Welcome back to my continuing series on feeding dogs. Part I was an overview of the problem with conventional dried dog food and why you should feed your dog a raw diet. Part II was about some common obstacles to feeding your dog raw.
And today, Part III, I’m going to introduce you to my friend Eric Letendre who’s going to show you why you should feed your dog human food. Eric is a dog trainer here in western MA and has over 25 years of experience training dogs. Eric has an online dog training business known as The Amazing Dog Training Man and his popular YouTube channel has over 300 videos with over 10 million views.
And he’s also learned quite a bit about dog nutrition along the way.
So let’s get started!
Hey Eric, thanks for taking some time to share some insights with us today. Real quick, tell us how long you’ve been a dog trainer and how you got into it.
Sure thing. I took a security job in 1988. They had a canine unit and I wound up doing canine security for 7 years where I learned all about training dogs. I enjoyed it so much that I went to dog training school in Newington, CT to further my education.
I decided to open my own business as a dog trainer in 1995 and then in 2007, in an effort to reach more people, I started my online dog training business, The Amazing Dog Training Man.
OK great. So let’s get right to it. How did you learn about nutrition for dogs? And give us your perspective on what dogs should eat and why.
Well for me it all started with a little Sheltie I had for many years. Around age 7 or 8 she developed some really severe hot spots and fleas. Hot spots are a localized area of skin infection and inflammation and they can be very itchy and painful for a dog.
So I did what anybody would do. I went to the vet.
And when the first vet couldn’t help I went to another vet. And then another one.
Vet after vet after vet couldn’t help her. All of them were giving her various steroids, cortisone shots, shampoos and creams. Nothing worked.
So after hitting dead end after dead end I started thinking it might have something to do with her diet. When I mentioned this to one of the vets he laughed and dismissed it.
So I started doing research on my own and learned about a dog’s natural diet. But the one person who changed it all for me was Dr. Ian Billinghurst. Dr. Billinghurst is a vet from Australia and he went into the bush and studied what wild dogs and dingos were eating. He’s the author of The BARF Diet which stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.
As a side note, it wasn’t until you introduced me to Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Price a few years ago that I realized just how many parallels there are between the two.
Anyway, Dr. Billinghurst found that the native diet of these dogs was approximately 85% meat, organ meats and bones and about 15% fruits and vegetables which came in partially digested form primarily from the stomach contents of their prey.
These wild dogs ate no grains. And of course, grains are what make up a big part of conventional dog food.
So I changed my Sheltie’s diet right away to see what would happen.
To make a long story short, her hot spots went away. Her fleas went away. Her skin and coat came back. And she lived to be 18 years old.
OK, obvious question. Why don’t vets know more about a dog’s natural diet?
Because they’re trained just like doctors. Everything is treated with a drug. You’re laughed at if you bring up diet as a cause for health problems. Most of them are convinced that something like Science Diet is actually a suitable and nutritious diet for a dog. It’s an absolute joke.
I thought you were going to say that.
Yeah, I mean it’s really scary how little both the medical and veterinary professions understand about eating well.
You once said that dogs would be a lot healthier if they ate human food instead of the commercial dried kibbles. Can you expand on that?
Sure, well keep in mind that commercial kibble didn’t become widespread until the 1960s and 1970s. Prior to that dogs ate what the family ate. This is still common in many cultures around the world. But at least here in America, just like we were convinced for many reasons – convenience, cost, etc. – that processed food was good for us, so we were duped into thinking these processed commercial foods were good for dogs. And their health suffers terribly. So much so that the rise of chronic diseases in our pets is just considered normal. People today don’t know any different. It’s “normal” for dogs to have health problems, be prescribed all sorts of antibiotics and medications, and die around 10 years old. But dogs, including big dogs, can live a lot longer than that AND be 100% healthy.
So one of the easiest things you can do is to feed your dog what you’re eating! Now of course, I’m not talking about pizza and Chinese food. So as I’m sure you know, this would probably disqualify the majority of people (laughs). I’m talking about a Weston-Price-style diet minus the grains.
So if you’re making steak and vegetables, give your dog that!
And watch how much happier, calmer, and healthier he/she will become when you start doing that.
There’s a reason dogs beg at the table. Maybe they’re begging us to feed them better.
Interesting. I want to talk about the fact that dogs can and should eat vegetables. I was interested to learn in the BARF diet book that dogs are vegetarians! Not 100% of course but they will eat some fruit and vegetable matter in Nature, and as you said, mostly from the stomachs of their prey. But I’ve found some people disagree with this. They say dogs are pure carnivores. What’s your opinion on this?
Well dogs are not pure carnivores. They’re scavengers. Unlike cats which are true hunters and carnivores, dogs will eating anything remotely edible, even garbage. I wouldn’t make a large percentage of their diets fruits and veg but it’s OK to give them some. And the best way to give it to them is how they eat it in Nature which is fermented and partially digested. So you can mimic that by pulverizing their fruits and veg through a blender or a juicer. I recommend the Champion juicers because they have a feature where you can pulverize the matter more than juice it. But a blender is OK too.
But as great and logical as all this sounds, most people face obstacles, primarily time and financial, to feeding their dog 100% raw. What tips can you share for those dog owners who can’t quite make that commitment yet?
I would say to ease into it. If you can’t feed your dog what you’re eating every meal, then do it when you can. There’s lots of simple things you can add to their food as a supplement too – eggs, for example are a simple and cheap source of good protein for your dogs. Add that to each each meal. Or if you can’t give them your food, give them some. So maybe if you give your dog 2 cups of dried food, give them one cup of dry and 1 cup of yours. Just do the best you can.
