Let sleeping dogs lie… but never let puppy dogs cry!

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Image pinched from here

In the wild, a puppy would stay with their mum for about 9 months. So when we take them home at 8 or 9 weeks, they really are still infants in need of a mother. Our job is to become that mother- to care for them emotionally and physically and to create an environment that allows them to grow and flourish, and most importantly, to feel safe.

This is a big commitment, requires compromise and sacrifices, and there are going to be times when it is difficult. But the benefits you will reap from making sure your puppy’s needs are met and that they grow up feeling happy and safe make it so worthwhile.

Don’t let them cry it out

For many years, the advice doled out to new puppy parents was to bring their puppy home, put them to bed that night (often in a cage in another part of the house), and then to ignore their cries. This, we were told, would avoid ‘rewarding’ their ‘attention seeking’ behaviour and lead to a puppy who could cope with being left alone.  The same advice was given to parents of human children for many years, and today many people still adhere to it, for both canine and human babies.

But guess what?

It has been shown that the effects of not responding to infants (human or canine) does the reverse of teaching independence- allowing a baby to repeatedly become distressed in this way is damaging to their ability to establish secure attachments in the long term, and is more likely to lead to clingy, demanding children, with a deep sense of insecurity which can stay with them for the rest of their lives.

In my capacity as a dog trainer, babies are of limited interest to me! But science has taught us that mammalian brains all work pretty similarly. A lot of research done on mammalian brains has been done on rats (sorry rats!), and we know from this research that there is a period in the ‘infant’ stage of life where the caregiving that an animal receives has a life-long impact on how prone they are to being anxious. Rats whose mothers were nurturing and caring in their early days (which translates to longer periods in larger mammals who develop more slowly) had the genes for controlling anxiety turned on, whereas those who had ‘low-nurturing’ mothers never had these genes turned on, and suffered from anxiety for the rest of their lives. This is something which seems to be true across the board.

We also know that when an animal becomes excessively stressed, the body’s response becomes destructive, negatively impacting the brain, emotions, the digestive system, the immune system. Excessive stress is simply not good for us.

And, we know that when a puppy cries, their mum always responds. This all makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. Crying young alert predators to the presence of vulnerable, tasty youngsters! Dogs always do a very good job of rearing puppies, so we could do a lot worse than following their example.

So what should we do?

Dogs are social sleepers- they find safety in company, and without it, struggle to get the deep sleep they need. The ideal situation is to have your puppy sleep with a member of the family. Most puppies sleep longer and sounder when they are with you, so you might find the night is not as broken as you’d expect.

If you have a carpeted room and are worried about your puppy sneaking off to the corner for a wee (or worse!) during the night, a simple solution is to block off the parts of your room that you can, and cover the rest with a waterproof bedsheet- these usually have non-slippery cotton on top and a waterproof backing.

If you don’t want your dog in your room forever, as the puppy gets older you can gradually move their bed further and further from yours. Having their bed just outside your door with a dog gate rather than a shut door can be a good interim arrangement.

If they can’t be in the bedroom, camping downstairs with them for the first while can be helpful. You can then work on gradually increasing the time they are left downstairs.

Know when they’re tired

Puppies need a lot of sleep- upwards on 20 hours a day! But dogs are polyphasic sleepers- they sleep in multiple blocks throughout the day and night.

People often worry about their puppies sleeping too much during the day, and wonder how this will affect their sleep at night. But they need so much sleep that this is highly unlikely to be the case. In fact, depriving your puppy of sleep can have the reverse effect! Puppies who are over-tired can become hyperactive and restless and find it difficult to go to sleep at night. So if they’re resting during the day, don’t worry- it might help you get a better night’s sleep.

Here are some signs that your puppy may be tired or over-tired:

  • Yawning;
  • Eyes closing whilst sitting up;
  • Red eyes (I once had a pom-chi in puppy class whose eyes used to actually get puffy when he was tired);
  • Hyper-activity;
  • Excessive nipping;
  • Restlessness or not knowing what to do with themselves;
  • Vocalisations (barking, whining)
  • Grumpiness (snappiness).

