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Should my dog skip breakfast before training class?


“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” We have all heard this before, right?

A hungry person might be called irritable, grumpy or irrational. The word hangry is frequently used in my family. This is the combination of hunger plus anger. These two things, we joke go hand in hand. But what about dogs? Do they get hangry like the rest of us?

In dog training it can be quite common for owners to say that they withheld breakfast so that they can train, believing that withholding food can make their dog work harder. I have heard this recommended by trainers and some books suggest this method.

What does “working harder” look like to you? Think about your own dog. Would it look the same as frantic or frustrated?

In a 2012 peer-reviewed paper, The Breakfast Effect: Dogs (Canis Familiaris) Search More Accurately When They Are Less Hungry the authors tested fourteen dogs on this idea. Dogs were tested after a fast (skipping breakfast) or after eating their morning meal. They found that dogs that ate breakfast had better memory 30 minutes after eating than those that fasted.

“These findings can be more broadly applied to the training and maintenance of animals. Dogs that are trained for law enforcement, bomb detection, search and rescue, and service for handicapped individuals may perform optimally following a breakfast meal. Other means of elevating blood glucose levels, such as distributing food throughout the day (e.g., snacks), may offer additional improvements. Given that the current trend is to feed dogs once at the end of the day, the findings reported here deserve attention. Contrary to common belief, performance by dogs is greater following the consumption of a breakfast meal and when dogs are presumably less hungry.” (Miller & Bender, 2012)

Dogs that are not hungry work better.

What can we take away from this study?

It is probably worth offering your dog breakfast at the start of the day.

What if your dog does not want to eat? I will never understand the idea of skipping breakfast but some humans do it and yes, it seems some dogs opt to do this as well. My recommendation is offer the food but your dog is an individual. Just like humans, it is best to avoid painting broad strokes.

Sunday brunch or light power breakfast? The study suggests that more frequent meals are probably better for our dog’s performance but this does not mean that we should over feed our dogs. Frequent meals does not equate to over eating. If you are concerned that eating a morning meal is hurting your dog’s enthusiasm to work it might be worth looking a how much they are eating or even how they are eating. There are a number of changes one could make, not simply to eat or not to eat. Find what works best for your individual dog and remember that as your dog gets older this might change. I know that my breakfast habits change year to year and even with the seasons. Do yours?

References

Miller, H. C., & Bender, C. (2012). The breakfast effect: Dogs (Canis familiaris) search more accurately when they are less hungry. Behavioural Processes, 91(3), 313–317. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2012.09.012


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