Bite or Bark: How diet can impact a dog's temperament

How diet can impact your dog's temperament
Learn about dogs

If you’re struggling with a badly behaved dog, part of the problem could be what you’re putting in their bowl.

Although your dog’s temperament is influenced by their genetics, and training moderates their behaviour, other environmental factors like the food they eat can seriously impact your dog’s mood and behaviour

Today we’ll be taking a look at how diet can impact a dog’s temperament, and what foods could be to blame for your dog’s unruly behaviour.

Can diet affect a dog’s temperament?

We already know that diet has a huge impact on the overall health of dogs. Additionally, diet plays a vital role in the management of a number of different ailments, for example, a specially-formulated MCT diet can help manage seizures for dogs with epilepsy, and dogs with kidney disease, liver disease, or heart disease all require low salt diets to help manage their condition.

Given the food your dog eats has a profound effect on their physical health, it makes sense that diet would impact their mental wellbeing and behaviour too.

Think of it this way, if you fed a kid nothing but sweets, they would be bouncing off the walls for hours, difficult to keep a handle of, and then become lethargic and cranky the second they felt a sugar crash. Or, if you ate junk food all the time you would start feeling sluggish and ratty.

It’s also been found that our gut microbes influence our behaviour as humans. Although research is needed, it’s entirely possible our dog’s moods are also influenced by their food and the health of their gut.

So, a poor diet can cause a host of mental and physical problems and has been found to impact a dog’s behaviour and temperament.

How diet can affect a dog’s temperament

Food can have a positive influence on your dog’s temperament

Omega-3 is great for joints and known to be brilliant brain food. One fatty acid in particular called DHA is especially good for developing brains. This naturally-occurring fatty acid is often used in larger amounts in puppy food because it aids the development of their brain and has been found to make them more trainable.

At the other end of your dog’s life, certain antioxidants found in food have been linked with healthier brains in senior dogs. These antioxidants help to prevent oxidative damage and prevent cognitive decline or “doggy dementia” in older dogs, allowing them to maintain a more even temperament into old age.

This also means you can still teach an old dog new tricks, and it reduces behaviours associated with cognitive decline such as confusion, loss of interaction, and forgetting rules and commands.

But as well as specific nutrients and ingredients impacting a dog’s behaviour, it was found that the ability to tailor a dog’s diet to their individual nutritional needs helped to reduce problem behaviour. In fact, a 1997 study found that a staggering 98% of owners reported dramatic improvement in aggression and other problem behaviours after their dog began a tailored diet.

But understanding a dog’s specific nutritional needs is difficult unless you’re a vet or canine nutritionist. Luckily, here at Pure Pet Food we create a diet tailored to meet your dog’s individual needs to help keep your dog happier and healthier. We also ensure that our food is packed full of those naturally-occurring fatty acids to aid cognition throughout the entirety of your dog’s life.

Some foods need balancing

Dogs need some carbohydrates in their diet to provide glucose and energy, which is used for cell metabolism and to move muscles. Protein is also broken down into glucose, but at a much slower rate, so having some carbs provides faster-acting fuel for the body.

How can nutrition impact your dog's temperament

But having too much glucose causes an excess of energy, leading to issues including hyperactivity and being super distracted. (As we said, not too different to kids eating too many sweets!). This can lead to a handful of a dog with tons of energy, but struggles with disobedience and inattentiveness.

Additionally, we all know dogs need plenty of protein to stay healthy, and many people mistakenly believe dogs are carnivores. (They’re actually omnivores.) But while dogs love meat and would eat a lot of it given the chance, studies have found that diets with lower levels of protein can reduce aggression in dogs.

The right balance of protein has also been found to reduce anxiety and improve the ability to cope with stress in dogs with anxious temperaments.

As mentioned above, protein is also broken down into glucose within the body, and too much protein in tandem with too many carbohydrates (and just too much food in general) could lead to excess energy and hyperactivity.

Therefore, your dog must eat the correct balance of protein to stay healthy without impacting their mental well-being.

Other foods can have a negative effect on your dog’s behaviour

Artificial additives can cause inflammation throughout a dog’s body, and in some cases, they can cause intolerances or allergic reactions. However, any ingredient has the potential to cause inflammation if your dog develops an allergy or an intolerance to it.

