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Courtesy of Coprice.

Naturally inheriting their working instincts, the best reward you can give a working dog is to allow it to work! To get the best out of your dog, it is important they are in peak condition, both inside and out.

Working dogs play a major role in every livestock enterprise in New Zealand.

Naturally inheriting their working instincts, the best reward you can give a working dog is to allow it to work! To get the best out of your dog, it is important they are in peak condition, both inside and out.

Working dogs require a higher amount of daily energy compared to pets to meet their higher and longer workload.1

Mostly housed outside, they also have additional nutritional requirements to keep warm in winter (via shivering) or cool in summer (via panting).2 Feeding a high quality working dog diet provides a concentrated, palatable and nutritionally-balanced source of energy. Dry food is by far the most practical format, being up to four times more energy-dense than other pet food types. In general, working dog food contains higher levels of protein and fat compared to family dog foods.

The feeding guide on packaging provides a guide on how much to feed your dog depending on its workload. These guides are can be adjusted up or down based on the individual needs of each dog. The best way to know if your dog is getting the right amount is by regular observation of the dog’s body condition.

Dogs whose ribcage, spine, shoulder blades and pelvis are easily visible, little or no abdominal fat and an obvious waist are deemed to be underweight.3 They are not consuming enough food – or of sufficient quality – to meet their daily energy needs.

Dogs whose ribs and spine cannot be felt or a layer of fat is clearly visible and whose waist is hidden by a cylindrical or rounded midsection are deemed to be overweight/obese.3 They are consuming either too much food or too much energy.

Ideally, the dog’s ribs and spine should not be visible but can be easily felt by running your hands over its body. The dog should have a noticeable waist.4 An ideal body condition – neither under nor overweight – means the volume and quality of food eaten matches the dog’s needs.

As a general rule, quality food ‘in’ ensures quality stools ‘out’. Small and firm stools (but soft enough to pass without discomfort) means the 40 essential nutrients have been effectively absorbed into the body.4 Large or sloppy stools means the dog has to consume more food to compensate for it lower nutritional value to avoid fatigue, poor physical condition and injury.6

The easiest health indicator is to look at the dog’s physical condition. Illness, stress, and an inadequate diet can impact the skin, eyes and overall temperament of the dog.6 A healthy dog will have bright and clear eyes, with no signs of redness, soreness or discharge.7 The coat will look healthy and shiny as opposed to dull and patchy, and the skin will not be itchy, flaky or irritated.8

The physical stress on a working dog’s body emphasises the importance for optimal nutrition. A high quality working dog diet will include elevated levels of zinc, omega 3, Vitamin B complexes and functional ingredients to help support the immune system, the skin barrier function, and bone and muscle structures.9

Working dogs are the elite athletes of the farm and therefore require the best to do their best. Good nutrition provides the foundation for a dog’s potential to do the work, complemented by the care and attention of their owner.

Promoting muscle recovery by feeding a high quality working dog diet within two hours of hard exercise, regular rest and recovery time and reducing physical risks to the dog will aid in sustaining peak condition and prolonging their working life.

Working dog puppies need nourishment for optimal brain, bone and muscle development to prepare them for a life of hard work, stress and mental alertness.

Working dog adults need diets high in fat with balanced and highly digestible carbohydrate sources to provide the sustainable energy required for gruelling workloads.

Working dog seniors need nutrition to maintain bones, cartilage and joints, and quality proteins for sustaining muscle and body condition to enable an active lifestyle.


1., Working Dog Nutritional Needs – Sustaining their health while working.

2. Mussa, P. & Prola, L. (2005). Dog Nutrient Requirements: New Knowledge. Veterinary Research Communications, 29(S2):35-38.

3. World Small Animal Veterinary Association (2018), Nutrition Toolkit: Body Condition Score Chart for Dogs.

4. Williams, S. Selecting the right working dog food, The Land, pp., 5 December 2018.

6. Cave, N. (2013). Feeding Working Dogs, World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, Auckland, NZ. 7. VCA, Coat and Skin Appearance in the Healthy Dog,

7. Purina, Caring for your dog.

8. PetMD, Coat and Skin Health indicate nutritional health, 8 March 2013.

9. Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition (2009). Waltham pocketbook of essential nutrition for cats and dogs. [Accessed 2019].