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Food as a Behaviour Modifier

Food is one of the common denominators amongst all living organisms. We require energy to grow, move, play, recover and even rest! Energy comes in the forms of carbohydrates, fat and sometimes, protein. Even in plants that do not require to eat, they have an ability to convert light energy into carbohydrates so that they can function optimally - producing leaves, flowers and fruit.

Animals, us included, need to eat other organisms for energy, be they plant or other animals. Animals have a digestive tract that supports this process very well, and this digestive tract can withstand variations of food source as well as food quantities. Dogs, especially, have evolved to eat a variety of foods that are accessible to them either through the waste that we produce or from the foods that we put in their bowls (or sometimes, accidentally dropped on the floor ;P ).

The topic today about food as a behaviour modifier goes a lot deeper than just comparing commercial dog kibble to a la carte raw dog food served with silverware and napkin. Dogs are captive audience, and to be frank, they are expensive refugees we have either bought or adopted by our choice, not theirs. So, they essentially are at the mercy of us - our decisions and choices as well as our behaviours towards and around them.

The dog food industry is as unregulated as the dog training industry. There are some labels that the FDAs require manufacturers to use for consumer knowledge. For example, companies must state the animal product used, i.e., beef, chicken, lamb, duck, etc.

Companies can use the words derivatives to mean oils and any other substances derived from the processing of animals for consumption. Companies can also use the word 'by-products' for including any materials/tissues/substances derived as unwanted parts of the animal. These include: bone, skin, eyeballs, feet, hoofs, etc.

So, dog food companies are allowed to use the words '100% Chicken' even if the ingredients were made up of chicken, including feet and feather, or beaks for that matter.

So the next time you go buy your packet of dog treats, have a look at what it actually says. Know that you could be buying derivatives such as oils and ground up bone, or you could be buying low nutrient by-products such as skin and unwanted cuts.

Just because dogs eat just about anything doesn't mean that they should. Their behaviours are governed partly by the foods that they eat. Apart from the energy they derive from the food, they are also affected by the additives and preservatives that companies add into the food to prolong their shelf-life.

Some additives are linked to hyperactivity and increased nervousness. Things starting with an 'E-number' should be avoided as they are found to be linked to hyperactivity and asthma and dogs (and children!). These flavourings and colourants simply add colour and make the treats look better.

Other additives that are long and hyphenated are also found to be linked to cancers, neurological and metabolic conditions. Why are they being used in our dogs' food is a mystery. If we would not eat foods with such ingredients, neither should our dogs, but they don't know any better and it is up to us to help them have better health.

Any words that are 4 syllables long and look like they belonged in a technological manual for some space craft should be treated as such. They do not belong on a tin of food, never mind for humans or for animals.

As far as developing pretty happy dogs go, we believe that everyone (plants, humans and animals) just need the basics - sunshine, water, air and good soil. Words that could be included in our recipe books are a huge YES, and words that don't belong means that we don't put those items in our stomachs, or our dogs.

The number of reactive, hyperactive dogs that I see at my training consultations who are also on commercial dog food that use a lot of derivatives, by-products, additives and preservatives is extermely high - to the point I can almost guarantee a positive correlation between intake of such 'foods' and negative behaviours. The number of dogs that are dying from cancer, diabetes, organ failures, etc., are due to our own failings as owners to overlook the importance of reading their food labels. Dogs are dying unnecessarily from conditions that are man-made. Changing your dog's food can help reduce unwanted behaviours as well as keeping your dog disease-free.

The bottom line: Study your dog's food and treat labels. If there are terms that shouldn't belong on the list, put the packet back on the shelf.

Training from the inside out also means training from inside your dog's gut! Pretty Happy Dogs are dogs that have happy guts as well!

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