses from a meatworks, make sure they have been held at the correct temperature and for the correct time.  The same would apply to local abattoir meat.

All meat sold at licensed pet food shops must meet the requirements of the Hydatids Act, so you can buy there with confidence.

Thawing frozen meat
Imagine working hard all day and getting a frozen joint to chew at all night.   What a great reward from a grateful boss!   This happens to many dogs when things are busy and the planning breaks down.  Allow at least a day for meat to thaw out and in winter it may take 2-3 days.  So allow plenty of time for this.

And remember – the juices that flow from frozen meat contain important vitamins and minerals that the dog should have.  The chore of catching the juice and returning it to the meat just shows impractical all-meat feeding is.

Cooking sheep and goat meat for dogs  

Do NOT feed any fresh sheep or goat meats to dogs, to prevent the spread of sheep measles.  Cooked meat must be brought to the boil and then left for a minimum of 30 minutes, and probably more like an hour.  If there is still blood showing at the end of the cooking time, then boil it a little longer.

Cooking offal and sheep and goat meat
This is a messy time-consuming business, even when proper facilities with modern electric cookers and time switches are available.  Although the law allows the feeding of correctly cooked offal, you would be wise to forget the idea.  

With so many good dog feeds available these days, it’s unwise to feed cooked offal to dogs.   If you think that feeding cooked offal produces a cheap dog feed, then you should do your sums again.  The true costs and the risks make it a poor alternative feed for dogs.

The risks of inadequate cooking are high because cooking time can vary depending on many things.  As a general rule, 1.5 to 2 hours is needed.  If there is still blood showing at the end of cooking time, then the meat needs some more treatment.

Feeding other meats
Meat from cattle, horses, deer, rabbits, pigs and possums can be fed raw to dogs without risk of infection from sheep measles.  However, it would be unwise to feed raw possum in areas where there is a risk of Tb which dogs could pick up.

Other dietary problems
There are a few problems such as bad breath, anal gland infection and bad teeth which can all arise as a result of feeding.  Check them out with your veterinarian. 

New Zealand Farm working Dogs. 9. Basic Nutrition

By Dr Clive Dalton 

There's a mountain of information available these days on the nutritional needs of dogs.  And yet, there are still far too many dogs that are not properly fed – not through intentional neglect but through ignorance. 

Unfortunately nutrition is not an easy subject, and you can easily get lost in the technical detail.    

The important point to remember is that your working dog is an athlete and deserves more than a leg of frozen mutton at the end of the day.

What a dog needs from its feed?
These are compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and provide the "energy" part of the diet.  They contain such things as sugars and starch.  The most complex carbohydrates are broken down in digestion and end up as sugars before final absorption.

Glycogen is carbohydrate stored in the muscle ready for action.  Marathon runners have to build this up days before the race so they don't have to wait for digestion to take place before energy can be used.  Working dogs as athletes need this in a big way too.

To get the energy out of the carbohydrates the animal needs oxygen from the lungs via the blood stream.  This burns up the carbohydrate releasing carbon dioxide and water which is then excreted.  Excess carbohydrates are stored in the body as fat. 

True carnivores don't need carbohydrates - but dogs need them in a properly balanced diet.  Carbohydrates should not exceed 60% of a dog's diet. 

Dogs cannot digest large amount of fibre, so cereals should be cooked before feeding or the dog will suffer from diarrhoea.  Too much lactose (milk sugar) will also cause scouring so don't add large amounts of dried skim-milk powder to the diet as it is 50% lactose.  Fresh milk contains only 5% lactose.

Proteins are used for muscle building and come from both animal and plant sources.   The building blocks of these proteins are "amino acids".  The dog needs 23 amino acids but can synthesise (ie make its own) only 13, so 10 must be supplied in its diet to prevent deficiency diseases.

The "complete" proteins that contain these essential amino acids are found in eggs, milk, soybeans, peanuts, yeast, as well as muscles and glandular organs.  So the best way to make sure you have covered all the essential amino acids in a diet is to use both animal and plant proteins in a diet.

