Dog nutrition and behaviour - Do they link?

Written by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVSDr Andrew Miller MRCVS is an expert veterinary working in the field for over 10 years after graduating from Bristol University. Andy fact checks and writes for Pure Pet Food while also working as a full time veterinarian. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ countless times. Humans need a balanced, healthy diet to look and feel their best, we all know that after binging out on fast food, chocolate and sweets you can often feel groggy, sluggish and unable to concentrate afterwards.

Think of it like this, if a child is pumped full of fast food, sugar and foods containing an overwhelming number of nasty artificial additions, they’ll be bouncing off the walls, hyperactive and outright naughty.

So, why is it rarely spoken about that it could be the same with our dogs?

It’s believed that a badly behaved dog is an indicator of typical breed traits, a lack of training, their environment or just their natural temperament. Poor nutrition is infrequently considered to be a driver of poor behaviour, as research is considerably lacking in this area. However, it appears that nutrition can actually have an impact on your dog’s behaviour. At the end of the day, a healthy dog equals a happy dog.

We’re going to delve deep into how feeding your dog a nutritious, high-quality diet could potentially change up your disobedient dog’s mischievous nature.

What is nutrition?

Nutrition is the process of consuming food and drink to gain everything required for health, growth, repair and essentially just providing us with the energy we need to go about our day to day lives. Dogs require good, balanced nutrition just the same as we humans do.

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Nutritional and biological factors and their interactions with each other affect all life’s processes, heavily including the brain and as a result behaviour.

What should my dog's food include?

Our dogs deserve the best, and good health and happiness both start with their food. Generally, you should be looking for a dog food that’s jam-packed full of wholesome, natural ingredients without any harsh processing methods. Extrusion, the processing method for inexpensive foods such as kibble, seriously diminishes any nutritional content the food would have initially had, and it also makes the food much harder to digest.

Look for foods that have a perfect balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats, water, vitamins and minerals. A complete food balanced with meat, fruits, vegetables and functional ingredients will work wonders for your dog’s overall health and wellbeing. We’ve written a whole other blog post packed with tips to help you find the best dog food for your dog, so check that out if you're unsure.

Ideally, the protein source must be explicit, for example, ‘chicken’ and ‘beef’. If they’re labelled as ‘animal derivatives’, ‘meat meal’ or just ‘meat’, then the protein will likely be from animal by-products, which are questionable, low-quality sources of protein coming from parts of the animal not fit for human consumption. These are used to bulk out your dog’s food and they won’t provide the best nutrients or high moisture content your dog requires.

Not only this, but your dog’s food should be extremely tasty too to ensure their tail is constantly wagging when mealtime rolls around!

What behaviour problems can be associated with poor nutrition?

Thorough research is still underway and very much in its early stages about the relationship between diet and behaviour. The scientific research isn’t complete, and research will continue to develop over time. However, owners, trainers and behaviourists alike have seen a positive change from switching to a more nutritious diet.

You might think that your pup is the definition of bad behaviour. They’re disobedient, unresponsive and their nonstop energy is truly running you ragged. In general, a bad diet will lead to bad physical health and potentially bad behaviour.

  • Some undesirable behaviours include:

  • Hyperactivity and over-exuberance - your dog just will not settle

  • Agitation, inability to concentrate and overall just difficult to train

  • Counter-surfing

  • Aggression over food

  • Pica (eating strange non-food items such as grass, soil and rubbish)

  • Fatigue, reluctance to exercise which eventually leads to obesity

  • Outright refusal to eat their food

How can the nutritional values and ingredients in my dog's food impact these behaviours?


Dogs are generally very excitable and giddy creatures, which most of the time is really endearing when your pooch is just genuinely happy, loving life and relishing in playtime and cuddles. However, there can sometimes be a point where this excitability becomes too much, verging on the point of hyperactivity.

Many of the views we have about our own diets can often be forgotten when it comes to the diet we provide for our pups. Essentially, a good diet is intrinsically linked with good health, wellbeing and happiness. The right nutritional balance will aid the production of the necessary ‘feel-good’ hormones to help keep your dog happy, relaxed and a pleasure to be around.

