We start our pups on Diamond Naturals Lamb and Rice kibble at 3 weeks, and begin giving them a dish of the raw food their parents get at suppertime when they reach 5 weeks. We add a piece of chicken wing to that at 6 weeks. They are still able to eat the kibble from a creep feeder (a feeder that pups can access, but that the larger dogs or, in the case of LGD's, the larger livestock, cannot access) whenever they're hungry.
We highly recommend continuing the raw diet, either exclusively or supplemented with kibble, once the pups go home with you. Please take time to look up some of the references on the bottom of this page of and learn about the advantages of a natural diet and the drawbacks of a kibble diet.
We base our feeding practices on the work of Dr. Ian Billinghurst, a veteranarian from Austrailia who has been using this diet in his practice for over 50 years. You can get his books through your local library or order them online. His main book, The BARF Diet, (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) is a quick, easy read. I find that Dr. Billinhurst's own website that used to have tons of info on it is mostly replaced with ads for his brand of raw dog food that he now manufactures and sells. Here is an article written by Dr. Billinghurst that does a great job of summarizing the issues: http://k9protraining.com.au/2012/09/03/modern-dog-foods-a-recipe-for-disaster/
We never did think that a kibble diet was adequate for a dog's nutrition...we always did supplement with good, real food. But when a man who worked for a raw animal food company - they make zoo animal food and also a dog and cat food - bought a pup from us, he explained why we might want to consider feeding raw. We later bought a pup from a breeder who fed and recommended that we feed raw. She recommended that we read The BARF Diet. The light went on as I realized that I had used an 85% raw diet myself to get over the health issues I had a number of years before, and it had worked beyond my greatest expectations. How much more important it would be for a dog, who would never cook his food in the first place, to eat raw food?
So our goal is to imitate what a dog would eat in the wild. He would make a kill and get, say, a rabbit. He would eat the muscle meats, the organ meats, the bones, and the stomach contents - which would contain partially digested vegetable matter, along with probiotics and enymes, which we try to mimic by grinding veggies in the food processor or blender. We add yogurt (containing probiotics and enzymes) to that, and their supplements.
The next question is always that "We've always heard that dogs should not be fed bones". The answer to that is that it is COOKED bones that should never, ever be fed. It is cooked bones that cause the splintering and impaction problems, but raw bones are the things they would eat if out in the wild. And that's what they still eat when they eat roadkill or when they attack something out in the field and turn it into dinner!
The first great result we saw as we began changing the dogs' diets over from kibble was that our 10-year-old Great Pyrenees had had some serious arthritis for awhile, and it had gotten to the point that we wondered if she was going to live another winter. When we changed her diet she got a new lease on life,and she got around again as though she'd never been arthritic. She lived, seemingly very healthy, until she was 13. Then she developed a giant mammary tumor that grew very fast. We wonder whether she would have developed that if she had been fed a natural diet all her life.
So please check out some of the references we list on the bottom of the first page, especially if this is a new concept for you, and we really hope you'll seriously consider how you might feed your dog "biologically appropriate raw food".
[One little disclaimer: We disagree that biologically appropriate food is the food the animals evolved to eat, but we rather that it is the food that, in a fallen world, they were created to eat!]
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As a sidenote, I'll first say that we feed dry kibbles as a supplement or filler, both because we're feeding so very many dogs (!) and because we want the pups that leave here to be familiar with kibbles as an aid to their new owners. Our adult dogs only get kibble if they are young or thin or pregnant or lactating. A diet made up solely of raw foods is the closest thing to their natural diet and promotes health and deters disease.
We typically use Diamond Naturals Lamb and Rice formula, which is a higher quality dry food with a little lower price tag than many of the other better dog foods. It can be found at some farm and feed stores, some Menards stores, and some Petco stores (but Petco's price is higher). In general, in choosing a dry dog food, you want to read the label and choose one that lists meat as the first ingredients and that does not contain corn, soy, or wheat. A dog cannot digest and assimilate grains. Rice is the most usable grain and rice listed after meat as an ingredient is acceptable.
It must be understood, though, that a dry dog food with the best of ingredients is still not ideal or adequate food for a sole food. Dry dog food is cooked at high pressure both to make sure no detrimental bacteria is left alive and to preserve the food in the bag until consumed...the stuff will keep for years! The current practice of feeding only dry kibble with its cooked (by-product) ingredients is THE major cause of the present proliferation of dysplasias, cancers, skin and tooth problems, allergies, and other chronic ailments and abnormalities in domestic pets.
Even though the price tag on a food like this is higher than some dry foods, you'll find the dog will eat less and have less stool because there is more nutrition per ounce, and fewer fillers. More real ingredient and fewer by-products also translates to a healthier dog... again, saving you money on vet bills over his lifetime.
If a pup stays here with us as our own dog, we begin feeding the raw diet exclusively as soon as his littermates have gone home, and drop the kibble. Also, a pup should not grow too fast. If he is at all overweight for his height he should not be fed free choice, but meals should be controlled.
We are feeding our dogs a diet that is comprised primarily of fresh, raw ingredients. Your pup has also been receiving raw meaty bones from the butcher periodically.
We urge you to study the science behind feeding a diet like this. Please note that there proliferates information on raw feeding on the internet and in books. We trust the guidelines of Dr. Billinghurst since he has spent a lifetime researching and practicing this. You will find others who will advise an all-meat or an all-vegetarian diet. These are not adequate for the needs of your dog.
The bones and organ meats are an important ingredient in the maintenance of health in canines...even more so than the muscle meats...so be sure to include kidneys, liver, heart (which is more like muscle meat), lung, and tripe (stomach). Feed raw poultry pieces with meals and set out larger animal bones for chewing between meals. The large bones provide great natural exercise for you pup/dog, as well as many trace minerals and chewing on the joints provides glucosamine for joint health.
As we've done more study on the diet, we've come to understand that a growing pup should have no more ground meat than they have of the veggies - before adding the supplements. The rest needs to be in the form of meaty bones, such as the chicken necks and wings. The proportions we use for adults shouldn't be used until the dog reaches close to two years of age. Until then, they should get much more of their nutrition through the veggie neck and wing-type bones, and large chewing bones. Yogurt and egg is also excellent.
When you take your pup home if you are not using free-choice kibbles he should be fed about 4x per day, though he may get by with as few as twice per day if he has a large "recreational" bone to chew on in between. In any case, keep tabs on him to make sure his ribs are still feeling like the bones on the back of your hand... not too padded and not too prominent. Remember that the single most important thing in avoiding skeletal diseases and dysplasias is to grow your pup slowly and lean until he's comnpletely finished growing at 2+ years of age.
RECOMMENDED FEEDING SCHEDULE: 8-11 Weeks - 4 feedings per day 12-23 Weeks - 3 feedings per day 24 Weeks -10 Months - 2 feedings per day At 10 Months - Can reduce to 1 feeding per day