Proteins like carbohydrates and fats are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.  But they have one important difference - they contain nitrogen.  Proteins are insoluble in water so have to be broken down by enzyme action into amino acids, which are then soluble and easily transported around the body.

Animals can break down protein for energy but this is not a very efficient process.  Surplus nitrogen produced in the process is excreted as urea in the urine.  To avoid this, make sure dogs are not fed high protein diets over long periods, and there are enough carbohydrates and fats in the diet to balance things up.

A dog should be fed protein daily as it is not stored in the body in large quantities like fat.  It should make up from 20 - 25% of the daily diet.

Fats and oils
These are made up of chains of chemicals called "fatty acids".  They contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen just like carbohydrates, but they differ by having a greater proportion of carbon in them.  They also contain more than twice as much energy on an equal weight basis. 

So nature has designed fat depots to be highly effective energy stores for times of need.  You get a lot of energy into a small bulk!  Putting fat on is a very efficient process, for example the energy in 4 kg of starch to can be stored as 1kg of fat.  Taking fat off is harder, as you only get 2kg of starch energy from 1kg of stored fat.  Remember this when trying to slim down an obese dog or to lose weight yourself!

Fat serves as important body insulation, as well as helping to transport fat-soluble vitamins around the body.  It also improves the palatability and texture of dog foods.   A shortage of fat in a dog's diet can cause an abnormal skin and hair condition and may increase susceptibility to skin infections.

A dog needs a minimum of 5% of fat in the total dry weight of its diet.  At least 1% of the fatty acid called "linoleic" is needed for skin health.  If you feed the recommended maintenance level of 20% fat, then enough linoleic will be present.

If you boost the fat level to 40% or more this will provide all the dog's energy needs, but you'll risk problems with rancidity.  This can then impair the utilisation of Vitamin E, cause deficiencies in the B-complex vitamins and generally depress appetite.  If the dog doesn't eat, then it stops thriving.  So don’t expect top performance from all that fatty mutton - put it down the offal hole and buy a decent balanced feed.

If you feed these high fat diets, then you must readjust the mineral, vitamin and protein levels to keep the diet balanced.  You may also have to add an "antioxidant" to preserve nutrient quality and stop the fats going rancid.  Avoid these problems by feeding lower fat levels in the diet.

Vitamins are essential to growth and health.  They help the body to resist disease and body cells to function properly.   We have to consider two types of vitamins - water soluble and fat soluble.

Water soluble vitamins
The B-complex and vitamin C are water soluble. They cannot be stored in the body in large amounts so must be supplied regularly in the diet.

When a dog loses fluids by vomiting or diarrhoea, its vitamins must be replaced..   Overfeeding these water-soluble vitamins does not cause toxicity as excesses are lost in the urine.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
·      This is very important to dogs.
·      Dogs differ genetically in their need for thiamine.
·      Metabolic disturbance, exercise and cold housing may increase demand.
·      Only small amounts of thiamine are stored in the body. 
·      Treating meat for hydatids (freezing and boiling) reduces thiamine - it is lost in the       thawed water and boiling juices. 
·      The heat of cooking will destroy thiamin.  Commercially prepared dog feeds have extra thiamine added to their diets to compensate for cooking losses.
·      If you are cooking your own feed recipe, add some yeast tablets to it.
·      Feed a dog supplementary thiamine 2-3 times a week.
·      Brewer's (not live) yeast and wheat germ are valuable sources.
·      Meat and cereals are also good sources.
·      A high fat diet contains less thiamine than a high-carbohydrate diet.
·      Never feed dogs raw fish as some species contain an enzyme (thiaminase) which       will make thiamine unavailable.  Nervous symptoms may develop leading to       paralysis.  Cooked fish is safe as thiaminase is destroyed.

Other vitamin B-complex
·      These include riboflavin (Vit B2), niacin pyridoxin (Vit B6), pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid, and vitamin B12.
·      The best supplies are in wheat germ, brewer's yeast, liver and the organ and muscle meats.
·      Under normal feeding there should be no problems, but egg white and sulpha drugs can make them unavailable.
·      "Black tongue" is a defect of the mucous membranes caused by a niacin deficiency.
·      Poor blood clotting can be caused by folic acid deficiency.
·      Riboflavin shortage can cause slow growth, poor appetite and low fertility.

