Ep. 553 – Exploring the World of Sporting Dogs: Training, Nutrition, and Longevity

Ray Voigt: Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Ducks Unlimited podcast. I'm your host, John Gordon, and this is a episode that when I first heard that I was going to be able to host it, I got really excited about it because anybody who's listened to a lot of my podcasts in the past knows that I'm a dog guy, right? Specifically, sporting dogs, sporting breeds. Spaniels, Retrievers, I love them all. So to have an opportunity to sit down with these two gentlemen and talk about dogs was, was very intriguing to me and exciting because my guests today are Ray Voigt, he's a senior specialist. He covers Retrievers, Spaniels, and the Herding Breeze. And Carl Gunzer, who's director of the Sporting Dog Group for Purina. Guys, welcome to the DU Podcast. Thanks, John. Good to be here.
Ray Voigt: Thanks for having us.

John Gordon: Well, folks, the reason these guys are in town is what we're going to talk about first, is that they're here for the National Bird Dog Championship, which is, I mean, really, what, 45 minutes from here at Ames Plantation? Maybe 30 minutes from here at National Headquarters at DU. And they're here to participate in a lot of this stuff and really have an influence from the Purina side. And y'all sponsored quite a bit of it, right?

Karl Gunzer: Yeah, this is a big weekend in Grand Junction. So the Hall of Fame, the Bird Dog Hall of Fame is in Grand Junction. There's a museum there. And on Saturday, tomorrow, are the inductions in the Hall of Fame for all of the different segments there. So there's Spaniels, Retrievers, Pointers, Pointing Breeds. So every year they do the inductions for the Hall of Fame. And then on Monday, starts the National Championship at Ames, which is right there in Grand Junction, like you said, 45 minutes from here.

John Gordon: That's right. And if anyone listening here that loves dogs and loves the sporting dogs, the Hall of Fame is, for me, is a must-see. I mean, there's more history in that place about the different breeds and the different dogs, and really, you know, tribute to those great animals of the past. So, you've really got to check it out.

Karl Gunzer: It's really neat. There's different wings for different breeds. And so, if you're into, you know, Spaniels, there's a section there with, you know, Springers and Cockers. There's a section with, you know, NAVDA and NASTRA, National Shoot to Retrieve, and all have sections and wings where they honor different dogs. And then, like, all-age bird dogs, shooting dogs. So, a little of everything. Retrievers, there's a nice Retriever wing. So, yeah, it's neat. And there's lots of memorabilia from different nationals, from all of the different segments. And I forgot to mention, you know, Ray's here. He's in early this week because there's actually a Springer-Spaniel trial held on grounds here as well. Where's that at, Ray?

Ray Voigt: Actually, just right outside of Grand Junction, probably five minutes from the Hall of Fame itself. That started on Wednesday. We'll finish up tomorrow afternoon after the inductions. So, a four-day trial. They have two opens, two amateurs, and this year they actually included, they had Cocker trial as well. So, you know, a big event, they had big entries and they had a banquet last night that I was at and really well done and a great trial.

John Gordon: What are the main differences, really, between what the spaniels have to do compared to the retrievers, as far as trialing goes?

Ray Voigt: I mean, it's really two completely different skill sets. I mean, the spaniels are quartering, flushing, so they're judged a lot on their hunt pattern, how well they can smell birds, how well they flush the birds, their steadiness, and then the retrieving part. So, they're actually, it'd be like a day in the field. You're out walking, the dog's quartering, you have a brace mate. You have to keep the dog in control on your side of the course, flush a bird, be steady to wing and shot, both for yours and your bracemate. So if the bracemate puts up a bird and is shot, your dog has to honor, well, the other dog makes the retrieve. So you're working in tandem there. And it's really just like you were out in the field in a normal day's pheasant hunt. And then the retrievers is more like your duck hunting. So your dog is at your side. It's watching marks go down or you're handling to a blind. where you know where the bird is, but the dog doesn't. And it's more about marking, natural marking ability of the dog and their ability to navigate land and water. And so it's quite different, but they both are extremely fun. And that's one thing I've enjoyed since I started this position, is getting to see a few different venues.

Karl Gunzer: We're trying to get Ray to get a Springer, start competing in Springer trials.

John Gordon: That's it, Ray, man. Well, for folks, if you don't know the name Ray Voigt in the world of retrievers, Ray is one of the most accomplished trainers on the field trial side. How many field champions did you work with, Ray?

Ray Voigt: A little over 50 in the 14 years that I did it. So a little over 50, we had four national champions. 40 national finalists, and this weekend, one of the retrievers getting inducted was a dog that we had, and that makes six dogs that I've had the opportunity to work with that are now in the Hall of Fame.

John Gordon: That's incredible, man. I mean, just that alone, you've got to be very proud of that, you know, going to the Hall, and you can walk in there and see dogs that you know very well.

Ray Voigt: Oh, I mean, it is. It's very humbling. It's a great place. Anybody that does anything on the sporting side or field trials, like Carl said, for any breed, it's a must-see thing. And you walk in there and you see some of the dogs that you always read about when you were starting to learn the sport. And then now, fortunate enough to have worked with some of them, and you know a lot of the people in there. And it's a pretty emotional place for a lot of people.

John Gordon: Exactly, exactly. So yeah, I'm going to head out there and check it out as well. I really, I'm looking forward to the inductions and everything and really seeing the whole, you know, pageantry and acceptance speeches and everything, you know, around it. It's a hall of fame, just like anything else, you know, pro football, baseball. I mean, these dogs are the top. dogs of all time. So it's, it's really a special place, you know, and we were, you know, starting out here talking about the performance events. You've got, basically, you've got two different categories, you know, field trialing and then hunt testing. Hunt testing I know has become, you know, a really big thing and it's a lot younger than the field trial. You know, I mean, the field trialing really in this country started in the, you know, I believe in the early 1930s. Whereas I don't think the hunt test began until the mid-1980s. From a Purina standpoint, I mean, how important are these performance events and the performance dog to what y'all do?

