As you probably know, dogs are pack animals and like to function as though in a hierarchy, even in the home environment. How are disputes about the hierarchy settled? Through aggression.
One of the main areas where disputes can arise is during feeding time. In the wild, the dominant members of the pack would eat first – getting at all the nutritious bits of their freshly caught prey. The subordinates? Well, they have to wait, and what do they get? Whatever is left. A tough life.
So what has this got to do with diet and aggression in the home environment?
Aggression at Home
Like I mentioned earlier, despite being domesticated for many, many years, dogs still retain a hierarchical view on life.
A lot of professional trainers and behaviouralist recommend that dogs are fed after you eat, to let them know you’re boss – because you’re eating first. Whilst this approach makes perfect sense, do dogs really compare a civilised gathering at the table with knives, forks, salads and manners to the barbaric tearing apart of a still-warm carcass?
Do dogs really compare a civilised gathering at the table with knives, forks, salads and manners to the barbaric tearing apart of a still-warm carcass?
A Closer Look at Diet Related Aggression
A study took a closer look at how dogs behave depending on their diet and the type of food they are eating – the results are quite interesting…
It showed that dogs display varying levels of aggression towards different types of food, below is the percentage of dogs in the test group that showed guarding-aggression towards each food item:
- Rawhide chew 60%
- Human food 50%
- Bone 48%
- Toy 48%
- Biscuit 40%
- Dog food 35%
- Water 8%
The Effect of Protein in the Diet on Aggression
Dogs fed a high-protein diet showed a significant decrease in dominance aggression however an increase in aggression towards strangers. Dogs fed a control (normal) diet showed no change in aggression.
From this, it was concluded that; aggressive dogs should be fed a low-protein diet, this is in contrast to earlier suggestions that a high protein diet may improve behaviour.
A Tryptophan-Rich Diet Can Reduce Aggression
Diets high in tryptophan may reduce aggression, this is due to the fact that tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with the feelings of well-being and safety.
In normal protein sources, tryptophan is found in low concentrations, so by supplementing dietary tryptophan, it is possible to directly increase brain serotonin and thus induce a calmer mind set in the dog.
Tryptophan has also been shown to decrease aggression in chickens and primates too! Care must be taken when adding amino acids (such as tryptophan) to the diet, however, because an imbalance in amino acids and consequent anorexia could result.
How do you control your dog’s aggression? Have you ever tried giving a diet rich in tryptophan? Does your dog show guarding behaviour over their chews more than their food? Let us know you thoughts on the points raised in the article below.