Vitamin C
·      Plenty of this is synthesised by the dog to meet its needs.

Fat-soluble vitamins
These vitamins (A, D, E and K) need fat to be transported and absorbed by the body.  So if the fat metabolism of the dog is upset, then a vitamin deficiency may occur.

Get veterinary advice when supplementing fat soluble vitamins as excess builds up and is stored in the body fat and can lead to problems.

·      Liver, kidney, muscle fat and fish liver oil are good sources.
·      Handle fats with care - the vitamins are lost if the fat goes rancid.
·      Vitamin A deficiency results in deafness, nervousness, diarrhoea, retarded growth       and partial loss of vision (night blindness). 
·      Excess vitamin A will lead to bone deformities.
·      Vitamin D deficiency results in rickets (bowed legs) and enlarged joints seen in       pups growing quickly (knobbly knees and splayed feet). 
·      An excess of vitamin D will lead to over calcification of bones and soft tissue such       as heart, lungs and muscles.
·      Vitamin E deficiency causes pups to be born weak or dead.  Can lead to muscular dystrophy and hear muscle damage.
·      Vitamin K deficiency reduces blood-clotting ability.  It's rare in normal diets.

There is a range of minerals needed for various functions of the body.  They are used in the skeleton (bones and teeth), muscles, glands, body fluids and for correct functioning of the cells.  Deficiency problems are easily avoided if you feed a balanced diet.  Commercial diets these days provide more of these minerals than are needed by the dog so there are no concerns. 

Important minerals are:
            Calcium            Phosphorus            Magnesium
            Sodium            Chlorine            Potassium

If you ever see a feed analysis (eg. on the bag of purchased dog feed), you’ll see a component called "ash".  This is what’s left after the feed has been burned to measure the heat or energy released.  All the mineral components are in the remaining ash part.

Calcium and phosphorus

These two minerals are closely linked in the health of the dog and are very important.  We need to consider not only the amount fed, but also the ration between them.  This is referred to as the Ca:P ratio. 

The general recommended ratio in a good diet for a mature dog is between 1.2 and 1.4 parts of calcium(Ca) to 12 part of phosphorus (P). 

Meat has a Ca:P ratio of about 1:10 while liver has a 1:40 ratio.  Liver is also a good source of vitamins A and D which tends to modify the effects of a calcium deficiency

·      Calcium deficiency is most common bone disease in dogs caused by poor feeding.        It can happen by a shortage of calcium or an excess of phosphorus in the diet       upsetting the Ca:P ratio. 
·      You won't fix a deficiency by throwing your dog a few bones to chew!  Never feed       a dog cooked bones, fish bones or chicken bones.
·      Watch out for meat rich diets which are high in P and low in Ca.
·      When the body tries to balance up the Ca:P ratio, loss of bone mass which results in       pain in the bones, joints and muscles can occur.  Lameness and a tendency for       bones to fracture is seen , and in pups you get poor tooth development and       sore and swollen joints.
·      Pups should be reared on a diet with a Ca:P ratio of 1.4:1.  You can ensure this by       adding bone flour or calcium phosphate at 15-20g/kg of dry food to the diet of       a large rapidly growing pup


The dog will get plenty of this in its diet as salt (sodium chloride), and often the concern is feeding too much.  Providing plenty of water is essential to avoid toxicity by feeding too much.  In very hot conditions, the dog may need extra salt.

Magnesium and potassium

These are important to the dog and can be best provided by feeding liver, heart, or muscles in general.

Trace elements
Some components of the dog's diet are only needed in very small or "trace" amounts - hence the name trace elements.  Excess intake of some of these can cause poisoning, or too much of one can affect absorption of another.

            Iron                         Sulphur            Iodine
            Copper                        Selenium            Fluorine
            Molybdenum            Manganese            Zinc

The way to avoid any problems is to feed a good balanced diet.  Seek veterinary advice if you feel the need to add extra supplements.