Karl Gunzer: Well, for what Ray and I do, it is what we do, right? It's supporting these events and trying to help provide great nutrition for these dogs that are working hard. And so Purina, kind of the philosophy of Purina is people and pets are better together. And we try and promote things that cause people to do something with their dogs. So whether it's a confirmation dog show, if that's what you're into, or a… agility event, or in our case, sporting dog events, retrievers, spaniels, pointing breeds, herding breeds. It's been great. The field trials are a great venue and they're kind of the ultimate test for the dog, but they've gotten so difficult that it's hard for a lot of average people to train their own dog to compete. If you're competing against people that are training in the north in the summer and they go south for the winter and have the best grounds and good training and the best genetics. It's hard for an average guy to go compete. It can be done. There's lots of great amateurs that train their own dogs, but it takes time and generally money to do it. Where the hunt tests have been created so they're judged against a standard that gives a person a little more of an ability to do something with a dog, train to a high level, but not have to just try and beat the other 100 dogs at the event that day. You can go have fun with a dog and really enjoy the dog. And there's lots of crossover. I've seen a lot of people that start in the hunt test program that then start field trialing or vice versa. There's people that run trials and then say, you know what, I'm going to put a hunt test title on my dog or run the hunt test or try and qualify for the Master National or run the Super Retriever Series. So there's now quite a few different testing venues for dogs. There's really only one field trial venue, that's the AKC field trial. So if you really hear the word field champion, that is specific to an AKC field trial title. But there's lots of master hunters, grand hunting retriever champions, SRS champions, and different ways that you can earn titles that are not competitive one dog against the next.

John Gordon: Exactly, exactly that. For folks that, like I said, don't know, that's it. The field trial, you got a hundred dogs pitted against each other, or more, and what is it, there's basically three places that actually score points, and that's it. You know, and you've got a winner, but yeah, four, three, four. Yeah. And that's it. And that's all the people that get points in the entire trial. So it's a, it's gotta be pretty intense. I mean, Ray, you've been at the line at many of them. It's gotta be a fine line between winning and losing.

Ray Voigt: Oh, definitely. I mean, the competition and I think that the dogs, the genetics, the training techniques have evolved so much that, you know, even as less 10, 15 years ago, you know, you'd go and there was you know, maybe a handful or 20 dogs that you knew really had a shot. And now it's almost all of them are capable of winning, you know, given the right circumstances. So, the margin for error is extremely low from, you know, first to fourth, and even just finishing without a placement. I mean, the gap is really small, you know, and it's hard to do and hard to compete consistently.

John Gordon: And writing, for a dog to be a field champion, they have to win an event. There's got to be a lot of great dogs in history who never won, so they never got the title.

Karl Gunzer: Yeah, a win in points, so a win in a total of 10 points for a field champion or 15. for the amateur field champion. And, you know, we used to, Ray and I used to pre-national together all the time when he worked for Mike. And Mike Lardy, he would equate the test and the whole thing to like an arms race. He's like, you know, the dogs get better and then the judges get tougher and make it harder. And then the dogs get better and everything just kept elevating, you know, and the whole thing just got more and more challenging.

John Gordon: Exactly. It's the ultimate level with retrievers. I mean, I've never run field trials, just only hunt tests, but you've got a lot of dogs that are really skilled at the hunt test level. It just, I think, it seems to me the real separator is the ability to mark birds at extreme distances. It seems like the field trial dogs are just geared for that particular skill in a way that the hunt test dog can't match.

Ray Voigt: Well, I think there's a lot of hunt, I mean, a lot of it is the venue that you choose to play with the dog. So, there are a lot of hunt test dogs that I think If they had been trained specifically for field trials, they certainly have the genetics and the desire to have played that game.

John Gordon: I mean, what do you think the main differences are? Does a lot of it just depend on which path was chosen for the dog in the first place?

Ray Voigt: Well, I think part of it, the path, I mean, some of the genetics and the breeding are different from field trial to hunt test, but there's always a myth that the field trial dogs are too high strung. They're just living in kennel. All they do is run field trials. And I think that's completely wrong. I mean, just about every dog that I've ever trained was a house dog. A lot of them went hunting. They did the things that everybody else used to say field trial dogs couldn't do. And if you look through a lot of pedigrees, most of the dogs running hunt tests have field trial backgrounds, have field trial parents or grandparents. And so I think a lot of it is the path that people choose. And there are some examples where there may be some dogs that are running that just weren't going to be able to… to be a high-caliber field trial dog, and they're more suited for the hunt test game, which is the shorter distances. And it does take a dog with something deep down to look out there across the lake and make a 300-yard swim that just not every dog has. So all those things come into play, but there's a lot of them that could be competitive if people took that route.

John Gordon: And there have been some dogs in the history, I believe, who excelled at both. But I think they were field trial dogs first, and then they transitioned into hunt tests. I think it'd be pretty tough to go the other way.

Karl Gunzer: It's easier to go from field trials to hunt tests than from hunt tests to field trials, just because of ingrained distances, and really a lot of it, to me, is working with you on the line. You know, a field trial dog is really taught to move with you on the line, to look at, you know, look from this gun to that gun. You know, the guns, for those that don't know, the gunners at a field trial are in white, so they're visible. You can pick them out. And that some people might say is an advantage, but it can also make it harder. When you have one that's longer and it's standing out and white, and then the short bird is retired, there's nothing for the dog to see or vice versa. So the field trial dogs are really taught a lot of working with you online, moving from one gun to the next, picking them out. where the hunt test dogs are more either swing with the gun or cue in on the sound because there's generally a sound given before the bird is thrown, whether it's a duck call or a pop or gun or something. So that's one big difference, but they can all… A field trial dog can learn to swing with a gun or swing their head to a sound and a hunt test dog can learn to pick out white coats and work with them. They just need to be trained.

