Have you ever noticed that when you start your day with a healthy breakfast – rather than with a doughnut – you’re able to focus much more easily at work?
Your dog’s diet, from their meals and snacks to bones and treats, affects their ability to pick up new skills, control their impulses, and stay focused on you.
Dogs also focus better when they eat well.
What’s For Dinner?
There is little data that shows the correlation between a dog’s diet and their behaviour, despite anecdotal evidence of dogs showing improvements in focus, lethargy, anxiety and aggression when switched to a fresh diet.
What we do know is that your dog’s gut health affects their entire body and their well-being. Adding even small amounts of fresh food to your dog’s processed kibble diet can help their beneficial gut bacteria flourish for improved mood, focus and clarity.
You can also support your dog’s gut health with probiotics. Yogurt and kefir are full of probiotics and safe to give your dog in small amounts, but it’s even better to use a dog-specific probiotic or goat’s milk kefir, which is easier for dogs to digest than kefir made with cow’s milk.
We also know that amino acids like tryptophan and tyrosine help your dog’s body create dopamine and serotonin, hormones that affect your dog’s mood. You can find these amino acids in processed foods, but they’re uncompromised and more bioavailable in fresh protein sources like red meat, eggs, chicken, turkey and fish. Contrary to popular Thanksgiving myth, turkey does not contain especially high levels of tryptophan – you’ll find this amino acid in all fresh meats.
Omega-3 fatty acids also support mood and brain health. You can use fish oil supplements to increase your dog’s intake. Whole food sources like tinned salmon or sardines (packed in water, low sodium) are another powerful way to keep your dog sharp.
While it’s wonderful if you’re able to switch to a raw or cooked, fresh food diet, simply replacing 10 percent of your dog’s kibble with fresh foods can make a difference in their health and behaviour.
When To Feed Your Dog
You might have tried training your dog on an empty stomach to increase their motivation for food rewards. Though a hungry dog definitely has more of a reason to perform well to receive treats, a University of Kentucky study suggests that dogs can focus better after they’ve had a meal.
A hungry dog may make more mistakes in rushed attempts to get food. They may be focusing too readily on the treat, rather than the task itself.
Remember to wait 30 minutes before and after feeding your dog to allow them to exercise. Exercising right before or after a meal can cause bloat, a deadly condition in which the stomach twists and fills with gas.
If you’re doing a lot of training, you can still use parts of your dog’s meals as rewards. You may just want to allow them to eat a small portion beforehand so they won’t be too hungry.
Are Your Treats “High Value”?
When we say to use high value treats, we mean rewards that your dog absolutely loves.
For most dogs, the yummiest treats are smelly, meaty and high in moisture. Dry, cookie-style treats are typically too bland for most dogs to go crazy for, and they just contribute carbs that will make your dog feel sluggish, and in the long run, gain too much weight.
The best treats are made mostly of meat, fish or eggs. To keep them healthy, you may want to look for low fat options. Even so, high quality proteins are a wonderful fuel source that will keep your dog motivated. To maintain your dog’s weight, check out our healthy, high value treat ideas.
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