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Feeding For Health and Behavior

Proper nutrition is just as important to a dog’s health as it is to our health.  Health and behavior are closely associated.  Inadequate nutrition is one of the biggest causes of health problems in our dogs.  These health problems cause stress, which can result in behavior problems.  Chewing, digging, excessive shedding and/or scratching, barking, loss of housetraining manners, hyperactivity, and even aggressive behavior can be the result of stress.  

No amount of training can offset or correct behavior problems caused by health issues or an inadequate diet.  Therefore, the single most important thing you can do for your dog is to ensure proper nutrition by feeding a high quality food.   A high quality food will cost more per bag, but you will need to feed much less (up to the amount of a low quality food), resulting in spending equal or less overall on your dog’s food (and less backyard clean-up since quality foods contain no fillers such as corn and wheat that dogs do not digest!). 

I have yet to find ANY grocery store or any large discount stores like WalMart, K-Mart, or Target that sell a dog food that does not have some form of corn or wheat as one of its primary ingredients.  Even many pet stores do not sell quality foods.  BEWARE:  There is no regulation, sadly, of the pet food industry, and producers can put whatever they want into dog food and describe it any way they wish.

HOW TO IDENTITY A HIGH QUALITY FOOD:  Consider ONLY the ingredient list.  Ingredients are listed in order of their weight.  Disregard any claims made anywhere else on the bag.

               Look for a lot of high-quality animal protein.  A quality food will have the protein listed as the first, second and third ingredients.  Whole chicken will be listed as “chicken.”  “Chicken meal” is chicken without the water (dehydrated) and is preferable.  Avoid foods with unspecified meats, such as “meat and bone meal.”  This is very low quality protein and there is no telling where it came from.

               Look for whole grains and vegetables.  Manufacturers of low quality foods like to disguise excessive use of grains is by listing the individual components separately so that they fall later in the ingredient list (corn meal, corn gluten, etc.).  If these components were listed as one ingredient instead of several, they would top the ingredient list and you would see that you were feeding mostly grain instead of meat.  If you see grains listed several times, look for another food.  Avoid feeding any food with the words “gluten meal.”  Recent studies indicate that these forms of grain are the leading culprit in causing allergies in our dogs.

               Totally reject any food that lists “by-products.”  “By-products” are the parts of the animal for which there is no other use.  Chicken by-products are the head, feet, guts, and even feathers ground up and dumped into dog food.  Feathers, for instance, are 100% protein, but 0% in nutritional value.  It’s anyone’s guess what “meat” by-products are.  Whole meats are expensive and you will not find them in the low-quality foods. 

               Baked foods are better than pressure-cooked foods since they have less grease and are generally more palatable.  If the bag doesn’t specify, it’s probably pressure-cooked – grab a handful and roll it in your fingers to see if it feels greasy or oily.  (Pressure cooking reduces flavor and the grease is added for taste.)  Baked foods feel completely dry to the touch.

               Reject all foods that have artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.  They are simply not needed, nor are they healthy. 

               Reject all foods with added sweeteners.  The producers of really bad foods have to add sweeteners like molasses, corn syrup, and sugar in order to make the food palatable to dogs.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Obesity causes or exaggerates problems in the heart and circulatory system, the joints, and other major systems.  A dog with borderline hips might be fine at a lean, healthy weight and crippled when heavy!  Recent clinical studies have proven that excess weight alone can take two years from your dog’s life – that’s about 20% from an average lifespan of ten years!

To check your dog’s condition, try this simple test: Place your thumbs on your dog’s spine and fan your fingers to reach his ribs.  You should be able to feel each and every rib, regardless of his coat – hair will not affect this test.  If you can feel each rib, your dog is probably at a good weight.  If you have to press a little to find the ribs, or if you can’t feel a clear delineation, he might need to lose a few pounds.  If you can’t feel solid bone, your dog is probably severely overweight.

Pet dogs are rarely too thin, but if you can clearly see his ribs or protruding hip bones, ask a professional for an evaluation.

Does your dog need to lose a few pounds?  The answer is simple:  more exercise, fewer calories.  Try adding a game of ball or a longer daily walk to your routine (you might lose weight together!).  DO NOT FRRE-FEED!!!  Replace high-calorie treats with healthier versions, such as carrots and tiny bits of roast chicken instead of commercial dog treats.  Cut down on dog food and supplement with vegetables such as low-sodium green beans or canned pure pumpkin.  Consult your vet for more information.

Recommended Dog Foods

The following are a few suggestions from the many options available.  Included are local venues where you can find some of the high quality foods.  The Whole Dog Journal lists the top 20 high quality dog foods every year in their February issue. 

                INNOVA EVO by NaturaPet (no grain; high protein; can be used for treats; Creature Comforts in Chenango Bridge)

                INNOVA by NaturaPet (available at Agway in Binghamton; or Creature Comforts in Chenango Bridge)

                Premium Edge and Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul (available at Agway in Binghamton)

                Wellness by Old Mother Hubbard (available at Creature Comforts in Chenango Bridge)

                Natural Choice ULTRA (in a white bag-available at Agway in Endicott)

                Solid Gold (Endicott Feed and Grain in Endicott)

                Merrick; Blue Buffalo; Eagle Pack:  The Paw Place at Clicking With Canines (See Pat.  Pat is happy to special order for you.)

Steve Benjamin, KPA CTP
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
Karen Pryor Academy Faculty Member
P.O. Box 5715
Endicott, New York 13763