John Gordon: Sure, sure. And I would encourage anybody, listeners out there, you can see all of this, you know, online. You can see field trials and hunt tests and see the differences in it. A lot of it's distance, you know, the field trials. Here you're talking several hundred yards and a lot of the marks and blinds. And then it's just, it's kept within, usually within 150 or so in most of the hunt tests I've been to. It used to be a hundred yard standard and I think they extended that.

Ray Voigt: Yes, I believe it's, I think, 150 now. And in the HRC, I think it can even be up to 175.

John Gordon: I gotcha. And once again, folks, for y'all who don't know, in the Huntess game, there's mainly two main clubs, the HRC, which is run by the UKC club, and then the AKC. So you've got two different title sets, you know, HRC, a hunting retriever champion as being the top title. Well, Grand Hunting Retriever Champion on the HRC side and the AKC, the Master Hunter, and then Master National Retriever. So the national events have become a big deal, and I know y'all are heavily involved.

Ray Voigt: The Master National last year down in Thomasville, Georgia had, I think, 1,220 entries. That's crazy, man. Which was the largest field event in AKC history. and the grant, the two grants last, the HRS, the Hunting Retriever Club has a spring grant and a fall grant, and they were both in, I believe, entries in the 900. So, I would be, the spring grant this year is down in Georgia, and I would not be surprised to see it hit a thousand for the first time.

John Gordon: Man, that, from the time when I was just a kid coming out of college and got involved in my first club, where we may have had, Man, I don't think we hit 100 dogs in Master most of the time on our test, to now, to where every, you know, event is just, you can't get in. It's just packed out.

Ray Voigt: Now they've limited the entries because it became so popular. The clubs didn't have the grounds or the help to support that many dogs running in one stake, so they limit the Master entries. There's multiple tests every weekend. Now they're doing tests midweek to try to accommodate because some of those tests will fill up in a matter of less than minutes. You know, I mean, it's the entries open at a certain time and it's a lot of them are, some of them have been full in, you know, 45 seconds.

John Gordon: See, you gotta have a gift just about how to get in to a test these days.

Karl Gunzer: Yeah, they got strategies. All the pros all have a strategy of how to get in. Yeah, one to click. Yeah.

Ray Voigt: I mean, if you have 60, you know, if it's limited to 66 dogs and one person has 20 that they're trying to get in, that, you know, it makes it interesting.

John Gordon: And, you know, I know that on the Master National side of things, there's talk about You know, make it harder to get in because there's so many dogs qualified, right, that they're talking about having a qualifying event to qualify for the Master National versus just the test, getting a dog in. So it just shows you the growth of this has just been exploded in the last five years.

Ray Voigt: Yeah, I think the qualifying event kind of got voted down last year. But there's they've had several proposals from you know, like you said that the qualifying event They've talked about splitting it geographically east and west and actually hosting two to try to lower the numbers you know, they're kicking around some different ideas and I don't I don't think anything at this point has been settled but I It's really hard to find grounds that can host not only that number of… We had nine flights last fall down in Georgia. So to have grounds that have nine separate areas that you can basically do a whole master within driving distance of each other, there's not many places in the country that can do that. And logistically, hotels, restaurants, that amount, that influx of people that come in You know, judges were here for almost three weeks last year, or were there for almost three weeks. So places with the infrastructure to host that amount of people coming in and the grounds are, you know, very few.

John Gordon: That's a, that's a great point that, especially with retrievers, little spaniels, bird dogs, all of it, it takes a lot of land to be able to really test a dog and its abilities. It, and it's the right ground, especially from the retriever side. Once again, folks, y'all can look this up, but the, the requirements of dogs to take straight lines and fight factors, which becomes points, get on the point, not on the point, on the land, whatever. That's a special pond that has to be built for that.

Karl Gunzer: Kyle Thompson And there's the same issue with the pointing breed trials, like this national here going on at Ames. I'm not sure the total number of acres here at Ames, but they run a three-hour brace, a three-hour brace in the morning, three-hour in the afternoon. So those dogs on the ground for three hours, they cover a lot of ground. Now that's maybe, there's not many or any trials other than this that are a three-hour brace, but there's lots of one-hour and then they can have callbacks for an hour and a half or too, and it takes a big piece of property to run a horseback, all-age bird dog, or a shooting dog, you know, on a course. And it's hard, you know, it's getting more and more difficult to do that on public properties. So, you know, thankfully, there's a lot of landowners that, you know, have an interest in bird dogs and, or retrievers, both that develop properties, but it is, it's a challenge.

John Gordon: Exactly, exactly. And that, another, you bring up a great point there, Carl, about We were talking about nutrition and everything before. These pointing dogs, the setters, English pointers, English setters, you know, different breeds. But those dogs in a three-hour brace are, their stamina is tested to the absolute maximum, right? And if they don't have the fuel inside of them to get through it, they're just gonna, it's not, they're not gonna make it.

Karl Gunzer: Yeah, conditioning is a huge part in the bird dog world. I think, you know, it's interesting, we've seen conditioning and really, you know, Mike and Ray, with the help of Dr. Janelle and others, really sort of brought conditioning, I'd say, to the forefront of retriever training and realize that that could be a competitive advantage. In the bird dog world, it's always been known that conditioning is a big part because once they're hot and breathing too much through their mouth, they just can't smell as well anymore. So, we always sort of say it's sort of a three-sided pyramid, genetics, training, and nutrition. It takes all of those things. Genetically, some dogs are gonna be smoother runners, they're gonna be built better to run, so I think genetics is a huge part. Training is a huge part, and conditioning. And then nutrition's the third piece, is they have to have the calories and a high-fat diet to be able to run and still perform for that amount of time.

