The Link Between Dog Nutrition and Behaviour: Maddie’s Story
I’m Sarah and I am a dog trainer and behaviourist working with Eye2Eye Dogs.
My message is this – changing your dog’s diet to raw can have a huge impact on their health, welfare, and behaviour!
Here’s how I know ………
In 2019 I retired from the Avon and Somerset Police and started a new career as a dog trainer and behaviourist.
I’ve ‘only’ had 2 dogs in my life which I suppose is a bit unusual for someone in my current profession.
My first dog – a Border Collie called Bob, who I found at Bristol Dogs Home. Bob was an angel – perfect recall, loved all humans, and adored all dogs. I thought all dogs were like Bob!
When I lost Bob in 2015, Maddie joined the family. She was a rescue from Many Tears in Wales. I quickly realised that not all dogs were like Bob……no recall, didn’t like humans, and hated other dogs!!
Our walks inevitably involved at least one incident of lunging towards another dog growling and barking. Visitors to the house were ‘greeted’ in a similar way, and woe betide anyone who tried to say ‘hello’ to her!
I knew I needed help and contacted a local trainer – Bryony Cole at Eye2Eye Dogs – and we started addressing her reactivity using desensitization and counter conditioning techniques. The progress that Maddie made was amazing, but there was always an edge to her. A feeling that she was a piece of stretched elastic waiting to snap at any moment.
It was then I decided to do some nutrition research and, more specifically, its impact on dogs that are anxious, reactive, or aggressive……and let’s be clear here, these emotions and behaviours tend to go hand in hand.
I had always fed kibble – a high quality one but still a highly processed dry food.
As a scientist (I have a degree in botany and biochemistry), I realised everything I read about the advantages of feeding a raw diet, particularly in terms of physiology and behaviour, made complete sense. I decided to make the switch; I chose Prodog Raw.
I was hopeful that the change to her diet would start to influence Maddie’s behaviour over time but wasn’t prepared for the dramatic impact that it had – and in such a short period. Within 2 weeks, she became visibly calmer and more relaxed. I realised that I wasn’t tensing at the sight of another dog walking towards us. There were other physical changes too – most noticeably, her black coat became ridiculously glossy, and her teeth – that had been so difficult to keep clean – became pearly white!
Maddie is now our number one stooge! When we are working with dogs that are reactive/ aggressive towards others, Maddie comes and hangs out. They growl and bark at her, but she just looks at them and then turns back to me – you can almost hear her say
“Yep, I used to be like that…. but just look at me now!”
As a trainer and behaviourist working with anxious and aggressive/ reactive dogs, I feel that it is my absolute duty to discuss nutrition with my clients and the options available – including raw.
The science is clear – what we feed our dogs has a marked effect on their behaviour. Poor gut health may well be closely linked to reactivity in dogs.
The reason for this (and I will keep this brief) is the level and type of microorganisms that live in the gut collectively called the microbiome and can affect all manner of things, including emotions, mood, learning ability, and memory.
Nutrition has a huge impact on the microbiome – both positive and negative. In other words, you can influence both the physical and mental health of your dog with what you feed them.
There are a vast number of different foods on the market now, ranging from kibble to raw. Other options include cooked wet food and cold pressed. If food goes through any kind of process, then a lot of naturally occurring nutrients, including beneficial bacteria, will be killed off. In other words, raw meat is far richer nutritionally and supportive of the microbiome than kibble or cooked meat.
So how does gut health influence the brain and behaviour?
As we know, the brain is a complex organ that controls things such as movement, emotions, and senses. There is increasing evidence to suggest that the gut can seriously influence brain functions – this is called the gut-brain axis. In other words, signals from the gut are carried to the brain.
The body naturally produces Mood-boosting chemicals such as Dopamine and Serotonin, and increasing evidence support the role nutrition plays in these processes.
Indeed, Dopamine is often known as the FEEL-GOOD HORMONE as it has been shown to increase when performing reward-based activities with dogs.
It is estimated that 70% of serotonin is created in the gut. It is the chemical that makes us feel better about life. Many anti-anxiety medications are designed to increase serotonin levels in an anxious dog’s brain – yet, we can do that by simply changing their diet!!!
Another point to note is that most processed foods – particularly kibbles – contain a high proportion of carbohydrates and additives. In the same way that such things can have a negative effect on human behaviours, the same is true of dogs. If we gave our children sweets or fast food every day, it goes without saying that it would result in some pretty awful behaviour!
It is undoubtedly the case that a poor diet can significantly impact a dog’s mood and associated behaviours. We know that anxious dogs are often the reactive dogs.
I have so many clients who have reported considerable improvements in their dog’s behaviour simply by changing to a raw diet– some, like Maddie, within a really short time.
Woody – a Border Collie – came to me as an emergency consultation. He was reactive to dogs and people and had bitten his owner on a number of occasions. It became very clear that he was super hyperactive, and I quickly decided to recommend a change to his food – he was on a supermarket kibble. I heard from the owner within a couple of days – “I can’t believe the difference that the switch to raw has made – he is like a different dog!”
Sunny, a Terrier, was the most anxious little dog I have ever consulted with. He was terrified of everything – yes, we did lots of training, but the change in his diet undoubtedly helped him gain that extra ‘piece of calm’. He is now a happy member of a group trick class!
The list is endless!
Are you ready to ditchthedry?
Author – Sarah Treweek Eye2Eye Dogs, trainer and behaviour expert, BSc (Hons)
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