This inflammation is uncomfortable and sometimes painful, and living in discomfort will cause your dog to be irritable and they may develop impatience and a short temper. After all, animals in pain often display problem behaviours.

Additionally, highly-processed foods have been found to cause the release of the bacteriotoxin “lipopolysaccharide”. This can contribute to the destruction of the neurotransmitters which make the happy hormones dopamine and serotonin.

This not only causes changes in temperament and behaviour, but it’s also been linked to behavioural changes in dogs, and in humans it can lead to Parkinson’s Disease. Inflammatory events are also thought to contribute to Parkinson’s and brain cell destruction, so it’s probably no good for your dog’s brain either.

How dogs are fed impacts their temperament too

It’s advised that you feed a dog their required food for the day across 2 or 3 meals. This means they never suffer from any significant dip in energy and won’t be left hungry or feeling nauseous from going too long without food.

Meanwhile, giving your dog constant access to food and free-feeding them can cause problems too. Because dogs were scavengers, they often eat anything they find whenever they find it, so they don’t regulate or moderate their intake.

If your dog can access food all the time, it’s highly likely they’ll overindulge, leading to weight gain and obesity. This not only leads to physical problems, but the constant high intake of food will lead to higher glucose levels. Too much glucose can cause behavioural issues like hyperactivity as well as physical problems such as diabetes.

What do dogs need in their diet to be happy and healthy?

How diet impacts your dog's behaviour

Dogs need an age-appropriate complete diet that provides all the nutrients they need in the right quantities to support their body and health.

The best dog food for a happy, healthy dog will use high-quality natural ingredients, use no artificial additives, and won’t be highly processed.

The extreme heat and high pressure used in processes like extrusion to create ultra-processed foods like kibble have been proven to destroy essential nutrients, including antioxidants and amino acids. These nutrients then have to be added back in afterwards.

Instead, your dog could eat a natural, nutrient-dense diet like Pure Pet Food to receive all these nutrients naturally in whole foods.

Whole food like Pure also uses high-quality protein, which could help to improve behaviour. Your dog’s diet will also be tailored to their individiual needs, helping to keep them at the perfect weight, in good health, and in a good mood too.

Although a healthy balanced diet should keep your dog in good physical and mental health, it’s important to remember that it is no substitute for routine and training. The right food could help to make your dog more eager to learn and improve their trainability, but you will still need to teach your dog how to behave.

If you ever need help or are concerned by your dog’s behaviour, you should consult your vet or a canine behaviourist. They’ll check that there’s no underlying health issue causing your dog’s changed temperament and will work with you to make the necessary dietary, lifestyle, and training changes needed to help improve your dog’s behaviour and well-being.

Sources
  1. Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat–based diets for dogs and cats Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243, (11), Dec 2013, doi.org/10.2460/javma.243.11.1549
  2. The Effects of a Ketogenic Medium-Chain Triglyceride Diet on the Feces in Dogs With Idiopathic Epilepsy Frontiers in Veterinary Science, Dec 2020, doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.541547
  3. Our Gut Microbes Strongly Influence Our Emotional Behaviors IFL Science
  4. Landmark discrimination learning in the dog: effects of age, an antioxidant fortified food, and cognitive strategy Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, 26, (6), Oct 2002, 679-695, doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(02)00039-8.
  5. The Effect of Food and Restricted Exercise on Behaviour Problems in Dogs International Veterinary Behaviour Meeting
  6. Effect of dietary protein content and tryptophan supplementation on dominance aggression, territorial aggression, and hyperactivity in dogs Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 217, (4), Aug 2000, 504-508, doi: 10.2460/javma.2000.217.504.
  7. Effects of prescription diet on dealing with stressful situations and performance of anxiety-related behaviors in privately owned anxious dogs Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 7, (1), Feb 2012, 21-26
  8. Pain and Problem Behaviour in Cats and Dogs Animals, 10, (2), 2020, doi.org/10.3390/ani10020318
  9. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced dopamine cell loss in culture: roles of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-1beta, and nitric oxide Developmental Brain Research, 133, (1), Jan 2002, 27-35, doi: 10.1016/s0165-3806(01)00315-7.
  10. Association of dopamine- and serotonin-related genes with canine aggression Genes, Brain and Behaviour, 9, (4), June 2010, 372-378, doi.org/10.1111/j.1601-183X.2010.00568.x

Related Articles