John Gordon: Just like an athlete, I remember Michael Phelps talking about the fact that he had to consume upwards of 10,000 calories a day when he was in training, right? Otherwise, he would have been a stick man. He couldn't, you know, he couldn't compete at the highest level without the nutritional standpoint. And that's, you know, Perina's done a fantastic job, especially in the pro plan. brand, you know, which started in the 80s. And now I was just looking at the site and all the different types of formulas that y'all have. It's just unbelievable. And the way you've really been able to pinpoint specific needs for dogs is unbelievable.

Karl Gunzer: Yeah, in sort of the general population pet world, one of the biggest problems is obesity. I mean, 60% of the dogs that walk into a veterinary practice are probably obese. You get into the sporting world, especially the bird dog world, that's not a problem. I mean, these dogs run hard enough and they burn enough calories, you have the opposite problem. You need a high-fat, high-protein diet just to help the dogs perform. They gotta get the calories. So ProPlan and Purina have various formulas with different caloric densities. So if you're going to run a bird dog like we're talking about, you probably want a 30-20 higher protein and fat formula with more calories. If it's a spade dog that's an occasional weekend hunter, you're probably better off on an adult maintenance type formula. But the real way to look at it is you look at the body condition of the dog, and it should be… There's a body condition score chart, and you can look at that and kind of determine where your dog fits into it. And then you help… Then you choose your formula based on the body weight of the dog and what they're expected to do.

John Gordon: allergies play into it? Because I know a lot of dogs have got issues with different things, right? They really can't tolerate this or that and the other.

Karl Gunzer: So, I'm not going to say that's not a correct notion, but dogs are much more likely to be allergic to environmental things than they are a food protein or you always hear about corn, wheat and soy and those things. And certainly dogs can be allergic to those. They're much more likely to be allergic to a protein than a carbohydrate. So more often it's beef or chicken or salmon or whatever it is, protein source that they're allergic to than it is the carbohydrate, but they can be allergic to any of those. More likely than any of those is probably just like a lot of us. I mean, if you think about the number of people that you know that have a food allergy versus an environmental allergy like hay fever or something like that. Dust, right? Yeah, dust, right? And it's the same for the dogs. They're much more likely to have an environmental allergy. But there's different foods that either are limited ingredient formulas, there's a hypoallergenic formula, so you can really figure out if it truly is a food allergy, so you feed a dog this hypoallergenic formula. see if the dog is still itching or having any problems. If it is, then you kind of know it's an environmental allergy. There's some tests that can be done, but really it's difficult to diagnose allergies in dogs and skin conditions. It really is kind of a trial and error, and people really need to write down when it's happening, what's happening, what they're seeing for symptoms, and then try to identify commonalities like, oh, okay, wait a minute. It's every September, he seems to itch a lot. Well, what's happening in September? Well, trees are pollinating, or whatever that is, or maybe it's a grass pollen in the spring, or so. It's tough.

John Gordon: Got you, got you. Well, folks, we're going to take a little break right there, and stay tuned. We'll be back pretty soon with the Ducks Unlimited podcast. Hello, everybody, and welcome back to the Ducks Unlimited podcast. My guests today are two of the top sporting dog nutrition guys in the country, and they both work for Purina. We have Carl Gunzer and Ray Voigt. Ray, this question's for you. We were just talking about performance dogs and What kind of nutritional needs they have from a trainer standpoint? Did y'all have a specific regimen that you built up to prior to a trial or was it just you had a pretty regular maintenance program the entire deal? How did that work?

Ray Voigt: We didn't tend to change things a lot before trials. I mean, we wanted to kind of practice the same way you play. So it wasn't like they would get different amounts or things like that. They were, you know, all the dogs were a little different. So some might be on three cups, some might be on four cups. I never really had to worry about the food doing its job. Water balance was a big issue, was a big concern. You wanted to make sure the dogs were well hydrated at events, if it was hot out, things like that. But from a feeding standpoint, things didn't really change from day to day, to weekends, to events. So, if you knew you were going into a cold weather national, maybe you would try to have a couple extra pounds on the dog and have a better coat on them versus going into a warm weather national where you're going to have them a little thinner and not want that heavy undercoat, things like that. But from a feeding standpoint, things pretty well stay the same based on what that dog needed day to day. I got you. I got you.

John Gordon: Well, y'all had a very good feel, your finger on the pulse of what they needed, working with those dogs every single day on their nutritional needs, I'm sure. It's, you know, from a trainer standpoint, that's got to be a real concern.

Ray Voigt: Oh, I mean, when it comes to the crunch time, that's the last thing you want to worry about is, you know, are they going to run out of gas because they don't have the Are they proper nutrition? Are they running too much and we can't keep weight on them anymore? Like Carl mentioned earlier about as they get warmer, they don't smell as good, so the conditioning part of it. I mean, there's so many things that go into it, but knowing that you have a good quality of food that they're going to thrive on was always nice to have in the back of your head. You didn't have to worry about that. And then you could do all the other things that would try to give you that little bit of advantage you know, with the hydration and the conditioning and those sorts of things.

John Gordon: Purina is the dominant brand in the performance sporting dog world, which, I mean, that's the truth. Am I correct?

Karl Gunzer: Well, you know, ProPlan, more champion dogs, you know, feed ProPlan than any other formula. There's lots of great formulas around. I think ProPlan has supported the events and segments, whether it's bird dogs, retrievers for a long time. And I think people have just like Ray and others and myself, before I came to work for Purina, we realized it was a good food. The company helped support the industry that we love and there really was no better option. So I think you'll see the majority of people that compete are feeding ProPlan. I think the Bird Dog National here in a couple of days, I'm not sure exactly the number, but we were looking at it and I think out of 30-ish dogs, and there might be a couple of scratches, but like 28 or 29 of the 30 feed pro plant. So it's pretty overwhelming, the support.

