What role does diet play in the performance of highly active sporting, military and other working canines? Ian Donovan, former Green Beret and national channel manager for Kinetic Performance Dog Food, joins Ag Future to discuss the importance of supporting both the physical and mental readiness of these high-energy dogs.
The following is an edited transcript of the Ag Future podcast episode with Ian Donovan hosted by Tom Martin. Click below to hear the full audio or listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.
Tom: I’m Tom Martin for Ag Future.
Question: How does diet affect the capabilities, the recovery and energy of a working dog?
Kinetic Dog Food, working in partnership with Alltech, is addressing that question and responding with a food formulated to deliver optimal nutritional benefits to military and other working canines.
Joining us from Kinetic Performance Dog Food, where he is national channel manager, is Ian Donovan, a former Green Beret and multi-purpose canine handler and kennel master. Ian has invested years in raising, training and hunting with high-drive, highly intelligent and highly athletic gun dogs.
Welcome to Ag Future, Ian.
Ian: Hey, thanks, Tom. It’s good to be with you.
Tom: So, I just offered the briefest of sketches of your background. If you could, tell us more about the experience that you bring to the development of Kinetic Performance Dog Food and your role as national channel manager.
Ian: Yes. So, as a dog handler for U.S. Special Operations, we were — we were kind of bound to one certain food, and that was a contract that, you know, we really had nothing to do with on our level.
But eventually, we kind of convinced the higher powers that, you know, performance actually does begin with nutrition; you know, we preach that to ourselves on the team. We’re only as good as our bodies are. Making a living on how well your body performs under stress, you know, could be the difference between life and death, and it was no different (for) our canine counterparts.
So, we went out and searched for a better fuel for those dogs — something that would help their mental stimulation, you know, their physical endurance, their physical drive and energy, and we found that in Kinetic Dog Food.
After making the switch, as a handler, I was able to move into the kennel master position and work closer, hand-in-hand, with those guys over at Kinetic and kind of tweaking a few things and helping them understand exactly what we needed on our side of the fence when it came — when it came to the fuel that we were using to fuel these animals.
So, after I was done with my time in the military and left, I jumped on board with those guys, because working with dogs is something, you know, that I’m always doing. It’s something — it’s a different passion of mine. And, you know, I was fortunate enough and blessed enough to do it.
That’s probably the highest level that I could think of, you know — if your dog fails (in combat), then you don’t come home to your family, right? So, I really enjoyed working with dogs in that aspect: you know, the pressure of it all, but also, seeing the benefits of when you really fuel that dog properly — what it can do for you, what it can do for your team, what it can do for your country.
So, it’s kind of a short synopsis of how I came to the Kinetic family. And now that I’m here, we’re just going to continue benefitting all these working dogs — all these dogs that, you know, you’ve got to fuel that are under extreme amounts of stress.
And I think I’m just fortunate enough to have a background that allowed me bring some experience to that aspect of things and really be able to communicate well with military and police departments, SWAT teams and things of that nature (for) all (of the) dogs that we feed.
Tom: Well, Ian, I know that you’ve attended many training, decoy (and) behavior-focused events, as well as a lot of police and military working dog competitions.
What were some important lessons that you took away from those events?
Ian: Yeah. So, competition breeds excellence, right? It breeds confidence. One thing that I really took away from it was, as good as I try to be, as much as I try to work on myself, you know, I’ve really got to work on my canine counterpart, because he doesn’t have the cognitive reasoning skills that human beings do, right? So, he doesn’t know how important this competition is to me.
Part of being a good trainer and good handler is being able to manipulate an animal into thinking that what he’s doing at that time is the most fun thing on the planet for him to do but, at the same time, having him accomplish your goals and objectives.
So, that was probably the biggest thing that I could take away from these events and competitions, is having the ability to kind of manipulate the dog into thinking that what he’s doing at that time is the most fun thing on the planet for him while, at the same time, accomplishing my goals and objectives.
And that’s been very beneficial for me in the past and will continue to be in the future when it comes to training these high-drive, highly, highly intelligent dogs that are really just trying to outsmart you to do the least amount of work to get paid. So, it’s a challenge every day, but it’s a fun challenge.
These decoy seminars, you know, a lot of people don’t understand that when you decoy for a dog — meaning you put bite suit on and you allow the dog to bite you — the guy in the suit is the one training the dog. In my line of work, we have to have exceptional bite dogs, because when it came down to it, there are a lot of times we can’t just pull the trigger and kill someone.
