A Thought that Deserves 5 More Minutes; A Dog’s Diet & Behavior Part 2


 As a professional trainer I see dogs that experience extreme behaviors from aggression, excessive barking, destructive tendencies, to dog’s that can seem aloof and unfocused. Obviously we know that training is the route to improving and modifying undesired behaviors. In the meantime though there are researchers investigating the role that nutrition plays in a dog’s behavior like whether adding or removing specific nutrients from the food will alter a dog’s temperament or behavior.

Behavior both in humans and in canines are regulated by neurotransmitters and hormones. Nutrition has the ability to change behavior.

“The main theory behind nutrition and its ability to alter canine behavior is that making these precursors more – or less – available, may make a difference in a dog’s conduct. Tryptophan, for example, is the precursor of serotonin (a neurotransmitter). It is believed its presence or absence may affect aggression and stress resistance in dogs. Tyrosine, a precursor of catecholamines (hormones produced by the adrenal gland), may also affect aggression and stress resistance”. – Dr. Becker

In other words, FOOD EQUALS POWER

Can Make Your Dog Sluggish
When a dog is fed a grain-based diet it will produce an insulin release because the body has to balance the sugar amount in the blood. During this process the dog’s body releases cortisol. This is similar to us feeling sleepy after we eat. Dogs will became more sluggish after eating carbohydrates that promote insulin in the body. So if you feed your dog a high protein diet he will not experience this tiredness.

Improved Brain Function
As a mom of twins I researched DHA for my children because it’s added to some formulas and milk. Research on DHA in rats showed that a rich DHA diet helps improve the learning ability whereas diets with low levels of DHA have the opposite outcome. In another study, puppies that were fed with a rich DHA diet before and after birth made fewer mistakes in training versus puppies fed a diet with a normal amount of DHA.

These are just two examples of how much a diet can affect a dog’s behavior. Lucky for us pet guardians, I think that as we progress in science more and more we will be able to really use the diet to help with specific areas of training and performance, more so than we have already.

A poor diet can promote:
Destructive tendencies
Sluggish/poor energy
Lack of Focus


Yale University’s School of Medicine found that sugar can provoke abnormal behavior in children. During the study after the children were given refined sugar products their blood tested adrenalin ten times higher than before eating the treat and led to anxiety, crankiness and difficulty concentrating.

Majority of dog foods on the market contain large amounts of grain and other use of carbohydrates and sugar. When processed carbohydrates are digested they turn into simple sugar in the body. Essentially pet guardians are unknowingly feeding their dog sugar filled cereal. This can spike your dog’s energy level, encourage hyperactivity, lack of self-control, and fearfulness.

When I was eleven, my Golden retriever had a seizure on my lap due to an allergic reaction from dye in his treat. To say that this entire experience left an impression on me is an understatement. Let me emphasis that this treat was packaged in a box and sold in a grocery store that a young 11 year old girl begged her mom to buy. I thought my dog would love them and I wanted to train him. It was in the store, so I assumed it was safe.  In addition, food dye has been linked to hyperactivity.

But how safe is dye for our pets really?

Chemicals Chemicals Everywhere
Chemicals are used in the majority of pet food and treats to include but not limited to BHT, BHA, and Ethoxiquen.  They are used as a preservative in the food. We know from research that these chemicals are cancer causing.  These are known carcinogens that build up in the body’s system over time. They have been linked to allergic reactions, hyperactivity, and are toxic to the nervous system which can cause unexplained fears, timidity, or aggression.

In addition, going back to the carbs in the majority of dog foods, most of these grains and carbs are grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. These toxins affect behavior as well and are thought to cause aggression, irritability, and not to mention have cancer causing agents.

Not all Ingredients have to be listed
Did you know that there are around 10,000 different food additives that the food companies don’t have to legally list on the label. They can be listed as “natural flavors” or “spices.”  Food chemicals have been linked to lethargy, being easily distracted, urinary urgency, irritability, and fearfulness.

Quality of Ingredients
Many dog food companies use poor quality meat and ingredients because it’s cheap and they can make more money. There are things like by-products and animal digest. By products include feet, heads, viscera, necks, intestines. Other protein sources include hydrolyzed hair which is hair from cattle, horses, pigs or other animals that they process by treating the hair with heat and pressure to produce something “suitable” for feeding.

I will be writing more details in coming weeks about what is in kibble. Bottom line, the quality of ingredients, sources of protein, and the practices of packaged kibble is less than par from what we are being marketed to from the main stream companies claiming to be the “best” food for our fur kids.

Majority of Dog Foods Contains:
Sugar/High Carbs
Poor quality of ingredients

Food matters. What you feed will affect your dog’s behavior.  As we look at a training program it’s important to consider the whole picture to include your dog’s health and diet.

Stay tuned for my next blog discussing the difference between feeding whole foods versus a processed kibble and how this can improve your training program and your dog’s behaviors.



Blog written by Michelle Huntting



PetfoodIndustry.com November 3, 2011
Nutrition Research Reviews (2007), 20, 180-94 http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2012/01/12/ways-to-treat-canine-behaviors.aspx http://caninetrainingessentials.com/images/Diet.pdf
Foods Pets Die For by Ann Martin

4 thoughts on “A Thought that Deserves 5 More Minutes; A Dog’s Diet & Behavior Part 2

  1. syriusdog says:

    Quite interesting. Makes me want to switch my lab to raw more. He has some GI issues so just gonna be hard to source his food as easily as my Vizsla who has been raw fed for nearly 3 years.

    I have a friend who noticed less reactivity in her dog when she found a food that had none of his allergens in it. So bet they play a big role too.

    great post


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