In my work with dogs, the most important thing that I do for them is to ensure that their guardians understand and meet their needs. That might sound a bit daft, everyone knows what a dog needs, surely?
Well, you’d be surprised how little people know when they get a dog. I spend a lot of time wishing that I could get my hands on people before they go out and get a puppy or a second hand dog from rescue. And if I had a pound for every time I’m told “I wish we’d known all this sooner”, I could have retired somewhere exotic a long time ago! It genuinely breaks my heart that so often, I only get to work with people when they and their dog have got in a real muddle.
One of the “missing” pieces of information is often about what dogs need to eat. Where do most people get that information from? In the case of a puppy, often this will be the breeder. This can be a very good thing, provided a good, up to date, well informed and well-intentioned breeder has been chosen. It can also be a disaster, if mum and puppy have been reared on a poor diet. The next source of information is usually a vet. Now here, even if the breeder has given excellent advice on diet, a vet can often change diets. Rescues, especially the very large ones, are often financially supported by big food manufacturers, so in return, encourage the feeding of their products.
Let’s assume that you have chosen a great raw diet such as Cotswold RAW. Your dog is now eating what their bodies have evolved to thrive on, hooray! How can you do even better? Well, one of the reasons I like the Cotswold RAW range is for the excellent selection of items other than complete diets they offer.
Namely, chews. Often, people think of chews as treats, and indeed, they are. But they are so much more. One of the RSPCA Five Freedoms is “the freedom to display normal behaviour”. In relation to feeding, what is normal behaviour for a dog? Well, there are aspects we can’t really fully encourage in our domestic pets such as identifying a prey animal, catching it and killing it. There are all sorts of issues there! However, we CAN mimic hunting actions by simple tricks such as not always placing the food bowl always in the same place, so your dog has to “hunt” for it. This also ticks the “using your nose” box, more on that another day.
Where we can and should meet our dog’s normal behaviour is in the next part of the hunting chain of behaviours. After a prey animal is killed, the next steps are dissecting and consuming it. No one comes along and minces it up (or cooks it).
Now this is where my chews come in (you might have been wondering . . . .). By including raw meaty bones in your dog’s diet, these stages are matched very accurately. Cotswold RAW have an excellent selection here. Raw meaty bones won’t suit every household, and won’t suit some dogs, of course, so I love that there are lots of ideas so that the more squeamish among us can still meet this need for our dogs. From your dog’s point of view, the dried treats meet the need to rip, chew and tear very nearly as well as rack of raw lamb ribs, or, my absolute favourites, a turkey or venison neck. They are all natural, minimally processed and the hairy ones might be a little off putting for humans, but are amazing for your dog’s guts.
Ripping, chewing and tearing are great exercise (think upper body work out) and are very calming for dogs (this is why dogs who are distressed by being left alone will often destroy soft furnishings, it makes them feel better). Many dogs I work with are very anxious and this relatively simple change can make an enormous difference to helping them feel calm and safe. If you have a dog that is on restricted exercise, for example, this might be an appropriate way to give them a different form of exercise (of course, this will depend why their exercise is restricted – this wouldn’t be good advice for a dog recovering from surgery on a front leg, for instance). It isn’t appropriate for my own elderly dogs to go on long walks any more, but they still enjoy and benefit from a good chewing session nutritionally, physically and mentally.
Feeding raw bones is something that strikes fear into many people, and understandably. You do need to be careful to choose an appropriate match of bone to dog, you do need to keep watch in case of any problems (especially with dogs new to eating bones) and, for the sake of your carpets, you do need to teach your dog to stay on a washable surface or towel or mat whilst chewing (or feed bones outside, that’s what I do). The rewards for your efforts will be well worthwhile, your dog will definitely thank you for including a really good chewing workout in their routine.
Morag | Gelert Behaviour | RVN DMS Cert SAN