John Gordon: Well, as they say, the proof's in the pudding there. If you've got $28 out of $29 on ProPlan, that speaks for itself. From a science standpoint, from R&D, I know Purina has got to spend an incredible amount of time and resources developing these foods. I mean, let's just, like ProPlan Performance, the 30-20 plan, how long did it take y'all to really come up with the magic formula for that?

Karl Gunzer: You know, that's a good question. And that happened, you know, before I was with the company. But I know, you know, Dr. Arlie Reynolds from Alaska played a big part in creating, developing that formula. And Arlie was a sled dog, a musher, sled dog racer. I think he won three world champion sprint races, I think, and helped condition dogs for a bunch of others. One of the things I love about Purina is the science. We have over 500 veterinarians, scientists, researchers that are working and trying to create new formulas and the best we can for the dogs. I mean, I know… Well, last time I looked, we had five board-certified nutritionists working for Purina. That's a pretty overwhelming number. I don't know how many is in the country, but I'm pretty sure that there's a lot of manufacturers and dog food companies out there that don't have any board-certified nutritionists working for the company. So, we take the science seriously, and I think that's one of the things that is exciting about Purina is it's always about what's the next thing? What can we create or do to help dogs and cats do better? You know, we're just always trying to improve our nutrition. That's right.

John Gordon: Folks, for you cat lovers out there, I forget about cats sometimes, but that's important too, right? I mean, people love their cats. Some would say that's important. Well, we're all sporting dog guys, right? I mean, it's just what we love. So, we just, but the cats are important too, you know, and y'all do a great job with that as well. Y'all have got a tremendous amount of different formulas for them too. That's right. You know, Purina's been around a long time. I did not realize that the company was started, you know, in the late 1800s pretty much. So, you're talking about a brand that's been around now for over 125 years.

Karl Gunzer: Yeah, I think, I think this year's 130th anniversary or something like that. Within a year, one way or the other. Yeah.

John Gordon: Pretty incredible. That is incredible. And the amount of pets and sporting dogs and cats and just everything that Purina has fed over the decades. It's in the multi-millions. It's incredible.

Karl Gunzer: Yeah, and when the company started, Ralston was started by William Danforth, and then it had been bought and sold a few times over the years, but has really always remained true to the focus of pet nutrition. We used to have cereals and formulas and things for humans, and a few companies were bought and sold over the years, but really it has always, since the 30s, the focus has been

John Gordon: Pet food. Exactly. Exactly. It's really one of the iconic brands. I mean, you say the word Purina and everybody knows exactly what you're talking about. There's no mystery there that, that y'all are into, to the pet food business. And it's, uh, you know, what, what a brand. It's been great. I got a question for you, Ray, that I think a lot of listeners would be interested in. People always ask me and stuff like, okay, when you're, you know, you're looking for a new dog, a new hunting companion, hunt test dog, field trial dog, whatever. What are you really looking for in a litter of puppies? Is it the puppy themselves, or is it the parents that you're really focusing on?

Ray Voigt: The genetics, I think, are the big part. You find parents or genetics that you like. I like to have an idea of what those parents are like, so whether I've had an opportunity to see them myself or talk to people, the owners or the trainers, find out what they're like, not only from a performance standpoint, but I really like to focus on temperament and what they're like to live with. I don't like those dogs, high-strung dogs that are bouncing off the wall and pacing back and forth and barking as much as anybody. So I want to know that both the parents and the lineage there has good temperaments, they're easy to live with, and they can perform. And I think So, I'm going to pick that litter based on that. And then maybe an individual puppy, if you go look at them, one of them catches your eye, one of them follows you around quicker or has certain little temperament traits at seven weeks or eight weeks that kind of you like, then I would go with that. I don't think… They're gonna change a lot from eight weeks to eight years. So just because one of them wanted to retrieve a pigeon wing a little bit quicker at eight weeks doesn't mean that that's gonna be the first one to do everything. But you might like the… Depending on the breed… Spaniel or bird dog, maybe some of the markings might catch your eye. I've heard some people in the Spaniel world say they like to find one that has similar markings to the father. If you have a really strong sire, they're going to pick the one that has similar markings to that dog. Obviously in the retriever world, black, yellow, chocolate. So you're going to kind of go with… You kind of find the color you want and then the genetics. And I have little things that I look for. I like to see the ones that will follow you around that seem like they want to be with you. Obviously, you want them to look healthy. Eyes are clear. Their skin's clear. They're not too skinny when they're little puppies. Things like that. Bouncing around. But it's hard because sometimes you show up right after they eat, they're all going to be sleeping. You know, so there's only so many things you can do. So I'm going to look for the genetics I want and the parents that have the traits that I like first and foremost.

John Gordon: And that's what I've always told people. You just really have got to figure out what you want first, right? Some people I know like that breathing fire dog. I personally don't, but there's some hunters I know for sure that do. Guys are retrieving, you know, dogs, maybe a guide dog or whatever is retrieving a lot of birds over the course of a season. They want one that's, you know, that's really ripping it.

Ray Voigt: But you also, you got to sit in a blind with them for a lot of hours too. Exactly. So, you know, those ones that are, you know, and that's a big thing, you know, are the vocal, you know, who wants to sit in a boat or a blind with a dog that's whining or barking? No kidding. You know, so making sure, you know, that goes along with the temperament of the parents and are they vocal dogs of the, you know, all that sort of stuff. I also, one more thing to add is having a reputable breeder. There's so many things that breeders, good breeders do with the puppies to get them socialized, to expose them to different things, to get them used to… The person I got my puppy from, I mean, they're half housebroken before you get them because they're raised in the house and they're taken outside after they eat and they start to learn to go in and out and they spend time outside. They've been introduced to water, they've been introduced to feathers, you know, so there's a big difference between a puppy coming from a place like that. and one that's just been out in a concrete kennel for seven weeks. So, I'd like to know a little bit of how they're being raised and that the people have done it before and that also plays a part. Well, you've got a puppy, am I correct? I guess she's not a puppy and she's three now. So, I'll keep calling her a puppy, but no, she's three.

