Some of my lovely customers and friends will know that for some time now I have been helping with studies on a new diet designed to help dogs showing behaviour problems.
The affect of diet on behaviour is a fascinating subject. Professional and secular opinions on the topic are often conflicting, probably because the desired outcome from feeding a specific diet can be so varied. Whether a diet is ‘successful’ in meeting this outcome is subjective and may depend on the perceived effect on a dog’s coat, appearance, weight and musculature, their dietary tolerance for the food or general health. Putting the placebo affect aside here, many owners have been able to successfully manage and control various health problems with dietary manipulations, resulting in a large market for dog food and supplements. Each dog is individual and a ‘perfect diet’ for an individual dog will be based not only on the needs of the dog, but what the owner wants to do and achieve with that dog. A working border collie will have differing nutritional requirements to a show collie.
As awareness of differing diets increases, caring dog owners and veterinarians are looking towards diet to help address problems with our dogs. But can diet impact more than observable health conditions? Can it also affect the way our dogs behave?
Several years ago, Val Strong began research to demonstrate that diet can also affect (for better or worse) a dog’s behaviour. Val developed a diet, affectionately known by COAPE students as ‘Val’s diet’ that helped to balance the mood and emotional well being of dogs with behavioural problems, through naturally raising serotonin levels within the brain. This diet was used widely with great success, however there was one rather major drawback to it. It was fiddley to implement and not easy for many owners to stick to. Anyone who has tried to manipulate their own diet for health or weight loss purposes can empathise with this!
Therefore last year, when Val asked current and former COAPE diplomates to help test a complete version of the diet, we were excited. This complete version removed the ‘fiddley’ parts of Val’s diet and (we hoped!) this would mean more clients would be able to use the diet and experience it’s improvements on their pet’s behaviour and emotional health.
I worked with several clients to test the diet and experienced overwhelmingly positive results. For each of these case studies, the client submitted a diary over a 3 week period, keeping notes on their dog’s general behaviour (and any other changes). Once a week, I popped by to observe the dog and assess the dog’s mood and general behaviour, scoring them on a chart. During this period, no other changes were implemented (unless absolutely necessary) so that we could see the affect of the diet change alone. The results were impressive. Dogs who were anxious, manic and fearful calmed down noticeably. Behaviours that would result from those poor mood and emotional states, often the behaviours that motivate owners to seek behavioural help, improved and in some cases stopped.
I even managed to try the diet on one of my own dogs. There is a full write up of her case here, but our gorgeous standard dachshund, Alice was helped enourmously by the diet. Poor Alice had not had much socialisation as a youngster, so everything was a threat to her, she was very nervous, constantly ‘on edge’, and would bark at any noise - setting off our other 3 dachshunds and driving us mad. Anyone who has suffered from a dog who barks at the slightest provocation will empathise with just how much it can affect your quality of life. When we had visitors or other dogs in the house (not uncommon for a dog trainer!) she would bark at them constantly and we would end up crating her in another room to stop her. Not nice for her and very upsetting and frustrating for us – not to mention embarrassing! Surely my own dogs should be a shining example of good behaviour!?
When the diet trial was launched, I enlisted Alice and I hoped it would help a little. But the results were much more noticeable than I expected. Within several days her barking episodes had reduced in frequency and duration and after a week and a half Alice was generally calmer and less fearful. This meant I was able to start ‘counter conditioning’ her to the arrival of guests – a new person meant cocktail sausages! Previously she wouldn’t even have considered taking food from a stranger, but she quickly improved to the point where she would approach them (albeit with a couple of barks, but she is a dachshund!) and eagerly take food from them before soliciting petting and attention.
It is wonderful to see our little Alice look and act so much brighter and happier than before and from a very selfish perspective, it is also wonderful to have some peace and quiet and not have a 15 minute long cacophony of barking every time a cyclist goes past or someone knocks on the door. We can have guests to the house and actually be able to hear them without them having to shout over the barks. Last summer we even had 20 friends and 5 dogs over for a barbecue and after a few brief barks initially, Alice settled down on our laps quite happily. Before the diet this would not have been possible!
As a behaviour advisor, having seen the positive impact the diet had on our beloved Alice and our clients dogs, I am now pleased to say that Breakthrough, is now available to dog owners to buy online! The results of our case studies have been very positive, 88% of dogs on the diet showed an improvement within 3 weeks. Issues such as fear, anxiety, over excitability, manic behaviour and reactivity were improved in these cases and it afforded dog owners and behaviourists a huge boost in working on dogs with behaviour problems, by balancing the underlying mood and emotional state of those dogs.
For more information on how Breakthrough could help your dog feel much brighter, and to order it, visit the website. If you would like to work with ForPaws on improving your dog’s behaviour whilst on the diet, simply get in touch with us either by email or completing our behavioural services form.