If it’s too early for you to go to bed, if everyone just sits down calmly and leaves the puppy be, they will probably lie down and go to sleep. Offering them a food-based chew can help relax them.

Early starts

Dogs are naturally crepuscular, which means their most active times of the day can be dawn or dusk (many people report their puppies having a mad half hour morning and evening, and this is the reason). Over time, they adjust to our rhythm of life, but this is something they learn over time, not immediately. Be patient if your puppy is rising at 5.30 and ready to face the day!

Letting them out for a wee, and then encouraging them back to bed with a food-based chew can gain you an extra half hour of sleep!

Alternatively, scattering some of their breakfast in the garden can serve the dual purpose of tiring them out in a calm way by engaging their brains as they sniff around for the treats, and filling their tummies! Sniffing also lowers the pulse-rate and as such is a calming activity. You might well find they’re ready for another nap after the exertion. This is also a good exercise to do in the evening before bed.

Getting ready for bed

  • Keep everything calm and quiet before bedtime so your puppy is getting into the right frame of mind to sleep. Remember that adrenaline can stay in the system for 6 hours, so keeping them calm as much of the time as possible is actually a good idea!
  • Let them out for a toilet trip before bed.
  • Don’t withhold water- puppies can become easily dehydrated and need access to water at all times. If you are concerned about toilet training, offering them a wet food can mean that they get most of their required fluids with their meals and are less likely to graze on water throughout the day and night, making it easier to predict when they need to go.
  • If your puppy is struggling to settle, a calm nose game in the evening can help them get into a calmer frame of mind. Read more here.

Get the night time routine right, and you can rest assured that you’re increasing your odds of raising a happy, stress-free puppy with a secure attachment, and hopefully getting a better night’s sleep yourself in the process!

 

My new book ‘Office Dogs; The Manual’ is now available to pre-order on Amazon. Find it here!

 

Dogs and Maslow Part 5

Love and belonging is the next need on Maslow’s list. This relates to the need that humans have for a feeling of acceptance and belonging within their social groups.

One great similarity shared by dogs and humans is that both are social species, and I believe this need for love and belonging is as strong in dogs as it is in humans. Dogs are often acquired to meet the human need for love and belonging, but how good are we at meeting that same need in them?

So, as part of this need for love and belonging, let’s look at the dog’s need for company, to be understood when they try to communicate with us, and their need for love and care, bestowed in a responsible and beneficial way.

Company

Dogs derive a sense of safety from being around others. For pet dogs, ‘others’ are often their humans. For village dogs, feral dogs or wild dogs, ‘others’ will usually be other dogs. Feral dogs tend to live in groups of 2-6 dogs. Being in groups mean that dogs can relax more, and don’t feel solely responsible for being on alert for any danger.

Dogs are social sleepers, and social eaters, and being alone is one of the greatest challenges faced by pet dogs. A lot of dogs sleep in the kitchen or utility room, far away from their humans. Many people then go out to work, leaving their dogs alone for 10+ hours a day. For a dog in this situation, they are essentially in isolation for 18 hours of the day. This is a real challenge for animals that have spent most of their evolutionary history in groups.

It is no surprise that a lot of dogs suffer from separation anxiety. Unfortunately, common wisdom about teaching dogs to be alone has been that they ‘just have to get used to it’. For years, the wisdom was that when you did leave your puppy or dog alone, and they cried, or barked, or howled, that they should be left until they were quiet. However, when a puppy cries, their mother will always attend to them. In the wild, puppies stay with their mum for 9 months, so when we take home a puppy at 8 or 9 or 10 weeks, we really do need to step into the role of Mum. When a puppy is distressed they have a biological need and expectation that their mother will come. The most recent studies I have read on the matter suggest that contrary to common belief, dogs that are left to ‘cry it out’ are in fact more likely to suffer from separation anxiety.

So how can we manage this problem?

