Virginia Simpson and Chance

Dogs and Nutrition - Does Diet Affect Behavior?

by Virginia Simpson, Unleashed Canine Obedience

So a couple of weeks ago, I was invited by a very nice family to come to their home and meet their gorgeous yellow lab, Honey. Her mom told me that I needed to experience the force that was Honey at home. As the kids brought Honey into the house from the backyard, you could actually feel the energy emanating from her. She glimmered with excess energy and her eyes darted around the room and back again and again. As we sat down to discuss their dog training needs, it quickly became apparent that Honey was not able to sit still. I mean, she would literally try to lay down as requested by her owner, but her leg would start kicking and she'd jump up and then try and lay down again, but then jump right back up. She wasn't in any pain, she just couldn't sit still. Like a Type A on about eight cups of coffee.

I have always approached dogs with the idea of attempting to seek balance in what I see to be the three parts of a dog's life: the physical, the psychological and the mental areas. I have found that if there is balance in all three areas, you have a happy, well-adjusted dog usually. This dog knew the command to "down" and you could see that she wanted to comply, and she would in fact comply, but was just not able to physically hold the stay.

So, the obvious question was what is the dog eating and how much exercise is the dog getting. Well, Honey was actually getting a reasonable amount of exercise, so it came down to food. As it turned out, Honey was on a diet comprised of mostly corn, corn gluten meal, beet pulp, etc. Honey was like any young dog fed a starchy, low animal protein diet. Honey is a carnivore. And she needs to be fed like a carnivore which means lots of animal protein. Being sensitive to the fact that the majority of us live in suburbia, this of course means purchasing a good quality kibble for most families. Just like any other creature on this earth, a dog requires a diet closely resembling what nature intended in order to be physically balanced.

What are some good quality kibbles you may ask? Two places to research this and familiarize yourself with what to look for on the ingredients list are and Naked Dingo. Lots of good information here. How many years have we been told to "read the labels" on our food. Well, why not read the labels on our dog's food? Aren't they just as deserving of a healthy and natural sort of diet if at all possible?

Here is a quick example of some of the pretty big differences between dog foods:

First eight ingredients for Science Diet Puppy Growth Original Bites: Ground Whole Grain Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Animal Fat, Dried Beet Pulp, Chicken Liver Flavor, Dicalcium Phosphate, Brewers Rice, Fish Oil, etc. (How would you feel if this is what you ate day in and day out - and you are an omnivore!)

And here are the first eight ingredients of Orijen Regional Red: Fresh deboned wild board, fresh deboned lamb, lamb meal, russet potato, fresh deboned pork, peas, salmon meal, whitefish meal, etc. (are you catching the difference?)

And of course, the better the quality of food, the better the price. But make no mistake, the reason you don't see commercials or see major product placement at the stores for these higher quality foods, is because there is hardly any profit margin. Corn is a cheap filler! And so is chicken by-product, beet pulp and brewers rice. And incidentally, you will more than likely spend way more on vet bills down the road for allergies, diabetes and kidney issues all derived from years of being on a poor diet, than what you will spend on healthy food. (At least that is my experience and continued hope!) It just makes good sense really, a good diet lends itself to good health. And if we feel good, we act good! An unhealthy diet WILL affect behavior, plain and simple. It is an incredibly important component to dog training in my mind.

So, as far as Honey was concerned, I suggested a new food and set the family up to start one of our board and train programs two weeks later. Four days later, Honey and her family came to visit me at Camp Bow Wow and I have to be honest, I hardly recognized her. Her mom was floored at the difference and so was I! I had never seen such a dramatic difference before. Honey was actually sitting quietly next to them in a relatively calm manner! I thought they were coming to tell me they didn't need to do the training! But luckily they did and Honey is now living a happy life as a balanced pup!

Here's to everyone's health!

Virginia L. Simpson
Unleashed Canine Obedience, LLC