We do (need to) capture that guy; he’s got very valuable intelligence, so we need to use the dog as a less-than-lethal means of enemy acquisition. And having a dog that’s a really, really sound bite dog — so a dog that knows how to use his mouth along with his brain and then the rest of his body and grappling and really, you know, imposing himself with a force on who you’re trying to capture — is huge, and being able to train that as a decoy is everything in creating that for these dogs.
So, (I’m) having a good a time, and it’s, you know — I’m only 35, so fortunately for me, I get to have a lot more fun with it in the future.
Tom: That’s great.
And you said something there that really strikes me as so true: that dogs really — well, to play on the old song, dogs just want to have fun.
Ian: [laughs] That’s it. That’s it. And I mean, you know, you and I, we’ve got a lot of things in our daily lives that take up our time and our attention. But a dog, you know — a dog is just a portion of your life. You are his entire life. So, everything that he does all day is focused around, centered around you.
And these really intelligent dogs, you know, they get a bad rap for being misbehavers, or yeah, they kind of — they cause a lot of ruckus. But any working dog has got to have a job. And primarily, you know, the dog is going to be happiest when he’s doing the job that he was actually bred to do, because he is genetically predisposed to do that certain act.
You know, it’s common across the working dog world that you get these high-drive working dogs and people take them in as a family pets, and it’s just, you know, a debacle. But these dogs — these dogs are made to work, and that’s when they’re happiest, because they’re actually doing what they were bred to do.
Tom: It may seem like splitting hairs, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me it’s not. I’m wondering: How did military dogs that you encountered compare with the canine athletes that you’ve worked with for pleasure?
Ian: Well, they’re the same beast, in a way. I do a lot of work with upland hunting dogs — so pointers and setters — and then even waterfowl dogs and labs.
And I took a lot of my knowledge of those dogs and my experience working with them and training them to the military side of things. So, one thing that we like to do with our dogs — and our dogs do three things in the military: they find bombs, they track enemy personnel, and then they can apprehend them, and they obviously bite them whenever they do find them.
So, one thing that we really like to do is have enough stand-off when they do tell us that there’s (an) explosive odor present (so we can) not be anywhere near around it if it actually does go off, right? If the bomb detonates.
So, I was able to take my experience with these retrievers — and then directionals and stopping a dog on a whistle, even hand signals to cast them left, right, back, come to me. To put the dog, you know, the military working dog in a productive area of the battlefield — you know, maybe downwind is an objective, or look at the topography the same way you do in a field trial, right? You need to direct this lab towards the downed bird, (just like you need to know) how to direct this bomb dog towards a potential explosive device that, you know, either our partner forces found or, you know, one of my teammates would come up and told me that he thinks there’s something out there. So, just, you know, intelligence from the area.
Another thing that really helps us and is very similar between all of these dogs is just the endurance that they have to have, both mentally — the mental stamina — and the physical stamina that they’ve got to have.
A lot of people just think it’s all physical, but anytime a dog is using his nose, he’s using his brain as well. A lot of these herding dogs, you know, (that) a lot of these farmers and ranchers use — that (requires), you know, an incredible amount of mental aptitude and stamina to be able to, you know, outsmart a lot more animals than just him, right? So, it’s just one against maybe 30 or 40 cows or sheep or goats or whatever they’re trying to herd.
So, the mental stamina and the (love of the) game is true on both sides of the aisle — (for) both, you know, the sporting dogs and the military working dogs. It’s just, at the end of the day, some of us do it for sports and it’s fun. Some of us do it for a living and it’s a little more serious. But both dogs are very, very similar in those ways, in those aspects.
Tom: You mentioned earlier that you and your colleagues lobbied for improved fuel or better food for the performance dogs that you were working with in the military.
And I know that Kinetic offers a line of foods and supplements formulated for performance dogs. What’s required? What are the optimal requirements for hard-working dogs — in particular, those military and police dogs who are working under stress?
Ian: Well, the biggest thing is you’ve got to have an extremely digestible food. A lot of these foods have a ton of fillers on them and, you know, it really just doesn’t do well for the composition of the makeup of the body. You need to have a very nutrient-dense food; that’s what we’re looking for.