  • Consider whether you need to leave your dog in a different part of the house overnight- you can potentially half the amount of time your dog has to be alone if you let him/her choose where to sleep.
  • Don’t leave your dog in a state of distress. You need to teach your dog to handle being alone. Start leaving them for a few seconds with a really tasty bone or chew, and build the time slowly, at a level they can handle. If you do this, they shouldn’t reach a point where they need to cry or howl, but if they do, remember that they need you to be their parent, and ignoring their calls isn’t going to make them feel more secure.
  • We can also make sure that our dogs have opportunities to have a rich social life with canine friends outside of the home! Puppy classes and social walks are a great way to offer our dogs these opportunities.

Communication

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Here, Leo looks away, licks his lips and lifts a paw- these are all calming signals that show that he’s finding my behaviour a little worrying! I didn’t notice at the time, but it’s clear as day in the photo!

Although so many of us share our lives and homes with dogs, we often don’t communicate very effectively with them. We sometimes interact in quite a verbal way with our dogs, despite the fact that our common language is body language. Dogs have quite a developed system of communicating through body language. They use this with other dogs, and try (often in vain) to use it with us. I see so many cases of humans missing or misinterpreting the signals that their dogs are giving out.

Turid Rugaas has written a book called ‘On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals’ which provides an invaluable guide to anyone who wants to better understand what their dogs are trying to communicate to them and to each other. Below is a loose overview of some of the most commonly used signals that you might see your dog use. Please bear in mind that these all need to be taken in context- a dog yawning while relaxed on the couch after a long walk is probably tired; a dog who is yawning as you stare at it or hug it, is more likely to be displaying a calming signal.

  • Head turn;
  • Turning away;
  • Lip licking;
  • Blinking;
  • Yawning.

These are all signs that the dog might use to diffuse a potentially aggressive situation by indicating their good intent, or to let us or another dog know that they’re not entirely comfortable. One of my dog’s suffers from corns, and whenever I try and put moisturiser on her paws or touch them to check on the corns, she will look away and lick her lips, to let me know that my interference with her painful foot is making her uncomfortable.

You may also notice your dog curving as they approach or pass other dogs. This is a non confrontational way of approaching, but we often deprive our dogs of this opportunity by holding them on a short lead or forcing them to pass other dogs on a narrow pathway. Dogs that have under-developed social skills or reactivity issues can be aided by your encouraging this curve as they approach other dogs.

Another oft-misunderstood part of the dog’s repertoire of communication is the ‘whale eye’ look that is often misinterpreted as guilt or shame, but is in fact a fear response to your anger.

This is just one part of the equation. We also commonly use body language in a way that dogs can find quite confusing and/or threatening, such as:

  • bending over them;
  • approaching with out-stretched hands;
  • head patting (a primate thing- dogs never pat each other on the head!);
  • hugging (another primate thing that dogs can find restrictive or frightening, especially if done by someone they don’t know and trust);
  • calling them forward while standing square on (a ‘stay away’ stance as far as they’re concerned);
  • approaching straight on (an intimidating approach);
  • putting our faces close to theirs and making straight-on eye contact (often perceived as acts of aggression).

This sort of thing will often be met by the dog using some of the calming signals mentioned above- looking away, turning away, lip licking etc to try and discourage you!

Keep an eye on how you’re interacting with your dog, watch how he or she reacts to you, and try to listen to what they’re telling you with their body language. Being better able to understand your dog will definitely improve your relationship and will contribute to your dog feeling safer.

Love?

I like to think that most people love their dogs. However… perhaps a better question to pose is do we love our dogs in a way that benefits them? When another living being is entirely dependant on you, loving them comes with a lot of responsibility.

In her book about her journey with a rescued street dog from Romania, Lisa Tenzin-Dolma sums up the responsibility of having a dog:

‘Taking care of another living creature, whether human or non-human, necessitates accepting responsibility for their wellbeing and safety. The very expression ‘take care of’ indicates of the process of caring for, looking after, concerning ourselves with, nurturing, and helping that soul reach full potential. It’s a term of selfless love; or rather it should be. Whether our care is extended to children, family members, friends in need, those we are employed to help professionally, or non-human charges, it has to be unconditional. Putting conditions on caring taints and ultimately undermines the relationship.

