Giving choice at meal times

Jul 08 2014 : Mirror (Bangalore)

What should I feed my dog?“ is the most common question that I get asked. Back in the day, most of us fed our pets rice and left over food. With the explosion of the dry dog food market, we are spoiled for choice. There are brands at every price bracket, containing all kinds of different ingredients. One brand even sells different food for different breeds. Then there are wet foods or semi dry food. They claim to be fresher, less processed and hence better for your dog. Then there are those who make home cooked food and deliver it at your door step. And now there is a whole new sub culture of feeding raw food to dogs. All these choices often leave pet parents bewildered about what to feed their dog.

As a behaviourist, I would say: let him decide. Of course, it has to be something that fits your budget and other constraints too. But otherwise, let your dog decide whether he prefers one kibble over the other or if home cooked food over kibbles. It gives your dog tremendous sense of satisfaction to be able to have control of a few aspects of his own life.
Of course, there are some special considerations. The most common is allergies. Yes, dogs too can be allergic to certain foods ­ nuts, eggs, gluten, some meats etc. Unlike humans, dogs do not go into anaphylactic shock. Their allergies manifest as rashes, vomiting, sudden loss of fur etc. In those cases you may have no option, but to restrict the diet. If you are feeding commercial food, be careful to learn all about the ingredients in the product.
The next thing to consider is the protein-carbohydrate balance. If you have a hyperactive dog, or a dog recovering from physical or emotional trauma or a dog that is at a high stress level, then inducing sleep through carbohydrates would be a good choice for your dog.
Your vet might put your dog on some special needs based on medical requirement ­ renal health, weight reduction etc. We are lucky to live in a city where products that meet all these needs are available in pet shops and online stores too.
Some people like to cook. If so, consider cooking for your dog too. While cooking for your dog, consider interacting with your dog. Talk about the ingredients you put in. Let him sniff it, taste it. Such interaction is great for strengthening the bond between you and your dog.
Coming to how how many meals a day you should feed your dog….I’d say for a normal dog, I would leave it up to the dog to determine the number of meals he prefers to have.
Dogs naturally tend to eat two meals, but there are a few dogs that prefer three meals.However, if we are talking about hyperactive or stressed dogs, I would recommend three meals, so that the dog is not hungry at any point; hunger can add to the stress.
I also recommend that the food be followed with something to chew on. If you are open to feeding non-veg, then meat bones and un-salted dried fish make good choices. If not, there are plenty of non-meat products in the market. Again, it’s a great idea to offer various choices to your dog and let him pick what he wants.

I keep emphasising allowing the dog to choose. This is because the more choices we present to a dog, the more the dog feels more in control of his life. This leads to a more confident dog. Confident dogs are well behaved, content and happy. Most behavioural issues arise out of lack of confidence on the part of the dog. Providing choices in everyday life, through these small gestures, we can go a long way in shaping the personality of a dog. Who knew food could make such an impact on behaviour, right?
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