Water is not a strictly a nutrient but it's essential to life.  Muscle for example contains 80% water, fat 20-30% and bone in a young animal 70-80%.  Animals will survive for a long time without feed but will soon dehydrate without water.

Blood, which transports all the digested nutrients around the body, is largely water as is the lymph which finally bathes the cells in nutrients.  Blood and lymph then carry the waste products away from the body cells and tissues for excretion.

Water is the main constituent of all digestive juices and gland secretions.  It's also a product of digestion when foodstuffs are broken down in the body to produce heat and energy.

Dogs should always have a clean water available at their kennels.  There will be a large variation in how much a dog will drink depending on its work load and so on.  Don't let a dog drink large amounts of water just before or just after strenuous work.   Frequent small drinks during work are best and will increase endurance.  But it's hard to stop the dog diving into the creek on a hot day and trying to drink it dry!

Digestibility & Palatability?
When an animal eats feed, only some of the nutrients in it end up in the blood stream to be used for maintenance and production.  These are the digested nutrients and what is not used passes right through as indigestible into the faeces.  Large amounts of fibre for example are not digested by the dog, but help intestinal function.

Palatability is how attractive the feed is to the animal.  Remember it's NOT necessarily related to nutrient content.  Dogs eat because they like what they eat, and not because it's good for them!  Remember it’s your job to balance the diet - not the dog’s.

Maintenance and production
Think of dogs' nutritional needs in two parts - "maintenance" and "production", as we do in other farm animals.  The maintenance part of the diet is the feed nutrients needed to maintain healthy body functions such as its temperature, digestion, blood flow, action of glands and excretion.

“Maintenance” needs are based on the dog's liveweight, so regular weighing is useful to see if you have the feeding right.  You can use the bathroom scales weighing yourself with and without holding the dog.  It's much easier on sheep scales.

The feed nutrients needed for “production” are over and above the maintenance needs and include work, pregnancy, lactation and growth.

What does a dog like to eat? 
This is an interesting question and you may take the view that it's not important.  As a domesticated servant of mankind, a dog should eat what it's given!

Remember the dog's wild canid ancestors.  They survived best if they devoured their food quickly and generally had either a feast or a famine.   Also, they ate virtually anything - their diet varying from freshly-killed meat to rotten stinking carrion.  When they caught prey, they usually started on the guts first - warm and sloppy.  They certainly preferred "variety" and this has been confirmed by properly controlled scientific trials at Massey University. 

Where dogs were given a free choice of food and their preferences measured, there were some surprises!  Researchers found that dogs prefer pork and beef to mutton, cooked meat is preferred to raw meat, and ground meat is preferred to chunks.  Dogs also prefer their food warm, wet and sweet. 

Now remember this says nothing about nutritional value - all it says is what a dog prefers, if given the choice.  The work removed the bias of a person making decisions for the dog, which is not very realistic, especially in the supermarket. 

But it's people who decide what dogs eat in our modern lives these days.  Studies at the Meat Research Institute in Hamilton showed that pet foods have to be made attractive to the owner of the animal!  So things like rich colour, juiciness and chunkiness suggesting good flavour are essential - not for the dog but for the owner who imagines the pet feels like they do!   This may not be the case if you want to be truly objective and avoid being “anthropomorphic” or judging animal feelings by human feelings.

It is quite normal for dogs to eat grass and their own vomit.  Indeed, eating grass irritates the stomach and encourages vomiting.   Dogs enjoy scavenging and will eat their own faeces (coprophargy), and sheep’s faeces, as one of nature's ways to make sure they get all the minor trace elements and vitamins needed. 

Feed aversions
The instinct to avoid certain feeds is interesting and you see it best in wild canids.  They use aversion to foods to learn to avoid poisons.  If young wolves for example eat berries that make them ill, they know not to eat them again.  This is how they learn.  If a dog learns to associate a food with a bad experience, it will never eat it again.  It's an inbuilt survival mechanism that can be a nuisance at times when you’ve gone to a lot of bother to provide a feed and they won’t eat it.