Choosing to take responsibility involves accepting the likelihood that there will be a degree of sacrifice. Because it involves doing what is best for the other party, this can result in making decisions that cause us inconvenience, wither minor or major…’

In the above extract, Lisa Tenzin- Dolma speaks of helping a soul to reach full potential. Training a dog to be a robot and to blindly follow commands does not allow that dog to reach full potential. To love them in a way that benefits them, we need to be parents to our dogs, to guide, to protect but also to allow them become their own person (if you will!), able to make their own decisions and to think for themselves. We need to give them the confidence to explore the world, to be curious and to enjoy life. We need to think about what they need from us, and not just what we’d like from them. We need to be reasonable in our expectations, and recognise and enjoy the differences between dogs and humans.

And if we’re going to love our dogs unconditionally, responsibly, and in a way that benefits them, I suppose a lot of people will want to know if they love us too, or if they just see us as food dispensing, shelter-providing, chauffeurs?

Science appears to be proving that they do. Darwin was of the opinion that animals experience the same emotions as humans, but to a lesser extent. For a long time, the scientific community believed that dogs were just pavlovian machines, learning that one thing was a consequence of another. Then it became generally accepted that they experienced primary emotions, and now it is becoming apparent that they most likely experience an entire range of emotions, and also have a theory of mind.

If their enthusiastic greetings, constant willingness to forgive, and endless displays of affection were not enough to convince us of dogs’ love of their humans, various studies have shown that dogs’ brains release oxytocin, the bonding chemical, when they look at their humans. Gregory Berns, in his studies on canine emotional responses, found that the caudate of the brain (the reward centre) lit up when dogs are presented with the smell of a human family member, to a much greater extent than when presented with the smells of non-family members or other dogs.

Because we are generally not entirely dependent on our dogs, their love of us may have less responsibility attached to it, but all the same they love us with an endurance and consistency that many people would struggle to match!

So, there you have it! Some reflections on what is involved in providing dogs with the love and sense of belonging they need and deserve, and the indicators that they love us too.

Dogs and Children

Keeping your Child Safe and your Dog Happy

1 in 6 people admitted to hospital for a day or more, as a result of a dog bite, is a child under the age of 10. In 2012, over half of these children needed plastic surgery, and over a quarter needed speciality facial/oral surgery. At least three times as many people are bitten by dogs they know than by strange dogs.

Many children love dogs and play with them the way they play with a Teddy bear. However, children can be quite frightening for dogs. They are often not good at reading dogs’ body language, not sympathetic to how the dog might be feeling, and prone to making sudden, jerky movements, and high pitched noises- things that can make a dog uneasy. Not to mention the grabbing, poking and pulling that they’re wont to do! People often tell me how great their dogs are with children. 9 times out of 10 they follow it with a description of the things they let their child/children do to their dog; ‘he lets them pull out of his ears and tail, and climb all over him’. Even if nothing ever goes wrong, it saddens me that a dog should be subjected to that. ‘Oh he doesn’t mind’, dog owners often say. This makes me wonder how they would expect the dog to let them know if he did mind. Most people know very little about canine body language. Warning signals such as ‘whale eyes’ (see below) don’t set alarm bells ringing for people. Lip-licking doesn’t set off alarm bells. Yawning doesn’t set off alarm bells. The dog looking away or even walking away doesn’t set off alarm bells. For most dogs, in most households, the only parts of their repertoire of communication that humans recognise are growling, snapping and biting. These signals are usually punished. So, your average dog is in a situation where his more subtle signals are ignored, and the stronger ones are punished. What choice have most dogs but to put up with the children swinging out of them? What hope have they got of someone intervening on their behalf, when as far as most humans are concerned, everything is fine until ‘out of the blue’ the dog growls, snaps or bites? So… what can you do to make sure that your dog/child doesn’t form part of these frightening bite-injury statistics? Let’s take a look at some practical tips to ensure that interactions between dogs and children are enjoyable for both parties.

