JoAnna Lou
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The Importance of Eating Breakfast
Study finds dogs perform better after a full belly

At my training club, we always tell people to come with a hungry pup. particularly those in our beginner classes who haven’t developed a solid working relationship yet. The thinking is that a dog on an empty stomach will be more motivated to stay focused for a reward. But it turns out that the opposite may be true.

It's well known that humans perform better after we eat breakfast. So two scientists at the University of Kentucky set out to see if this holds true in dogs. Dr. Holly Miller and Charlotte Bender looked at canine test subjects and their ability to find hidden food. Some pups were given a morning meal first and others had to work on an empty stomach. You'd think that the hungriest ones would be the first to find the food, but the study found the dogs who ate breakfast were able to find the hidden food more accurately.

Dr. Miller believes that diet may explain why domesticated dogs experience this phenomenon, but wolves don’t. When animals eat a carbohydrate rich diet (such as most commercial dog food), their brains are more dependent on glucose and are more affected by fluctuations in glucose levels. But with a diet of hunted meat, where carbohydrate levels are low and fat content is high, the brain switches to a secondary fuel source of ketone bodies, meaning their neural processes don't fluctuate as much.  

This research definitely changes how I think about training. Usually I work with my dogs before breakfast and after their morning walk, but this study is something to consider when I’m doing something that requires a lot of focus or self-control. And maybe we’ll reconsider telling people to show up to class with a super hungry dog!

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Fuzzy Gerdes/Flickr.

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Submitted by Gina | November 9 2012 |

That is so interesting! I have a seven-month-old pup who has been going to training classes since the summer and was told the same thing. My guilt at keeping him hungry combined with his determination to have breakfast when his older doggy sister does means that I have never actually arrived with a hungry pup though. You have made me feel better about not following directions. Thanks!

Submitted by Mary de Vachon | November 9 2012 |

My Ria is twelve and long ago graduated from training. However, we do share breakfast in bed. She waits, snuggly warm, until I arrive with breakfast. I hide a few pieces of dried food among the bed covers so she doesn't eat so fast -- and I can concentrate on my tea -- and to stimulate her mind. She snuffles them out in no time and sits for a bite of my toast. we so enjoy this early morning moment.

Submitted by Carolyn | November 10 2012 |

I try to make sure my small dog has at least little something in her stomach before we go to training class. I may go ahead and feed her more of her dinner beforehand and the rest during class. Good to know, thanks!

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