To create the correct nutritional balance, blood sugars need to be kept stable. Commercial, cheap dog foods, primarily kibble, are laden with artificial flavourings, chemicals and other questionable ingredients. The sources of these colourings and other additives are vague and they don’t usually provide any kind of nutritional benefit, they’re just there to make the colours look pretty and stand out on a supermarket shelf.

They will cause your dog’s blood sugar levels to skyrocket, possibly leading to a surge of crazy, hyperactive energy, eventually resulting in an immense crash, causing your dog to be lethargic. This is very similar to when we eat lots of sugar and experience a sugar rush and crash soon after, but when we eat a more nutritionally balanced meal our energy levels are sustained throughout the day.

Similarly, protein is a major energy source for our dogs and a necessary part of your dog’s diet, but some of the cheaper brands of dog food can contain way too much protein for many dogs. A one size fits all approach can’t be applied to your dog’s food, which is what many cheaper brands do. It’s true that you can get too much of a good thing.

A higher amount of crude protein doesn’t necessarily mean the food is a better quality, it’s all dependent on the source of this protein. When looking at your dog’s dinner, see if you can spot (and stay well away from) foods with ingredients that are labelled as ‘animal derivatives’ or ‘meat meal’. Derivatives refer to animal by-products, essentially the parts of the animal that wouldn’t normally be deemed appropriate for human consumption. Think bones, beaks, hooves and feet.

Likewise, meat meal is the term for bones and other non-meat parts of an unspecified animal that are ground up into a fine powder to use as a cheap and easy bulking agent. The nutritional value for animal derivatives and meat meal is dubious and pretty impossible to determine.

Instead, look for ingredients that are labelled as ‘chicken’ ‘duck’, ‘beef’, or similar, these will be the purest form of the protein. So, you may see a high amount of protein percentage in a cheap brand of dog food, but that doesn’t mean it’s nutritionally sufficient for your pup. It’ll cause that same surge of blood sugar levels that artificial additions create, and your dog needs stable blood sugar levels to have a stable temperament.

Of course, your dog’s unique personality is a lot down to genetics and training, but without the unnecessary peaks and troughs in their energy levels they will become a more chilled out pooch. Stable blood sugars have a positive impact on the happy, ‘feel-good’ hormone serotonin, so as a result, your pup should feel in a more relaxed, ‘doggie zen’ state of mind.

Switch to a natural and wholesome dog food like Pure, which is free from chemicals, preservatives and is free from any questionable protein sources that can cause their energy levels to rise way too much.

Choosing a dog food tailored to your dog’s specific needs, such as Pure, will benefit your pooch greatly. As stated, a one size fits all approach is not the way to go with dog food. Dogs at different stages in their lives need varying amounts of proteins and fat, and with a Pure diet your dog’s recipes will be catered to suit them in every aspect of their life.

Getting the right balance of good nutrition will help to decrease stress levels and should help your mischievous little mutt calm down.

Allergies and hyperactive behaviour

This one might be slightly surprising, as most will associate allergies with itching, scratching and inflammation that can subsequently trigger atopic dermatitis for your dog. However, allergies can also present themselves through peculiar behavioural changes such as licking, aggression, lack of energy or even hyperactivity.

If you notice this behaviour, probably paired with itchy skin too, it’s important to find out what is causing the reaction, as it could quite likely be something in their food.

If you can work out the allergen, you can decide what it is that needs to be removed from your pooch’s diet, so the strange behaviours and scratching can hopefully subside. Common allergens include proteins such as beef and chicken, but also soy and gluten. Every owner wants their dog to be eating a nourishing, healthy diet that’ll have them looking and feeling their best with no negative side effects.

This is where a tailored recipe can make the world of difference. Tell us about your dog and their allergies and Pure will create a wide menu of recipes perfect for your pup. Packed full of goodness, nutrients and natural ingredients, Pure will get your dog excited for mealtimes and eliminate the chances of an allergic reaction causing undesirable bad behaviour.

Can the amount I feed affect hyperactivity?

The nutritional composition of your dog’s diet makes all the difference to their intense energy levels that could be driving you crazy, but the amount you feed them could be too.

Too much food can lead to many mad moments where your pooch is just a crazy ball of energy, especially food that contains an abundance of additives, too much protein and is just too high in calories. It can even have an impact on how much your pup wants to chat, expect some barking as a way of releasing this energy.