  1. The number one rule where dogs and children are concerned is that the two should never, ever be left alone. This is so that you can protect both parties from inappropriate interactions. Even if your dog is immaculately trained and has always been ‘fine’ with children, this might be the day he has an earache, a toothache or terrible back pain, and having said ear pulled, tooth poked, or back climbed upon, might be the final straw.
  2. The people who are supervising the interaction should learn to read basic canine body language. There is little point in supervising child and dog if you’re not in a position to understand when the dog is beginning to feel uncomfortable and to intervene before things go wrong. Look out for the following signs:
  • Whale eyes– this is when you can see the whites of the dog’s eyes, a sign of fear;
  • Lip-licking– dogs often lick their lips when they’re feeling nervous, unsure or uncomfortable;
  • Lowered ears;
  • Yawning– yawning is another signal dogs use to diffuse tense situations, and another indicator that they’re not entirely comfortable;
  • Looking away;
  • Moving or attempting to move away;
  • Backward moving body language– weight transferring to the back part of the body and away from whatever the dog would like to get away from.

If you’d like to read more about canine body language, On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas is a very good place to start. There is also a brilliant ‘ladder of aggression’ available at: http://www.thebluedog.org/en/dog-behaviour/behaviour-problems/why-does-my-dog/ladder-of-aggression Bear in mind that if the dog has been used to having his more subtle cues ignored, there is a good chance that he will have given up using them, and that when it all gets too much for him, he will leap straight to growling, snapping or biting- the only thing that seems to get a response. You can help by imitating these calming signals (yawning, lip-licking, slow blinking) yourself. The dog will most likely respond, and you can then react accordingly, teaching the dog that you can actually understand the more subtle cues.

  1. Educate the children who are in the dog’s life. There are some great resources available to help teach children how to interact with dogs in an appropriate way. You can use these to educate the child in a non-confrontational way (especially useful if the children aren’t yours!). Sophia Yin made some really good information sheets, which I distribute to any of my clients who have children, grandchildren, or regular visitors who are children. These sheets are available at:

http://info.drsophiayin.com/download-free-poster-how-kids-and-pets-should-not-interact/

  1. Lead by example. Unfortunately, we live in a world where animals are often not afforded the respect they deserve. If we lead by example and treat animals as the sentient, intelligent beings that they are, and show respect for their feelings, children will follow suit.
  2. Avoid punishing your dog. Dogs that have been grabbed, shook or hit, are much more likely to be wary of being approached by children, who often approach with outstretched arms. If your dog is confident and had a life of positive experiences, he is much more likely to react well to the occasional upset.
  3. If you are getting a puppy, try to ensure he has lots of positive experiences with children early on in life. I emphasise positive, as a lot of people have missed this crucial aspect of socialisation. They think that socialising involves throwing the dog head-first into a myriad of situations with a myriad of people so that he gets used to it. What’s actually required is ensuring the puppy experiences different situations and people at a level he is comfortable with and in a way that is enjoyable and pleasant for him. Having small children gently stroke and talk to a puppy while offering tasty morsels, to a degree that the puppy is comfortable with, is socialisation. Letting them pounce on him and squeal and pass him around is setting him up to associate children with scary experiences.
  4. Always make sure the dog has somewhere to go to escape from the children, and any noise they’re making. This might be a bed behind the couch or in a quiet room that children aren’t allowed into but that the dog can always access.
  5. Remember that dogs are slow to show pain, and there’s a good chance your dog won’t let you know if he’s suffering. One of my dogs had root abscesses on both of his lower canines, and never let on. Even the most patient dog in the world, who has tolerated having his ears pulled by children for years, might one day be suffering from an earache. What would you do if you were suffering from an earache and somebody grabbed your ear? Your dog can’t politely inform you that his ear is somewhat painful and he’d rather it wasn’t pulled, and may feel that the only way he can create space between himself and the little person pulling his ear is to snap or bite.
  6. Be aware of how your dog might be feeling- a dog that is tired or stressed or feeling unwell is likely to be less patient- just like ourselves.
  7. Never tell a dog off for growling. A growling dog is doing you a great service by warning you that he doesn’t like whatever is happening. If you tell him off for growling enough, he’ll learn that growling doesn’t work, and try the next rung on the ladder- snapping or biting.

