The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

Behavior and Nutrition Can Be Linked

By Liz Palika

 A friend of mine is an elementary school teacher who presently teaches kindergarten. She knows which children come into her classroom in the morning after having a breakfast with protein and which have had sugar cereal. She says the kids who have eaten cereals are excited – sometimes to the point of not being able to sit still – and then later in the morning they crash and need to take a nap.

Food and Behavior

Many dogs – especially puppies and young dogs – are the same way. I see these puppies come into my puppy classes more wiggly than is normal even for puppies. They have a hard time concentrating and their owners say their puppies have a difficult time learning. As a general rule these wiggly puppies are eating foods high in cereal grains – corn, wheat, and rice – and when changed to a food higher in meat proteins with carbohydrates supplied by vegetables and fruits, rather than cereal grains, the puppies’ behavior calms to a more normal level.

Pica is also a fairly common problem that can be related to food. The practice of eating nonfood items is called pica and there can be many causes of pica in dogs. Boredom is certainly a common reason. A dog may chew on a stick out of boredom and then ingest small pieces of wood. However, many dog trainers and behaviorists also believe that when a dog is consuming a less than optimal diet (for that individual dog) the dog may begin eating other items to satisfy a need. Dogs have been known to eat dirt, rocks, wood, stucco off the side of the house, and many other decidedly non-food items.

Many trainers and behaviorists are also trying to determine if there is a link between aggression and a high meat protein diet. Nothing conclusive has been determined yet but discussions continue.


Even though dog trainers and behaviorists know that nutrition can affect canine behavior in a variety of ways, few independent (unrelated to dog food companies) studies have been done concerning dog behavior and nutrition. Therefore, recommending changes and finding the right answer can be difficult and is often a matter of trial and error.

If your dog has some behavior issues that you feel might be caused by nutrition, talk to your dog trainer or behaviorist. She has probably dealt with similar issues in the past and may have some suggestions for you regarding foods you may want to try. Before making any changes, however, talk to your veterinarian as well. Your veterinarian will want to evaluate your dog’s health and she can let you know if there are any foods or ingredients that your dog should or should not eat.

If you decide to change your dog’s food, do so slowly. Begin by giving your dog ¼ of the new food to ¾ of the old food for a week. Then feed half and half for a week. If your dog is doing well and has no gastrointestinal upsets, you can probably switch over entirely to the new food on the third week.

Behavior changes take time to resolve themselves at any time but especially after a diet change. Give your dog several weeks after completing the diet change before you evaluate her behavior. Your trainer may also recommend some behavior modification or training to be doing at the same time. After all, behaviors – even those caused by diet – can also turn into habits and habits take time and work to change.

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