There can be a number of ways your feeding habits affect the dog behavior of your dog and, you might not even be aware that it is happening!
Your dog’s behavior and yes, even your dog’s health can be affected by the diet you feed him if his food does not agree with his genetic makeup. An example of this is our black Labrador retriever, Sammy. Sammy was genetically predisposed to hip dysplasia and early arthritis.
Until we learned about what food was best for Sammy, cooler proteins instead of hot proteins and a more natural organic food instead of commercial processed food, his joints remained hot and inflamed. This in turn created health issues that caused some behavioral problems.
Now Sammy is on a diet that compliments his genetic deficiencies and he feels better and consequently has no health-related behavior problems.
It’s important to be sensitive to how your feeding habits can affect your dog’s behavior.
You eat when you want to but your dog relies on you to feed him. Consequently he eats what you feed, when you feed him.
Some owners even leave food down all day. Leaving food down is okay for some dogs but can be a poor feeding habit to get into with many other dogs.
Here are some issues that can arise if you leave food down all day
- It can lead to obesity in your dog.
- If you have multiple dogs, leaving food down can cause fighting amongst dogs living in the same household.
- And, without adequate structure, rules and boundaries, it can lead to house soiling in many other dogs.
If you find yourself faced with any of these dog behavior problems, it would be advisable to put your dogs on a twice a day feeding schedule. This is not all there is to the solution but it will aid in the process as you begin to re-house train your dog or fix whatever problem your dog has developed.
Do you only feed your dog once a day?
Another feeding habit that can affect your dog’s behavior is “once a day” feeding.
Some dogs stop eating as much food in the course of a day. You may have experienced this with your dog. You see it often in dogs that are 6 – 18 months of age.
Did you notice that your dog just stopped eating one meal? He seemed to not be interested in breakfast any more so you stopped putting his breakfast down and started giving him his full daily ration at dinner time. Sound familiar?
Your dog is probably going from nutritional growth to “maintenance only” needs from his food which is about ½ of what he needed for growth.
When you stop feeding your dog twice a day it leaves your dog with an empty stomach for most of the day. This problem has often been referred to as “hunger tension” when your dog’s stomach stays empty for 12 hours a day. Some behaviors associated with “hunger tension” can be: destructive chewing, stealing food, begging at the table etc.
To avoid “hunger tension” in your dog, feed your dog half of the daily ration of food but give it to him in two feedings.
More good reasons to feed twice daily
Whether you are just beginning to set boundaries for a new puppy or just now setting boundaries to improve behavior in your older dog, food and the ritual of the feast can have a very significant impact on your dog’s attitude and perception of his sense of place in the pack.
In addition to providing structure and expectations with the activity of eating, following are some good reasons to frequent feed (twice a day meals) instead of free feeding your dog.
Frequent feeding is better. This is very helpful in house training a new puppy. Frequent feeding allows you to monitor intake and better house train your puppy. Knowing when and how much he ate can more easily be achieved with frequent feeding. Always feed a measured amount of food. With continuous feeding you never know when your pup has eaten and it’s harder to know when he has to go potty.
Easier to monitor whether he feels well. You’ll know the instant he goes off his food as a possible indicator that he is not feeling well. Impossible to do with free feeding.
Food guarding opportunities kept to a minimum. Picking up his bowl after each meal helps to eliminate the possibilities of food guarding. Continuous feeding allows your dog to develop guarding instincts of his food bowl and the surrounding space. Don’t forget to pick up the bowl after 15 minutes.
Feeding time = training time. Take the opportunity to work on the earn-to-learn program by doing sits and downs for his food. Dogs used to work for their food so keep up the ritual.
Kibbles as training treats. Use his food for dog training treats. Training him before he eats when his motivation is highest. Put one meal ration in a zip lock and feed/train out of the zip lock bag through out the day and before feeding. The remainder he gets in his food bowl at dinner time. That way you don’t over feed your dog. He will begin to know you are important in his life because all good things are made available to him by you.
You can use mealtimes as an opportunity to work on training and appropriate behavior at a time that can often be fraught with excitement, arousal and stress. Do not release him to eat until he is calm.
Feeding habits and stress
If you are like most owners your feeding habit includes feeding your dog when you get home from work. If you’ve been doing this for a while, it becomes predictable to your dog. He knows for example, that you always get home at 5:30, walk him and feed him. If he’s really lucky he’ll get another good long walk after dinner followed by a short walk before bedtime, if he’s lucky.
All of these become predictable activities he’s learned he can count on every day. He set’s his clock.
If you start having to work late, it is possible that you could create anxiety-producing stress in your dog because of your late homecomings. If your dog becomes stressed, he develops tension, gets frustrated and behavior problems can develop.
Why would working late cause dog behavior problems?
If you think about it, lying around the house all day long for 8 – 10 hours can get pretty boring and monotonous. It’s no wonder why the highlight of his day is your arrival, his dinner time and his walks with you – until you start showing up late.
Adjusting your feeding schedule to an hour or hour and a half after you get home can keep your dog’s feeding time more predictable and your dog less stressed. That’s a win-win in anyone’s book.
Also remember that feeding a carbohydrate-rich diet can, in some dogs, increase levels of serotonin and can produce immediate and/or long term changes in the excitability of your dog. Make sure you feed a premium pet food that has the appropriate mixture of protein, fat and good quality carbohydrates your particular dog needs.
Thanks for letting me share my dog training knowledge with you. Don’t be a stranger. I’d love to hear what you think. Remember:
“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”
Jim Burwell, Houston dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 8700+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.
His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is your must have easy, step-by-step process to helping your dog. Your dog must and wants to understand what you expect of him. But you have to empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you must empower him to be successful at living in a human home. Ground Rules gets you there. Grab them now.