An inexpensive, dry dog food doesn’t equip your dog with the balanced amount of nutrients that they require in their diets, causing sporadic bursts of hyperactivity as their blood sugars soar and decline. Due to this lack of nutritional value, your dog will get hungrier quicker, possibly meaning that you feed your dog more than they should be eating to cater for their hunger pangs.

As a result, this pumps your pooch with calories, excessive protein and various nasty chemicals which will cause their blood sugar levels to surge once again, leading to hyperactivity. A food such as Pure is packed full of healthy, natural ingredients and tons of nutrients that will leave your dog licking their bowl clean and ensure that they feel fuller for longer without the need for a top-up of food.

Puppies, adult dogs and hyperactivity

Dogs need different foods for different stages in their life. When looking into puppy food, you’ll probably notice that puppy diets contain more protein, fats and calories to support their continual growth, high metabolism and high energy levels.

If your adult dog tucks into some puppy food, they may experience similar hyperactive behaviours as they would if they ate too much chemical-fuelled kibble.

Every dog needs the right mixture of ingredients to cater for their individual needs, breed, age and size, which is why recipes personalised for your pup are the best way to go when choosing a dog food, especially if they’re prone to crazy moments.

Snaffling a snack - Greed, counter surfing and food stealing

So, we know that too much food can potentially lead to hyperactivity, but it also can lead to obesity.

More than 51% of dogs in the UK right now are obese, and obesity has many detrimental effects on both your dog’s physical health and how they feel emotionally. Strangely enough, just the same as too much food can lead to hyperactivity, it can also cause lethargy, a reluctance to exercise and even depression.

An overweight dog typically also means a greedy dog. Gluttonous pooches are much more prone to stealing food, whether that be from the counter tops, your plate or the rubbish bin. Basically, anywhere they can snaffle a snack from is the main goal. Eating too much food for their dinner contributes to their greedy nature and desire to search for more food.

Find a perfectly portioned diet for your dog to nip these food-stealing traits in the bud. As we know, a food such as kibble only leaves your dog feeling hungry, which potentially encourages owners to feed their dog too much.

When it comes to being a greedy guts, Labradors take the top spot. Labs are not only one of the most pup-ular dog breeds around, but they’re also one of the greediest. These food stealing traits are commonly seen in these lovable Labs, they’ll do just about anything for a treat. This is because Labradors naturally have the pro-opiomelanocortin gene, which gives them an increased appetite. If you’ve got a Lab, be careful about overfeeding them, as they seriously won’t refuse anything.

If your dog constantly devours anything that they can find, it can sometimes make them less responsive to training with treats. A food reward won’t be seen as a high value treat anymore if they know they can scoff up the snack anytime they want. This could be at the centre of not being able to train your dog, your rewards just aren’t high value anymore, so they’d rather not listen.

This is also true even if your dog isn’t a food thief, if it’s you that’s the overfeeder. If you’re feeding your dog too much food, they might just not be hungry anymore, so they won’t be willing to respond to your training with a food reward.

Not enough nutrients - Food stealing, begging and pica

On the other hand, a dog that is not getting all the nutrients they need and are feeling constantly hungry can display similar behaviours, food stealing, begging and a strange desire to eat anything they can sniff out.

Eating non-food items such as grass, wood and even the rubbish from your bin is called pica. We’ll explain pica and how it links to nutrition more in depth later on, but for now, your dog might be displaying this strange behaviour due to being genuinely hungry.

They might even become coprophagic, which is the habit of eating faeces, due to being peckish. Our dogs can be disgusting sometimes…

Your pooch needs dog food tailored to their specific needs, such as Pure. Inexpensive dog foods, primarily kibble, will leave your dog with a quick burst of insane energy but they’ll be left feeling hungry in a matter of minutes due to the lack of real, wholesome ingredients.

Pure is packed full of natural proteins, carbohydrates and vegetables, all ingredients that you would recognise and buy for yourself. As a result, this diet will help your pooch feel fuller for longer. It may look and feel like you’re actually feeding your dog significantly less than you were previously with dry food. However, this is because dry foods require you to feed your dog a much higher volume and top their bowl up more to fulfil their daily nutritional requirements, but with Pure, your dog is getting everything they need with every bite.

Pure recipes are densely crammed with nutrients and real ingredients that’ll balance and sustain their energy requirements significantly better than a chemical-fuelled kibble that’ll have them running on an empty system after an intense energy surge.

