Other People’s Views About Feeding Our Dogs

What they think affects a lot of us
By Karen B. London PhD, May 2019

So many food options!

There is so much judgement out there about everything we do with our dogs. It’s hard to escape the criticism unless you choose not to be around other people at all. Sometimes I think this has caused too many guardians to choose how to take care of their dogs based on what the “herd” thinks and how they will respond.

Obviously, it’s good to take in information and get feedback so that informed decisions about our dogs are possible. Consulting with experts and actively learning from the latest research make sense if the goal is to do right by our dogs. That’s a very different thing than taking the path of least resistance and making choices in order to avoid being criticized by anyone who happens to have an opinion about everything related to our dogs from grooming and training to leashes and collars and beyond.

Perhaps no subject is more likely to lead to polarization than what we feed our dogs. Whenever a serious discussion of this issue arises, it is a sure bet that there will be anger, self-righteousness and lots of judging.

In order to be honest about this, let me first share my own perspective about food, which applies equally to humans and dogs. It is based on my own biases and what I consider common sense rather than a degree or expertise in nutrition. I think that it is important to eat healthy food, ideally not overly processed. I also think that it makes sense to eat a variety of foods and not to avoid large categories of foods altogether unless allergies or environmental and moral concerns are guiding you in that direction. (In other words, if there are reasons unrelated to nutrition to avoid basic categories of foods, that makes sense to me, but otherwise it doesn’t.) As omnivores, both humans and dogs should be able to consume an enormous variety of foods in moderation, although getting used to eating in that way after a very limited diet may cause intestinal distress. For that reason, any major changes in diet should be discussed and perhaps supervised by someone with the expertise and training to advise you properly.

If you want to start a riot or even a heated discussion at a large gathering of dog people, it’s as easy as addressing the crowd by saying, “I think a raw diet is the only way to feed dogs,” or, alternatively, “It makes no sense to feed dogs a raw diet.” For “a raw diet” you can substitute “dry food”, “a grain-free diet”, “vegan”, or any number of diets or nutritional strategies. No matter what you say or how vehemently you defend your position, there will likely be people there who will disagree with you and want to fight about it.

Nutrition is a complex subject, and the issue is not helped by the fact that few medical experts (physicians for humans or veterinarians for dogs) have much, if any, education in the area. How do you obtain the information you need to decide what to feed your dogs, and do people’s judgement influence your decisions?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

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