Having said all that, dogs and children can be great friends (with the appropriate education and supervision!). But remember, your dog is relying on you to be his advocate. Listen to your dog. And always bear in mind- past performance is no guarantee of future results! Don’t let your dog’s good track record with children allow him to end up in situations in which he might be scared or uncomfortable.

Dogs and Fireworks

What You Can Do to Help

scared fia

Many dogs are frightened of fireworks, and for those dogs, the next few weeks will not be easy. Fireworks seem incredibly loud to our dogs’ superior ears (their hearing is 4 times better than ours), they alter the air pressure, and worst of all, they’re unpredictable. The dog is aware that the frightening noises are coming from different places, and they don’t know when or where they’ll happen next.

It’s dreadful seeing your dog feeling frightened and not knowing what to do to make them feel better, but here are a few practical tips that might just help:

  • Keep things as calm as possible coming up to and during the entire firework period. The hormones released by stress and excitement can take days to return to normal levels. So if lots of exciting or stressful things are happening around that time, your dog’s stress levels will already be quite high. So, keep walks calm, avoid throwing balls, sticks etc and playing chasing or any exciting games. Make sure your dog is getting plenty of sleep and rest, plenty of things to chew, and plenty of nice calm mental stimulation (sniffing and exploring!);
  • If you can get them thinking (again some sort of nose work is really good- read more here) before the fireworks start, and activate the neocortex, the thinking part of the brain, this will help inhibit activity in the limbic system, the emotional part of the brain, and make it less likely for them to respond emotionally to the noise.
  • Don’t go out and leave them home alone when fireworks are likely. If you’re not there, you can’t do anything to help;
  • Don’t bring them outside when fireworks are taking place. Fireworks will sound louder out and about, and your dog will feel more vulnerable out in the open (and may try to slip his lead and run away). Stay inside, close doors, windows and curtains to muffle the sound as much as possible, and you can try turning on the tv or radio. Some dogs find classical music soothing;
  • Provide your dog with a hiding place. Lots of dogs want to go into hiding when they’re frightened. Let them. You can cover their hiding place with blankets, cushions etc to try and further muffle the sound (make sure they can still get out easily- a safe place is only a safe place if the dog has complete control and is never locked in or dragged out!);
  • If your dog turns to you for comfort, provide it. Contrary to what people say, you will not make your dog feel worse or encourage fearful behaviour if you comfort them. Here’s a link to a great article by Patricia McConnell on the topic of why it’s not possible to reinforce fear;
  • If your dog does choose to be near to you, practicing some gentle canine massage might help. You can find some wonderful massage techniques in Julia Robertson’s book. Massage can increase dopamine and serotonin levels in your dog, as well as increasing oxytocin levels in both of you!
  • Get your dog something nice to chew. Once a dog gets stressed he’s unlikely to take any food, but if you can give it to him at the first sign of the fireworks, there’s a chance he’ll get engrossed in the chewing and not be so aware. Try nice raw marrow bones, kongs stuffed with something really tasty, hooves, cows ears, etc. Chewing and licking produce serotonin, a feel-good hormone, in the dog’s brain;

chewing fia

  • Try a DAP collar. These produce a synthetic version of the hormone produced by mother dogs when they are lactating, which dogs find calming and reassuring. Get it a couple of weeks in advance of the fireworks and leave it on for the whole of the firework period. You can also get plug-in diffusers and sprays. Others have success with Zylcene, Rescue Remedy, St John’s Wort, etc.
  • I heard a great tip from another dog trainer recently- use bonfire night as an excuse to stay in cooking and making dog treats. Dogs’ primary sense is smell, so having lots of nice smells around will help create positive associations with fireworks.

Good luck!

