Marley is a puppy who was attacking members of his family, both children and adults, for no evident reason. His owner Karen and I exchanged emails about the situation, and not long after that, I got an encouraging report from her. Marley had had a very thorough veterinary examination and nothing was obviously wrong. Karen had changed dog foods to a higher quality, higher protein one, and she been able to consult with a dog behaviorist who was also a dog nutritionist. This woman felt that the dominance-based training that Karen had been trying after advice from a trainer was not helpful. Karen continues:
S. (the consultant) was pleased that we had switched foods, as she feels that the one we were using is not one that she would recommend. Although she has not heard of the food we are now using, she took a look at the ingredients and was very impressed with it. From what I have read and from what S. has said I think it is a high percentage of cereals, wheat or gluten in the diet that can cause a lot of problems. As I am sure you know, dogs can develop allergies to all of the above to varying degrees.
Since we weaned Marley onto this food his behaviour has improved dramatically. He went from having several daily episodes to approximately 1 a day. I couldn’t believe what a difference it made. Obviously the behaviour is still there but improving daily. S. felt we were on the right track – which, as you can imagine, was a relief to hear, at least we are doing something right. She suggested that the rest of the episodes were due to Marley becoming over-tired. S. is a colleague of Turid Rugass who wrote On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals. S. uses Turid’s calming methods and showed us how to predict when Marley was becoming tired so that we could de-fuse the situation and thereby stop the behaviour. She felt that I was over exercising Marley and advised that we gradually reduce the length of his walks and make sure that Marley’s routine includes longer rest periods. If Marley doesn’t settle by himself we are to “enforce” this by shutting him in his crate at regular intervals throughout the day. We have also set up a daily routine, which we vary occasionally so that Marley feels secure but doesn’t get stressed if on the odd occasion we have to change something due to other commitments.
Rosana, we have put into practise everything S. told us and in SIX days Marley has only had ONE episode. It is FANTASTIC. The children can play around him – as long as we are around to keep a close eye on the activity and DE-FUSE any situations. I never believed it would be possible to see such a difference in such a short period of time.
I would like to thank you so much for your support. You helped me to be positive about Marley and encouraged me to actively search for a solution.
I was so happy with this news. And I was very struck with how changing the food had made such a difference in behavior. It was then that I began to think about writing here about dog food’s effect on behavior. Soon after, I went on a two-month road trip and then took another month to catch up on things. Then I wrote to Karen again and asked how things were going. She replied:
We are FANTASTIC!!
As you know I changed Marley’s food. Well, we had been told to put him on a low carb/high protein food. The food that was recommended to us was a very natural food and was extremely high in usable protein (45%). This had the exact opposite effect that we were hoping. Within a few short weeks Marley was climbing the walls. I was taking him out for 2-3 hours of solid walking every day but he was still completely hyper. We went back to the vet for tests and still came up with nothing — all the tests came back clear. The vet decided that as he was by then six months old we should have him neutered, which we did.
We had a rethink and decided to do the opposite of what we had been told to do. Yet again I researched the available foods, (we didn’t have as much choice as most, because when we brought Marley home we made the conscious decision that we would only feed him foods that had not been tested on animals. As I’m sure you know most of the big pet food companies do this and also have a monopoly on the market). Anyway we found a food by “The Natural Dog Food Company” that we were happy to try. We bought an adult formula as all the puppy formulas were higher in protein. The one we chose was a Lamb and Rice formula that had a protein content of 20%.
I was getting a bit desperate by this stage and decided I would just do a complete straight switch, (normally I would have weaned him from one food to the other over a period of approx 1 week). My husband, Kevin, works away for the first part of the week. He left on the Monday morning which was when I gave Marley his first bowl of the new food. Since then we haven’t looked back. By the time Kevin arrived home on the Wednesday night just THREE days later Marley was a different dog. Kevin accused me of switching him with a look alike. None of our friends could believe it. It really was as though somebody had pushed a button to calm him down.
The vet was amazed that changing his diet could have had such a dramatic effect and in such a short period of time.
Marley has now become the dog we dreamed of owning. He no longer jumps or bites or barks. The children can play without us having to shut him in his cage. He is sleeping in a regular dog bed and we haven’t used his crate for about two months. I can take him for a walk without having my arms pulled off. But most of all, Marley now “smiles” all the time. We are a different family and a great weight has been lifted from our shoulders.
I am very very careful about his diet. I feed him three times a day. I measure and control everything he eats. When he goes to the boarding kennels we take his own food (pre-measured in separate bags) even though the kennel fees include food. I will not take any chances or give him any opportunity to revert. It may sound harsh, but he rarely gets any treats. I go to the butcher and get fresh bones three times a week which I give him but apart from that he only gets his allocated amounts of dried food.
I wish you much joy with your new puppy and thank you very much for your continued support.
A very much happier
This second email, several months later, is a great example of how real life is not quite as tidy as theories tend to be. The first dog food switch, to a high quality but high protein food, made a stunning difference in Marley’s behavior, from his being a danger to his people (especially the children) to his being more more trustworthy, and I thought that the mystery was solved. But then the high protein food began to show that it was making him too hyper, and it wasn’t till Karen changed foods again that Marley made the dramatic changes she writes about at the end here.
Well, again at this point I thought the story was over. I emailed Karen with the text of this post and previous one, for her to check them for accuracy. She replied promptly, with a new twist in the tale, which is worth another post tomorrow.