Diet & Feeding

Seems pretty simple: Go to the grocery store, buy a bag of dog food, and you're done. Right? Not so easy! With literally hundreds of dog foods to choose from, the options can be mind-boggling. Is it worth it to buy the expensive "designer" food in those heart-tugging ads on TV, or is dog food dog food? What about table scraps? Supplements? Home cooking? Vitamins?

What you feed your dog is one of the most critical decisions you make for the life of your dog. The fact is that your dog's health, behavior, and likely even her longevity are in large part a product of how and what you feed her.

What to feed

Selecting your dog's food starts with the commitment to feed in the best interests of a long, healthy life. We recommend choosing a high quality, natural, dry dog food or feeding a balanced, homemade diet. While feeding better may seem to cost more, the money you save on a less expensive dog food will be spent over the years in vet bills - and then some. Poor health is costly - and can shorten your dog's life.

Researching dog foods can feel like a full-time job. Start with reading labels. The quality of a food begins with good quality ingredients. Look for an animal protein source (not bi-product meal) as the first ingredient. Then there are chemical preservatives and additives. Avoid them. Over the years we have seen a strong correlation between some behavior problems and chemical preservatives and additives in the diet such as BAH, BHT, Ethoxyquin, artificial color, artificial flavor, sugar and the like. Behavior problems including hyperactivity, aggression, learning disabilities, and stress often improve rapidly when the dog is switched to a high quality, natural diet.

How often to feed

Puppies under three months of age need four meals a day; 3-6 months of age feed three meals, beyond six months feed twice a day. Some dogs do well with just one meal a day, but many do not.

Where to feed

Feed your dog where he won't be disturbed. Don't pester or allow children to pester the dog while he's eating. Dogs deserve to eat in peace, without someone stroking them or threatening to remove their food.

How to feed

Prepare your dog's meal, put the dish down, and let him eat. After 20 minutes, finished or not, remove the dish until the next meal. Most dogs eat readily, but may not if you're overfeeding, if they're not feeling well, or to get attention or treats. If your dog seems unwell, consult your veterinarian. If a dog is holding out for treats or attention, the worst thing is to coax him to eat, hand feed, or add tasty tidbits to his food after he's rejected it. Rewarding finicky behavior encourages poor eating habits.

How much to feed

Your dog's condition is your guide to proper feeding rather than going by the amounts recommended on the dog food bag-not appropriate for all dogs. In fact, most people find they can't feed anywhere near what the manufacturer recommends. So how do you tell how much food your dog needs?

Feed according to what keeps your dog in healthy condition. That isn't judged by the scale or even by how your dog looks. We become acclimated to seeing our dog carrying too much weight, so it looks normal. A weight range for your dog's breed is not helpful either. How likely is it that all Labrador Retrievers should weigh 60-75 pounds? Surely a small Lab might be healthy at 50 pounds, or even less. So the fact that your breed generally weighs 'blank' doesn't mean your dog is in tip top shape at that weight.

For information on objectively assessing your dog's weight, click here.

Puppy Versus Adult Diet

Feed a high quality diet to growing puppies and adolescents until they finish rapid growth. For most dogs, this is a year to 18 months of age.

Changing Diets

To prevent intestinal upsets, introduce a new food gradually. Mix 25% of the new diet for a day or two, then 50%, 75%, then 100% over the next 4-5 days.

Food-Related Aggression

If your dog acts aggressively around food, please seek help from a professional. There's a great deal of misinformation on handling this problem. Seek help or you can make it worse.

In the meantime, feed your dog in isolation - in a crate or in a room where your dog won't be disturbed, and you and your family won't be in danger of getting bitten. Check out Basic Resources for more on this subject.

We offer behavior consultations as well as email and telephone consultations to help you deal with food-related issues. Email or phone (603) 669-4644 or (800) 872-4669 for fees, scheduling, and appointments.