Glad you brought up supplements cause I want to ask you about that. But let’s talk about dried food real quick. What’s your opinion on dried dog food? Are some brands better than others? Can you recommend one or two?
My feeling on dried dog food is probably similar to your opinion on supplements for people. Pretty much other than fermented cod liver oil, you think they’re all kinda crappy, right?
And that’s how I feel about dog food. Keep in mind, ALL of these dog food companies are in business to make a profit. To make a profit on dog food, you need to extend the shelf life of that food. Sound familiar? That process of extending the shelf life through creating these dried formulas dramatically diminishes the nutrient content of the food not to mention all the other crap they put in there. Because you have to take the water content out in order to preserve it. Otherwise it will rot and go bad, which is what fresh, real food should do.
Yes, they provide some calories and some brands are better than others but it’s like saying Kashi is better than a Twinkie. Probably true but neither are going to provide you with maximum nutrition or health.
And while we can get away with the occasional Twinkie, dogs on commercial kibble get no variety. They eat this stuff every day over and over and over. And it makes them sick. Maybe not right away. But health problems will develop sooner than later. And for more and more dogs, just like humans, problems are developing at younger and younger ages.
So if you can’t move completely away from dried kibble, at least try to supplement your dog’s diet with some other things.
Fermented cod liver oil! All the research I’ve done agrees on at least one thing and that’s to give your dog some cod liver oil.
But I think fermented is absorbed better. And I know there’s some concern over the high vitamin A and D content of FCLO but I think it’s a little overstated. Obviously, don’t be stupid and give your dog half a bottle or anything.
My dog, Martini, is an 8 lb. Maltese-Poodle mix. I give her an eighth of a teaspoon one to two times per week.
I give Lipton a teaspoon every two to three days. She’s 65 pounds. How’s that?
The BARF Diet also recommends a little yogurt as a probiotic supplement. I tried this with Lipton and she had some horrible diarrhea for a day. What’s your opinion on yogurt which is not exactly something a dog would eat in Nature?
With Lipton I would say to try again and go slower. Sometimes it can take your dog a little time to adjust and diarrhea can even be a sign that your dog really needs it.
Bigger dogs have a problem with something called Bloat. Bloat is when their stomach becomes distended and stretched. It can twist and turn and can kill them quite suddenly.
Vets say they don’t know what causes bloat but I have a theory.
My theory is that dogs are prescribed too many antibiotics today. Just like humans, dogs need healthy bacteria in their gut. Too many antibiotics, which vets are quick to prescribe, can wipe out that good bacteria. So I think bloat has something to do with that.
But I didn’t really learn about probiotics and gut health til I met you and learned about Weston Price and traditional diets.
These days I feed Martini sauerkraut and she LOVES it. I also give her a little kefir everyday which I make myself from raw milk. She loves that just as much.
So yes, I think a little fermented dairy as a supplement is great for dogs, especially if your dog is eating a lot of dried kibble.
But go slow with it and see how your dog adjusts to it. Some may have no problem and some like Lipton may experience a little gastric upset initially, especially those dogs that have been eating dried kibble for more prolonged periods.
Speaking of that, I’ve heard many people try to switch their dog to raw after years on the dried kibble but they say their dog refuses it or experiences more prolonged digestive issues.
Well if the dog has been eating dried crap it’s whole life then it can take some time to transition. To me that’s a huge problem and not unlike what happens with children. We all know little kids who are picky eaters, raised on nothing but processed foods and sugar. Trying to get kids off that stuff can be really REALLY difficult.
So sometimes it can take some work and it has to be very gradual and slow.
Depending on the size of your dog, you may have to just start with a tablespoon of raw food mixed into their dried kibble, watch for digestive reactions and then slowly increase the amount.
Sadly, there are some dogs that won’t adjust but this is rare. Most dogs will be so excited and happy to be getting real food and will take to it beautifully.
OK Eric, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. Anything else you want to share that maybe that we haven’t covered?
I’ll just add how important diet is to not only the physical health of dogs but also their behavior.
One of the biggest things that struck me when I read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration was Dr. Price’s description of the quietness of the babies. I think in particular he was talking about the Inuit babies. This as you know has really struck home with me recently. My newborn baby daughter, Scarlett, has been sitting here this whole time quiet as a mouse.
Rachael (Eric’s wife) and I were very careful with our diet for the past year or so. We’ve been very strict about following a Weston Price-style diet – lots of healthy fats, a daily dose of fermented cod liver oil, bone stocks, fermented dairy from raw milk and fermented vegetables.
For the most part, Scarlett cries when she’s hungry and that’s it. After that, she eats, she sleep, she poops. Easy speasy.
So many babies today have colic and cry non-stop. I don’t know for sure but maybe it has something to do with these soy formulas or the horrible diet the parents were eating. Crying is an indication that something is not right – some discomfort somewhere.
I see the same thing in dogs. We don’t know how dogs are feeling. It could have stomach problems and cause crankiness. Physical discomfort can manifest in different ways – aggression, restlessness, etc. Behavior is an indication of physical health, obviously.
I think so many behavioral problems in dogs are related to their diet. I’ve seen so many dogs calm down when the owners change their diet.
Ever since my little Sheltie, all my dogs have been very well behaved. Of course I’m a dog trainer but a good diet will make your dog so much easier to train!
Well said. Well thanks so much for spending some time with me today. And by all means, for those interested, please share some ways we can find you online.
Sure, http://www.amazingdogtrainingman.com is my online dog training business. By signing up for my newsletter you get a free weekly dog training tips.
And then you can find over 300 dog training videos on my Youtube channel which is at www.youtube.com/user/eletendre1
OK great. Thanks again!
In case you missed Part I and II you can find them here:
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.