John Gordon: Not quite a puppy then, but you've had experience with it. And from the Purina standpoint, Carl, I know that's been a big focus for Purina over the years is the different nutritional requirements for puppies.

Karl Gunzer: Yeah. And it's really important to feed a puppy formula or an all life stage formula to a puppy. As they're developing proper calcium and phosphorus ratios are important, as well as high levels of EPA, DHA and different nutrients that really help for development of eyes, brains, all that stuff. They need a complete and balanced formula while they're growing.

John Gordon: And that's important, right? I mean, you wouldn't want to feed your puppy and adult dog food, correct?

Karl Gunzer: That's right. Exactly. Now, an all-life stage formula is complete and balanced for puppies and adults. So, if you had like that support, 30-20 is an all-life stage. So, that's fine. But like, you know, complete essentials or one of the maintenance formulas, that would not be appropriate.

Ray Voigt: And it has to be identified on the bag. So, if you see… If you're going to find a bag of food and it says adult on it, that is specifically formulated for dogs over the age of one, where like Carl said, the all-life stages can be from, you know, weaning to retirement or, you know, So, you know, that's important. I mean, I know I'd like to do, and like with a Labrador or a Retriever, if I'm doing a puppy food, I like to do a large breed puppy versus a regular, just to help with that, slow down that growth so they don't, so basically their bones aren't growing faster than their ligaments.

John Gordon: Right. And, you know, my personal dog, he was growing so fast and he had a little, well, he developed a limp and, you know, it was all just related to that, you know, just growth plate stuff that was just going too fast. So, it all comes into play, you know, that's really important. So, one year, 12 months, that's really the standard marker for adult puppies.

Karl Gunzer: That's sort of typical, yes. Yeah, that's sort of the typical. You know, large breeds can take a little longer to reach full, you know, maturity and all that, but that's sort of kind of a general standard.

John Gordon: Yeah, I've always heard age of two, right, for most large breeds. That's when they're physically developed. Not very mentally developed sometimes, but it all depends on the dog, man. You know, we've all seen them. You've seen these little phenom dogs at a very young age who are just capable of such complex things, and then some other dogs didn't really come on until they were older. So, don't give up on a dog. That's kind of one of the things, I think, too. is that they mature at different rates.

Karl Gunzer: Yeah. And one last thing I want to add is, it used to be the thought that you wanted a fat, healthy puppy. Well, fat and healthy in a puppy are not the same. They really should be lean, especially when they're growing and working. 16 weeks, six months, all that, you don't want an overweight puppy. It's really hard as those joints and bones are growing and developing, carrying too much weight is not a good thing. So I think it's really important to keep puppies lean.

John Gordon: puppies and dogs. That's maybe one of the biggest thing I've seen over the years. And you talk, I think you touched on it earlier, Carl, is that there's a lot of dogs out there that they're obese. You know, they don't need to weigh 95 pounds. They really need to weigh 70 pounds and they're just, they're being overfed.

Karl Gunzer: Yeah, and you know, what's funny is you don't think of it, you think of a dog, oh, it's just five pounds heavy. Well, five pounds may be 10%, you know, and being 10% overweight is reasonably significant, you know what I mean? And if it's 10 pounds, well, then it's 20% overweight. So, you know, it depends, of course, on the size, but it's not… You know, they don't have to be 30 pounds overweight to be overweight.

John Gordon: Right, and from a sporting dog's perspective, it's got to be tough on their joints to have to carry too much weight. You know, it's rough. Here's another question I'm going to throw at you, Ray, that people always debate about. Male or female? Completely personal preference. Exactly. But we've all seen incredible dogs on both sides, but it's just… And your experience in your career. If you just, if you had to pick one, is it the male dog that you would think that, I guess in the, in like national champions and everything like that, the males have dominated. Like this national bird dog trial, there's all, it's all males. Is that right?

Karl Gunzer: That's correct.

John Gordon: There's not a female in the, in the bunch. I looked at the running order yesterday, not the running order yet, but then the dogs qualified, they're all males. I'll be darned. So, but we've all seen some incredible, like my own Mike's dog, Lottie was man, one of the best retrievers I ever saw in my life.

Ray Voigt: I think the National Open Championship for the Retrievers this year was almost 50-50, male to female. So I think you see a lot more even in the retriever world these days. I mean, that used to be the old school thinking was you needed a big, tough, strong male that was going to go through cover and go in cold water. the way that the breeding has gone and the training has gone, that's just, you don't have to, if that's the style you like, great, but you don't have to have that to be competitive. I mean, there's a lot of small, like Lottie, like you just mentioned, some small, you know, Baby was a dog that we trained, that got in the Hall of Fame last year. She was a small petite dog and, you know, they don't have to be that big burly anymore. And in fact, those dogs nowadays, with the length and the distances that they're having to run, And the repetition, those bigger burly dogs are the ones that tend to break down faster physically. So, I mean, these dogs are putting on miles daily. I mean, they are basically endurance sprinters is what it comes down to. So, a little bit of that smaller, leaner build, a lot of them will last a little bit longer. So, personally, I own a female, but I'm not opposed to any of it. I mean, I like good dogs. But male or female really is. comes down to what you prefer. You know, some people just don't want a female that's going to come into season and you live in, you know, you, you have multiple dogs. It's hard to have both because then you have one female that comes in season and then you have to board it or have a place for it. Or in our case, like we have, we live in town now and we have diapers that she has to wear when she's in season. Cause I don't, she, I don't even have an outside kennel. She lives in the house 24 seven. So, you know, there's some things that are easier to have a male, you know, from that standpoint, with cycles and such, you're in the middle of duck season and your dog comes in season. What do you, you know, you don't want them in the water and around other dogs, you know, so. Males nuts.