Nutrient density is key, because we feed a lot less of it that way. Working dogs have got to — they’ve got to have fuel, but they can’t have a stomach that’s full with a bunch of fillers, right? Because they’re moving constantly by perpetual motion.
So, having a very nutrient-dense food allows us to feed a lot less of that food. At the same time, the digestibility rate of that food is astronomical, right? And that — that’s really where Alltech has helped Kinetics in a big way.
The mineral profiles in the food, the chelated minerals that allow the absorption of all of the nutrients of the dog food, because of Alltech’s mineral profiles, has been a game changer for that food and for the animals that it feeds.
So, you can have all the nutrients in the food that you want, but if there’s a really poor absorption rate of these nutrients, then, you know, it’s just going in one end and out of the other.
And that was something that we experienced with some dog foods. Another thing, like I said, was the massive amounts of fillers that a lot of those dogs’ food had. Kinetic has none of that. It’s really a nutrient-dense food with very namable protein and fat sources.
That’s another big thing: They don’t try to play the market and put the cheapest ingredients in the food. They are feeding dogs that would often get me back home, get my buddies back home to our families.
It’s pretty personal for these guys and for the company, and that’s why I, you know — it’s really a no-brainer; I want to jump on board with them. But you really want to — you know, at the end of the day, (with) a nutrient-dense food, (you will) feed a lot of less of it. The absorption rate of all those nutrients, you know, it’s extremely highly digestible.
So, those are the big things that we’re looking for when we’re feeding the performance animal a performance food.
Tom: That’s really something to think about as a consumer, isn’t it? When you’re in the store and you’re trying to choose the best possible food for your animal, be it a dog or a cat or whatever — and while the pricing on the high-performance food may be higher, you feed much less of it.
Ian: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I mean, it really works out to be the same price or sometimes even cheaper than what you’re getting with some of these other feeds that are just full of fillers (in) larger bags. We’re feeding much, much less of it.
And, again, let’s take — for instance, prior to a mission. Say I’m going on a three-day mission with a dog. Overseas, I’m carrying all his food and my food and all my ammunition and everything else that I need on my back, right? So, there’s no way that I (could) take a bag of dog food with me, you know.
We feed minimal amounts, and that’s why it’s got to be so nutrient-dense. We (soldiers) feed ourselves the same way. So, it’s pretty simple. When you think about what we’re doing to ourselves, (we) really need to do the same things to the dogs that, you know, are fighting right there next to us.
We want nutrient density. We want high absorption rates. We want a ton of energy and fuel from our food. The dogs need the same exact things.
Tom: Well, Ian, among the dogs that you’ve worked with, do any stand out in your mind as really special in some way?
Ian: Oh, sure. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there’s a ton of stories about, you know, the incredible things that they’ve done overseas that you really wouldn’t believe until you — unless you’ve seen it.
But there are dogs here as well. The dogs overseas that I’ve worked with have gotten me back home to enjoy, you know, the dogs that I work with here. So, it’s kind of unfair to say that they don’t mean a little more to me or that they haven’t done a little more for me.
But yeah, on the military side of things, I’ve worked with some exceptional dogs that have done some incredible things — and, you know, they do it because it’s their job, just like we do it because it’s our job. And you know, because they’ve done those things and save a ton of lives, it really — it helps myself and the guys that I’m working with to know that the dogs are at our disposal, right?
We’re going to feel a lot more confident going on an objective, going in that target, knowing that that dog has gone before us and cleared the way, you know. He allowed us to understand, you know, there’s no explosive threat on this particular objective, because he would have identified that threat prior to going in.
So, if you can put that to rest in the corner of your brain or your mind and just make it about the humans at that point, you know, it takes a lot of weight off your shoulders and clears your mind to look for other things.
So, they do some exceptional things for us over there. Like I said, (they) allowed me to get back here and have fun with all the other dogs that I get to train and play with on this side of the pond.
Tom: I think some of the finest individuals I’ve ever met just happen to be dogs.
Ian: Oh, sure. Yeah. I mean, (they are) the most selfless beings on the planet, I think.
That’s Ian Donovan, national channel manager at Kinetic Performance Dog Food.
Thank you so much, Ian.
Ian: Absolutely, Tom. Great to be with you.
Tom: And for Ag Future, I’m Tom Martin.
This has been Ag Future, presented by Alltech. Thank you for joining us. Be sure to subscribe to Ag Future wherever you listen to podcasts.