Resource guarding and aggression

Most dogs love their food and will probably be quite unhappy if you took it away from them mid-meal. Lots of people would probably feel the same way too!

However, some pups can get a little too protective over many things, such as their food, a high-value toy and even their bed, leading to them lunging, biting and growling at the dog or person who disturbed them while they were eating, playing or on their bed.

Your dog could even display this strange behaviour if you accidentally brushed past them while they’re eating or playing with a favourite toy, or even if you just went to stroke them. This is called resource guarding.

It can be a natural instinct for dogs to be protective over things they value, however, it could also even be down to the fact your dog is genuinely really hungry, so they get quite possessive over their food. Discouraging this behaviour will primarily need dedicated and lengthy training, but maybe you need to consider if your dog is getting the right amount of food for their breed, size, age and activity levels.

Aggressive behaviours can also come about if your dog is in pain. Sometimes, dogs that are suffering from age-related ailments such as arthritis can be in serious pain, and even the most gentle-natured dogs can lash out because of this. For instance, you might go to stroke your dog and you unintentionally touch the area causing them pain, so they snap at you as an involuntary, instant reaction.

Providing your pup with the best nutrition is essential anyway in giving your pup the best quality of life. This is even more fundamental when choosing a diet for a dog with an ailment, you need to be looking for one that is full of functional ingredients to ease their specific illness. For issues such as arthritis, whether your dog is already suffering from it or you just want to help prevent it, ingredients like omega 3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin are all great additions to your dog’s diet.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega 3 fatty acid and has anti-inflammatory properties to ease pain and lubricate the joints, helping your dog’s mobility. Alongside this, glucosamine and chondroitin work simultaneously beside one another to further lessen the pain of joint damage and help protect the cartilage in the joints from being damaged.

These key, functional ingredients are sourced naturally and packed into Pure to lessen the pain caused by joint troubles, and in turn, should lessen your dog’s aggressive reaction to their illness. If your dog is healthy, they’ll be considerably happier and in turn, they should display better behavioural characteristics.

Unfocused and difficult to train

We want to keep our clever canines on the ball, every owner wants a dog trained to perfection and it’s up to us as pooch parents to keep their minds sharp. We all know when we eat unhealthy food, it makes us lethargic, unfocused and unable to concentrate, and it’s likely that a similar phenomenon possibly happens with our dogs.

Puppyhood is the time where you’ll be focusing the most on training as this is the time where their brain is the most malleable and they experience everything for the first time.

A nutritional diet suited to their lifestage is key, as pups need higher levels of protein and fat to support their growth and development so they can grow into strong, healthy adult dogs. Alongside growing physically, your pup’s brain will be constantly whirring to take in all these new things, so keeping the mind healthy is essential.

Functional ingredients such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) from omega 3 are a great addition to any dog’s diet, but a puppy will benefit from this ingredient especially. DHA is proven to increase alertness and aid cognitive development which will consequently help your pup with their learning abilities, so they become a better pup to train into a well-behaved adult dog.

As we know, omega 3 fatty acids are great at helping cognitive development, but they also help to keep the brain and its functions maintained as your dog grows older. Dogs can actually suffer from canine cognitive disorder, or doggy dementia, as it’s more commonly described, which provokes strange behaviours from your dog, such as disorientation, forgetfulness, aggression and naughtiness.

This is why your dog needs a diet containing all the right ingredients to keep their mind young and stay focused, trainable and alert.

Dietary intervention is key to keeping your dog focused, well behaved and potentially minimise the effects of aging. Studies have suggested that antioxidants and DHA can in some way reduce the effects, and in turn any strange behaviour that doggy dementia causes.

Antioxidants and DHA from omega 3 are fundamental ingredients in Pure’s recipes, to keep both the physical and mental health of all pooches healthy.


As mentioned previously, pica is a dog’s desire to eat strange, non-food items. They might treat themselves to grass, soil, rocks, toys and even rubbish from the bin! Some even eat their own faeces, which is actually described as coprophagia rather than pica. Our dogs can definitely be pretty disgusting.

There are several reasons as to why your dog may be displaying this strange, and definitely undesirable behaviour (nobody wants a kiss from a dog who has just been tucking into something gross in the garden). Explanations include that your dog could actually still be hungry or that they have a nutritional imbalance, so they’re seeking the nutrients they’re lacking through non-food sources.