John Gordon: Same with the testing and trialing, right? I mean, they've got to be scratched.

Ray Voigt: Correct. They have to be scratched. So, you know, so I know some people that prefer males for that reason. Some people like to do litters and they prefer females, you know, so they can have have litters and pass along their genetics that they like. So it really comes down to what fits your lifestyle and what you like.

John Gordon: Yeah, I think there was a real trend when I was younger, maybe in my 20s or so, I saw a lot of really big dogs, especially on the Labrador side. A guy was always talking about, man, my dog weighs 105 pounds. And I've seen the trend go in the other direction. I've seen smaller dogs nowadays. People realize that 100-pound dogs don't fit well into boats. 100-pound dogs don't fit well into anywhere. So, I think that mentality has changed over the years, and I think it's better for it. And I've seen some really good big dogs, but I think the trend now is going back to more of the breed standard. of that size. As far as nutrition goes, there's a couple of key things that people are really concerned about, I know, and I think good nutrition plays a huge part in it, and one of them is longevity. Am I correct about that, Carl? I mean, can you extend the dog's life basically by feeding it the proper food?

Karl Gunzer: You know, there was a lifespan study done by Purina, I'm trying to remember the when that was, right? It was the 80s, I think? I can't remember how long it was. The study basically showed that dogs that were kept leaner, fed lean, they lived longer lives, but also lived healthier, so that delayed the onset of osteoarthritis and different joint diseases, degenerative joint diseases. The food helps, feeding them to the right body condition helps. And just what you said, you know, 20 or 30 years ago, you know, if you looked at the average age of dogs competing in the National, I think it was around six years old. That has gradually gotten older and older now, you know, in, I should say, Retriever National. Now, Ray, do you remember what it was recently? It was like, it's pushing seven years. I mean, and it's not uncommon to have 11-year-old dogs running at the National Retriever Championship, where 30 years ago, that was almost unheard of.

John Gordon: Yeah. Yeah. But those days, it seemed like once a dog hit about eight or nine, it was pretty well done. And I think that's a lot of, that's been improvements in nutrition and people understanding nutrition as well.

Karl Gunzer: and conditioning and, you know, and a little bit the smaller dog thing, what you were talking about, those, you know, the really big retrievers of the, you know, 80s and 90s, that has trended the other way. And I think those dogs are performing a lot longer.

Ray Voigt: And we also have more, we have veterinarians now that are a lot more adept at soft tissue injury, where kind of the old school thought was it has to, if the dog's lame, it has to be a bone or a joint, and give them a Rimidell and run them tomorrow. You know, so the sports medicine aspect of taking care of the dogs has also become much more advanced. You know, so like Carl mentioned, Dr. Janelle earlier, Dr. Janelle Appel, she has done a ton to advance the The information that's out there for people, the preventative steps, the warming up, the cooling down, the stretching and all things that help prevent and diagnosing soft tissue injury, which 10 years, 15 years ago, people didn't really talk about. So, you know, that's also helped these dogs run a lot longer and a lot at older ages and Just to back up on that life study, to back up one second, when you talked about the longevity, it didn't just increase it by a few weeks or a few months, it increased their life by years.

Karl Gunzer: Yeah, I think it was 1.8 years, I believe, or just about two years.

Ray Voigt: So, you know, I mean, that's a huge difference. So when people say, oh, well, he's hungry or he likes to eat. That's great, but do you want another couple years with your pet, or do you want them to be fat because they got to eat a couple extra cups of food a couple, you know, so… That's a great point.

John Gordon: That's a great point. Think about that. You know, people listening out there, think about it. You know, if you… You may be looking at your fat dog right now and think about the fact that you might be cutting his life short. And that's a huge thing because we all love those dogs to pieces. And man, it's a blow when you lose one, right? I mean, it just, it really hurts you, you know, to your core, you know, to lose one of your dogs. And that's part of it. But I really think that I've seen some huge advances in the nutritional side of it and the knowledge of it. And like I said, people really understanding that this is the best way to have your dog around, you know, substantially longer. As far as the future, do y'all see any real trends that are coming down the line that are going to be worked into the pet food industry that are really exciting?

Karl Gunzer: I think a lot of the latest research is really kind of focused around the gut microbiome, probiotics, and a healthy gut in the dogs. And I think you're seeing that in human medicine. And that's one of the great things about Purina being owned by Nestle is that we can take some of those advances that we're creating in human medicine, whether it's infant formulas or senior formulas, and we can use a lot of that same research to try and develop it for dogs. And I think the probiotics, the gut microbiome, a little bit of brain health. There's a lot of nutritional aspects to brain health, whether it's the way The dog is assimilating fats in their brain, medium chain triglycerides are easily digestible in an older dogs brain and helps mental acuteness and all that in older dogs. So a lot of those discoveries, even things like, epilepsy and other things, there's a nutritional component to treating some of those diseases. And I think that's probably a lot of where things are focused right now. You know, I'd say brain health and gut health and affecting those with diet.

John Gordon: And that's exciting. Once again, that's going to lead, I think, to more longevity, right? I think that's a real goal. Yeah. And you're seeing dogs live longer and longer, pets living longer and longer all the way across the board. And Ray, here's a good question for you as well. From a training standpoint, a lot of folks out there that, you know, they've got one dog, I mean, they hunt with the dog. Is it better to train more consistently? You think like short periods of time every day or more intense training sessions three days a week that are covering more things? There's two schools of thought of that. I've always heard that, you know, that if you, you know, just like from training for people is if you, if you did three rounds of boxing every single day versus seven, eight rounds of boxing three days a week, you were farther ahead in the long run.