Dogs and Diet

You are what you eat- and so is your dog…

Some controversy exists concerning what you should feed your dog, and it’s quite hard to come by non-biased information on what food is best. However, you can be pretty sure that the cheap tins and bags of brightly coloured food nuggets you can find in supermarkets, pet stores, and at lots of vets, are not it!

Most dog food comes either as dry ‘kibble’, wet, tinned food, or as pre-prepared raw food. More recently, powdered type foods have also appeared on the market. And lots of people opt to home cook for their dogs. I do believe it’s possible to feed your dog a decent diet on any of the above, so long as you choose a high quality product.

Raw food is currently a popular option, and one for which I am an advocate. You can create your own raw meals, or if you can get the pre-packed raw food, where someone else has done all of the calculations, and frozen it.

If you are interested in home cooking for your dog, there are plenty of books you can get these days with recipes for home cooking for your dogs, and if you have the inclination and the time, this is a good option. You will know exactly what your dog is eating, and it’s likely to be fresh and good quality.

Of course, when it comes to dry food and tins or pouches of wet food, the options out there are endless, and vary in quality and price. When choosing a dog food, I examine the ingredients, and my considerations are as follows:

  • Do I know what every ingredient listed actually is? I had a client who asked a vet who had recommended a food, on which the first listed ingredient was turkey meal, what exactly turkey meal was. The vet had no idea! Neither do I. And if I don’t know what it is, I’m not feeding it to my dogs!
  • Is the primary ingredient identifiable meat/meats? Ideally, I want the first two ingredients to be meat, poultry or fish of some sort. Not meat meal, or animal derivatives! Eggs are also a good source of animal protein for your dog.
  • Does it contain unnecessary additives and preservatives? I know I definitely don’t want colours, or those dreadful e-number (we’ve probably all heard about the concerns surrounding the effects e-numbers have on children’s behaviours, and there is research that indicates they can have a similar effect on dogs’ behaviour).

Take a look at the ‘typical analysis’ section of the food you’re looking at, but do bear in mind the moisture content when doing so- the nutritional content of wet/raw food will always look lower than that of dehydrated food. You can calculate the dry matter value using the following calculation:

Nutrient ÷ total dry matter ×100

So, for instance, if you’re trying to calculate the dry matter protein content of a tin of dog food that has protein of 10%, and dry matter of 30%, your equation will be:

10÷30×100= 33.333%

So, your dry matter protein content is actually much higher than the typical analysis suggests. Kibble, on the other hand, will already be quite dry, so at a first glance, may appear to be higher in nutrients.

A note on protein… traditionally, it was believed that diets high in protein were bad for dogs and could lead to behavioural issues. However, this does not seem to be the case, and I would personally be a lot more worried about the effects that additives, colorants and preservatives in lower quality dog food would have. Furthermore, dogs do not really have the digestive tracts for digesting starches. They are carnivorous omnivores, so while they can survive on all sorts, they do best on a meat-heavy diet.

Please also bear in mind that just because a dog food is sold at your vet’s, doesn’t mean it’s good quality. Always look at the ingredients, and make an informed decision. If you don’t know what the ingredients are, ask your vet if they know. Some vets are very knowledgeable about canine nutrition, and will have informed themselves about the various options out there. However, a lot of vets will have only received a few days’ training in canine nutrition during their time in vet school, and that training will have been delivered by the big pet food manufacturers.

Here is a list of some of the dog foods I would recommend. There will be plenty of others out there, these are just the ones I have had the opportunity to look at in detail:

Dry Food:

Lily’s Kitchen

Acana

Orijens

Raw food (complete):

Natural Instincts

Natures menu

Tinned Food:

Lily’s Kitchen

Nature’s Menu

(some supermarkets now also do premium quality own brand wet dog food- check ingredients though!)

Buying these foods online can also save you quite a bit of money. I buy dog food from Amazon, Viovet, and Pet Supermarket, and usually save around 20% on pet shop and supermarket prices.

For more information, I would recommend reading Lew Olsen’s book, Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs. This is quite an up to date book, and contains some very interesting and useful information.