For example, eating soil can often be related to a deficiency in minerals. Grass is another major non-food item that several dogs eat, which is suggestive of your dog not getting enough fibre in their diet. Surprisingly, grass is actually really high in fibre which is an integral part of a dog’s diet to aid digestion, so switching to a diet with a high fibre intake might help to put this behaviour to a halt.

A 2007 case study followed a Poodle that had been eating grass and plants for 11 years, but after a switch to a diet with higher levels of fibre, the grass-eating habit stopped.

Switching your dog’s food to one that is totally, nutritionally balanced and has a limited ingredient list will be a huge benefit, possibly helping stop your furry friend from eating whatever they can get their paws on outside.

Pure is comprised of natural, recognisable ingredients that will help your pup’s digestive health so they shouldn’t need to tuck into your gorgeous garden outside for a source of fibre. High fibre vegetables such as peas and carrots and healthy carbohydrates such as brown rice and potatoes are perfectly balanced in our Pure recipes and will be tailored to your pup to ensure they get the right amount of everything for their own specific needs. Pure is delicious, healthy dog food that your dog deserves.

Refusal to eat

Surprisingly, many of the dogs out there are actually pretty fussy, turning their noses up to their dinner almost every day.

A dog that won’t eat their dinner is something that will worry many owners. Will they starve? Should I take them to the vets? Are they too skinny?

You might be pulling your hair out trying to get your dog to eat, so you might be tempted to fill them up on treats and cook them a posh, homecooked meal so at least you know they’ve eaten something that day. Unfortunately, doing this will reinforce your dog’s fasting, which is the exact behaviour you don’t want to encourage. Also, a homecooked meal is likely to not include all the nutrients they require to be fit and healthy dogs.

Your pooch needs a complete, balanced food that contains everything they need, while being suitable for those fussy dogs who just aren’t food orientated. Pure is tasty, wholesome and scrumptious, it’s definitely nothing to be sniffed at! Your dog needs tasty food that they genuinely enjoy, stopping this infuriating behaviour of not eating, making mealtimes exciting again with delicious food.

On the other hand, the vast majority of dogs love food, and mealtimes are the best part of the day. But, one day, seemingly out of nowhere, your pooch might just decide not to eat. Simply put, your dog might just be bored. The importance of variety is rarely spoken about in terms of dog food.

A lot of dogs will be happy having the same food for their entire lives and have no issues, but some pampered pooches have a more refined palette, wanting a rotation of food to spice things up. Dogs tend to be creatures that enjoy new, novel things, supporting the idea that switching up your dog’s food can really help keep them interested.

Tell us about your pooch, and we will create multiple Pure recipes perfect for your four-legged friend. Alongside being nutritionally balanced and packed with natural ingredients to keep your pup healthy, you can rotate which recipes your dog gets every month easily to ensure they can always enjoy something new. After all, variety truly is the spice of life!

So, what is the best food for my dog?

Every owner wants to make sure they’re giving their dog the best so they can be happy and healthy. The range of doggy dinners that you can pick up for your pooch are endless and choosing the best dog food that is nutritionally balanced and will fulfil all your dog’s needs is difficult and can sometimes feel overwhelming.

tailored dog food plan such as Pure is the best way to go, tell us all about your pooch, their breed, age, size, allergies and ailments and we will curate the best combination of ingredients to provide the best outcome for your dog.

If you have a disobedient, defiant dog, keeping that combination of ingredients correct is fundamental to keep their energy levels, attention span and willingness to listen at a stable level. Providing the best food for your pooch with a natural, nutritious ingredient list will work wonders for keeping them physically healthy, but it’ll also keep their brain ticking. Not only this, but it’ll also keep your mind at ease knowing that it might help your poorly-behaved pup mellow out!


Even though the research is still minimal, there’s a clear connection between how dog food and nutrition can have a serious impact on how your dog behaves. Whether you think your dog is hyperactive, untrainable, unfocused, lethargic or they just simply won’t eat, this can all be linked back to the food you’re putting in front of them.

Even if your pooch is perfectly behaved, switching to a more nutritious diet is essential. Everyone wants their dog to live a long, healthy, happy life, and this all starts with good, healthy food.