Ray Voigt: Personally, I'd probably take the more days and less work. I think if you're trying to jam three or four lessons or five lessons into one day, I don't know that they're going to, what's the right word? Retain. Retain as well as if they learned this lesson on Monday, this lesson on Tuesday, this lesson on Wednesday, trying to cram everything together. I think, you know, and a lot of times teaching, we try to teach them kind of in themes so the things go together. So if I'm trying to reach from one end of training to the other all in one day, I don't think they're going to retain that where I can build upon each lesson day to day. So if I saw something on Monday that they may be struggled with, you know, we're working on basic obedience, and they didn't want to sit the greatest. Okay, well, guess what? I'm going to work on that until I get that foundation down. So, I'm not going to teach them how to sit, teach them how to heal, teach them how to come here, all those things at once. How is the dog going to make sense of that? I want them to pick to learn one thing at a time, and then we're going to build them all together. But from a teaching learning standpoint, I think they can comprehend better learning one thing each day. Also, physically, you know, you do too much and then you're going to have mental and physical fatigue. So, spreading that out, I think, personally, that would be my way to do it.

John Gordon: Yeah, I think, you know, professional trainers working with many, many dogs over this course of time, it's real easy for a guy with one dog to overwork that dog. You know, you think about it, you're doing too much and just, you know, kind of throttle back. It makes it easier on the dog and it's right on their body suit. You were talking about that. You could really push a dog and it just, the next day you try to take it out and do this. It just doesn't feel like it because the dog is, you know, muscles are sore and everything else. So I think, you know, that's a really great point that really try to, you know, keep it short and simple. and just build upon it on a daily consistent basis.

Ray Voigt: Yeah, and that's when you're gonna, also if you're working the dog when they are on fatigued muscles, that's when you're more likely to create strains or pulls in the different muscles because when you throw something for, I mean, these guys love, that's what they're bred for, that's what they live for is to retrieve. So, if I had to have a dog that's a little bit sore and say, you know, hamstring or quadricep or groin muscle, and then I take a bird and I throw it out there, they're not going to self-regulate. They're going to try to get that bird as fast as they can. And that's when they're more likely to pull muscle or strain something where now we're going to have a lot longer process to recover versus giving them a day off or doing a little bit less each day where you don't reach that muscle fatigue.

John Gordon: Very good, very good. That's great to know, really. I think from people training dogs at all levels. Carl, I want to end with this because this is a big part in the pet world. Where do you think the treat fits in to a dog's nutritional makeup? And I know Purina has treats and everything else. Is it something that you should do on a regular basis? What do you think?

Karl Gunzer: I'd like to say everybody buy more treats. Exactly. You know, it depends. It sort of depends on the purpose. A lot of treats are given for the person, not the dog. You know, it makes the person feel better. So, they want to make their dog happy. You know what I mean? I think we all want a happy dog and we try and, you know, training them makes us happy and it should make them happy, you know, treats. should make them happy and make us happy. I think, you know, there's a real purpose for treats in training. And so we make different treats for different reasons. And I think some of the training treats and those are really helpful, especially puppies, teaching new behaviors, teaching things, sit, going to crate, you know, anything. There's dogs that are only trained on treats, that's typically not these retrievers. So I think it's just looking at the reason for the treat. Is it to make the dog feel good, to make you feel good, or to try and teach them something? I think the important thing is not to let that treat become more than like 10% of their daily calories. It's important for the dog to be… or puppy to be on a complete and balanced diet. And most treats, now some are complete and balanced, but most treats are not. So, you know, giving to excess, you know, is not a good thing.

John Gordon: That's a great point. I think you're right. It's more for the person than it is for the animal. That's right. It makes you feel better. But, you know, I gave a fluffy… It's kind of like me eating ice cream. Makes me happy.

Ray Voigt: Now, the dental treats are… I've found we've started… I've started using them personally, and I mean, they work really well. The dog… Tyler Litchenberger Are your teeth cleaner? Yeah, I mean, and they have… You didn't smell my minty breath on the way in? You know, so that does serve a purpose. And I'd have to… I don't have the reading in front of me, like, how often or how many or whatever, but, you know, they play a part. And so many people ignore their dog's dental health. until there's a problem.

John Gordon: That's a great point, right? That yeah, they don't really pay attention to the dog's teeth until, right, there's an issue. And then it's very expensive to correct.

Ray Voigt: And a lot of their, there's a lot involved with dental health and they're just their overall well-being too. And the way they, I mean, the bacteria, you can get bacteria in the bloodstream, you can cause infection. I mean, Nothing will make a dog feel down quicker than having something wrong in their mouth.

John Gordon: Especially from a retriever standpoint, right? That's what their bread and butter is, is their mouth health and how they can pick up objects and bring them back to you. So that's a great point, the dental health. Man, this has been fantastic. I've learned a lot and I hope the listeners have learned a lot about not only the different sporting dog events, but sporting dog nutrition. I really thank y'all for being here on the DU Podcast.

Karl Gunzer: It's been great, John. It's fun catching up with you and enjoyed it.

John Gordon: And thanks a lot to Perina too as well for being a partner of Ducks Unlimited for so long. Y'all have been fantastic. really supporting our mission and being real, just, you know, a part of what we do.

Karl Gunzer: That's a great organization and we're proud of our partnership for, I think, the last nine years now.

John Gordon: That's right. It's been fantastic and we really appreciate everything y'all do for us. Well, thanks everybody for once again for listening to the Ducks Unlimited podcast and supporting wetlands and waterfowl conservation.

Creators and Guests

John Gordon
Ducks Unlimited Podcast & DU Nation Host
Ep. 553 – Exploring the World of Sporting Dogs: Training, Nutrition, and Longevity