The Village Diet
In Turkey, village dogs are fed a basic diet of ‘yal’ which is a barley mash mixed with water, goat’s milk and/or yogurt. They will also get stale bread, and on good days, perhaps some offal, eggs, or bones with a bit of meat. The magnificent adult male here was much cherished by his sheep-herding family, and so he and his puppy (which, by the way, is my beloved Pasha) were well fed and even allowed in the house. Other dogs are not quite so lucky.
For villagers who don’t have much to spare themselves, it’s understandable that the dogs get short shrift. So don't conclude that the "typical" homeland diet is the best diet, or what Kangal Dogs have ‘evolved’ to eat. All dogs are are basically carnivores with some omnivorous capacity. The dogs subsist on a low-protein diet in Turkey, but they do not thrive on it. Most of the working dogs you see are thin and their coats dull from lack of protein and other nutrients. Those that are kept on chains or in pens tend might become obese from the high-carb diet.
So, don’t worry, you don’t have to devise a barley mash diet, though you can feel free to give them your leftover oatmeal or Cream of Wheat, sans sugar, as a treat. :)
A good quality kibble is my basic food. I’ve tried raw diets and while it might be good IF you were able to formulate a balanced raw diet properly, and IF you had the time to buy, freeze, and prepare daily meals--it’s really not practical for many of us, especially with very large dogs. Especially if you can’t have a dedicated freezer. However, fresh raw chicken with bones really does help my dogs with their digestion, gives low-odor stools that dissolve rapidly into the soil (if I let it), and truly helps keep their teeth and gums looking good. I don’t know why, it just does. Enzymes?
Which kibble? I choose brands from major manufacturers because the fact is that smaller companies are NOT more likely to make better quality foods. Just the opposite. There is no legal requirement to do stringent quality control on dog foods nor to comply with the claims on the label. Thus, the small companies are responsible for the lion’s share of recalls. The big companies prefer to avoid the bad PR so they tend to stick to decent ingredients and can afford to do their nutrient analysis.
But I also won’t just choose any ol’ kibble that is certified to meet AAFCO nutritional guidelines. Wal-Mart’s Ol’Roy is AAFCO certified and there is NO way I would feed that to my dogs. The stuff is greasy, stinky, and way too colorful. It causes dull, dandruffy coats, obesity, bad teeth, bad breath, bad condition all around. I look for a good quality food—better than what’s in the local grocery store, but not crazy expensive. I don’t fall for gimmicks like shiny packaging, hard little “Life Source Bits,” or other meaningless hype.
I also switch off a fair bit on kibble with my dogs. I don’t believe in feeding dogs the same kibble all the time—why would I? “They” say that one should be careful to transition a dog slowly when you switch feeds, lest they have gastrointestinal reactions--but I suspect that’s an old wive’s tale. And if there’s any truth to it, why set them up for that in the first place? I want my dogs to have flexible guts, and they do.
No need to go for the ‘grain free’ as far as I can tell, but I do go for meat as the first ingredient, and something other than corn for filler. Most often I use Nutro Max, Canidae, or Purina Pro Plan, sometimes Wellness or other premium food if it’s on sale. Sometimes I mix ‘em.
To this I regularly add healthy stuff like raw or cooked beef/chicken/pork, cheese, cottage cheese, raw meaty bones, and leftovers from dinner (except onions—a little is OK if it’s in there but onions are generally not good for dogs.) I also feed raw chicken backs or thighs to the big dogs, and raw skinless chicken or turkey necks to the pups and terriers (I will chop or smash them first, lest the pups try to swallow on whole!) I have a good supplier for these, though it takes some planning to get an order.
Puppies and young dogs
I wean puppies at 3-4 weeks on a high quality puppy food and transition to a quality Large Breed Puppy kibble (the same stuff their mama has been eating during the last 2 weeks of pregnancy and through lactation). I soak it in hot water, and then add powdered Esbilac or goat’s milk, then start decreasing the milk content, and the water, until they can eat dry kibble at around 5-6 weeks of age. At around 5 weeks I also start adding small amounts of fresh ground beef and chicken, cooked or raw. And other stuff—yogurt, bits of cooked veggies and other healthy things in small amounts.
For young puppies, it’s important to have them on a good quality Large Breed Puppy food to keep their caloric intake at a reasonable level. Overfeeding and overnutrition can lead to joint problems due to their rapid growth rates. Protein is not really the problem—calories is. Look for a feed that has about 3500-4000 Kcal calories per kilo of food (usually on the Ingredients label), and calcium of .9-1.35% (according to dogfoodadvisor.com).
I used to advocate taking puppies off Puppy food at 6 months or so to prevent them from growing too fast, but foods seem to have gotten more tailored, and there are advantages to feeding a good, quality Puppy formula for large breed dogs to help control their grown rate and enhance health. Plus, many people don’t have the time to add healthy foods to the regular diet—so if you’re going to feed one thing rather than many things, it’s best to be sure that one thing is balanced and complete. So I have changed my mind with the times. I now keep my puppies on Large Breed Puppy food for at least 12 months, perhaps longer. And I still replace some of that food with good ol’ meat and some veggies or dairy.
The most important thing: Once they reach 8 weeks of age, they should no longer be roly-poly fat puppies, but not skinny of course--like the puppy at the left.
This 16-week puppy is in good weight, especially considering his large bone and heavy frame. All the more imperative to keep him lean and fit as he grows into those bones!
This young adult Kangal male is in superb condition, lean and fit. Notice the indentation in the loin area and ribs that you can almost see, but not quite.
Feeding more will NOT make your dog bigger as an adult. I cannot recommend amounts because every dog is different. Start by giving your puppy what s/he will eat in 10 minutes or so, take note of what’s left, do the math, and keep giving that amount until you notice that she is looking a bit fat or a bit too slim, and adjust accordingly. I am constantly adjusting the diet of my dogs according to how they look today or this week. Whatever you do, don’t follow what it says on the food package because that is always too much! It seems like the pet food companies choose to err on the side of ‘too fat’ or they target their feeding rates to dogs with a high metabolism, so as to ensure those dogs get enough. You don’t want to feed high-metabolism amounts to a low-metabolism dog.
Note: I reserve the right to adjust my opinion on any of the above if I learn something that compels me to do so!