Thursday, December 16, 2010

Training Day - Food Endorsement

Tuesday afternoon I flew down to Anchorage to spend the night before training at the Alaska Native Medical Center yesterday.  It wasn't exactly the most fun I ever had.  It was very windy in Anchorage, causing a power outage in the area surrounding and including my hotel.  I ended up doing my morning routine in the light of a small LED flashlight that I routinely carry in my briefcase.  My training went smoothly enough and I was finished in time to catch an earlier flight home.

It has turned much colder here in the Interior.  It was minus-32 near the airport, and the ice fog was already accumulating around town.  I stopped at the grocery store to restock some healthy goodies (fruit and veggies mostly) and headed for the house.

My back and hip are still giving me fits, and there isn't much I can do for it but take a bit of ibuprofen and try to relax and let the darned muscles heal.  Thank goodness for a dedicated dog handler - Ted fed the dogs last night, and had an opportunity to show off his new Wiggy's parka, a Christmas gift from home.  Given the frigid forecast, it's arrival was very nicely timed.

I've been trying to get a decent photo of Ted to share here since his arrival, so took advantage of the opportunity to capture this shot of Ted in his new gear.

Ted Kirby, dressed appropriately for -30 F (- 34 C) temperatures
In addition to his new parky, Ted was wearing insulated Carhartt overalls, which is a mainstay of a dog musher's "uniform" and mukluks manufactured by a small company in Minnesota which are also popular among those of us who run sled dogs.  

This little cold snap will not necessarily be a period of "forced idleness", as much as I might wish it were.  I need to make a run into town later today to pick up a dozen bags of dog food.  The dog food run prompts me to something I only rarely do - I'm going to offer my endorsement for a brand name that is NOT a sponsor of my little team.

As a general rule, I don't share the brand name of things I purchase unless the brand offers some form of sponsorship, usually in the form of a discounted price.  Sponsorships are an important part of funding any dog sled team, even a small scale recreational team such as mine.  I feel that those who go above and beyond the call of duty to help me out deserve as much recognition as I can generate for them.

Wiggy's gets a lot of mention on my blog not just because they truly do make what I believe to be the very best extreme cold weather gear available, but they've also gone well above and beyond the call to help me out financially with some of their gear at a time when I really needed the help.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that they are located in the home town of childhood, Grand Junction Colorado. 

Let's get back to dog food, though.  Athletic dogs, regardless of their sport or job, require a very high quality diet that includes much more protein and fat than do pet dogs, even very active pet dogs.  Nothing that is regularly offered in a department or even pet store will meet their dietary needs.  They may make grandiose claims, but any outfit that spends more money on advertising than on good dog food is unlikely to make the grade.

There are a fair number of specialty dog foods on the market, and nearly all of those foods have their adherents.  My only problem with them is that they don't quite make the grade for one of my Stardancer dogs.  Amazing Grace is an incredibly talented little leader, who has been a shining star running in single lead for us, but she suffers from canine obsessive compulsive disorder (canine OCD).  She has responded to treatment very well, but a major part of her treatment requires a maize (corn) free diet.  

The role of maize products in canine brain chemistry is controversial, but Grace provides anecdotal evidence that in some dogs, maize in any significant quantity messes with their cerebral function.  When Grace is fed a corn free diet and offered ample opportunity to exercise, interact with other dogs and with humans, and moves to a different housing environment from time to time her behavior is similar to that of any other highly athletic young dog.  For a time, we were unable to obtain our preferred brand of dog food, and the result was a very obvious return of the OCD behaviors, even though no other variable was changed.  

There are very few high performance dog foods that do not contain corn (maize).  Among those, and the food that our experience has shown works best for the Stardancer team is Dr. Tim's Momentum.  The only potential down-side to feeding Momentum in Alaska is that none of the major feed stores that cater to dog mushers carry the brand.  One has to contact individual distributors, who most likely became distributors to meet the needs of their own teams.  In other words, these folks are mushers with their own teams that require training, conditioning and lots of work.  

Although I can't just run down to my local feed store and buy a dozen 50# bags of Momentum, obtaining the good stuff isn't outlandishly difficult, either.  It just takes a bit of coordination.  I send my dealer (I'rod and Quest musher Brent Sass) an Email.  We arrange a mutually convenient time and place to meet, and I load up the car.
On it's face, the price of Momentum up here seems a bit steep, but when compared on a pound for pound basis with other premium dog foods, the "per pound" price varies by less than a nickel per pound.  I believe I actually get more nutrition per pound than with other high performance feeds that I've used - I feed less per meal to maintain optimal weight on my big dogs yet they produce noticeably less waste, so I am confident that more of the feed is going toward support of the dog than with other brands.  

Mostly, I feed Momentum because I like what it does for the Stardancers.  When she's on Momentum Amazing Grace behaves like any other active dog in the kennel.  Meanwhile, everyone in the yard has exactly the amount of fat reserve I like to maintain in my dogs, has a shining, glossy coat, bright eyes and the ability to go anywhere we wish, any time we wish.  Even old Torus is looking darned good, and he's a 12 year old veteran of the trails - still working today.

You can find a list of momentum distributors on their web-site.  If an individual (as opposed to a recognized feed store) is listed, all it takes is a phone call or an Email to arrange for your purchase.  It may not be as convenient as a spontaneous trip to your feed store, but if you are searching for a high quality food that promotes health in highly athletic dogs, I think that wee bit of inconvenience is a very small thing compared to the huge difference you'll see in their physical condition and health - especially if you happen to have a canine 'head case' in your team or household.

Although I rely on the kibble to meet the dogs daily nutritional needs, I also provide some supplementation when we are working very hard, or when the weather turns exceptionally cold, by also giving the dogs real meat or fish, and sometimes even beef fat or a bit of additional fish oil.  The amount of supplementation varies depending on circumstances and resources at hand, and it takes some trial and error to figure out how much is enough, but the end result is a team of dogs that are healthy, happy and always ready to go out on the trails and have some fun.

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