==> This goes way beyond what you feed your dog
In fact, this topic impacts every other area!
Dog Meals, Meal Times, and Feeding Routine
Whether you have a GSD puppy or an adult GSD, whether your German Shepherd lives with you inside the house, or outside in a garden/yard kennel, the majority of both the perceived Behavior problems and the actual Health issues result from ill-advised Dog Meals, Meal Times, and Feeding Routine.
On MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG you saw under House Training Dogs:
House Training comprises:
- Housebreaking a dog - meaning Potty training a dog
- Dog crate training
- Dog meals, Meal times, and Feeding routine
- Obedience dog training
- Becoming the accepted Pack leader in the household
- Leash training a dog, and
- Dog Behavior training
In fact, House Training comprises even more, as shown in House Training Dogs To Behave Well - but all that would go beyond the topic of this particular Periodical.
The topic of Dog Meals, Meal Times, and Feeding Routine actually impacts every other area of dog training.
Dog Meals, Meal Times, and Feeding Routine impacts not only House Training (Indoor Training) but also Outdoor Training (like Leash Training, Recall Training, Running next to the bicycle, Stillstand upon approaching traffic, etc). Most dog owners (and indeed most professional dog trainers!) don't know this, hence why the topic of Dog Meals, Meal Times, and Feeding Routine is neglected by far too many dog owners. This will all become much clearer over the coming months and years you are with us, but this particular MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL is the basis for everything.
Everything? - Yes. Everything. Obviously meant training-related. As an author, I carefully choose my words. You will get used to my precision.
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The beginning of every great dog relationship is a well-established and consistent Feeding Routine, because it is the first and most crucial chance for effective dog training. Conversely, what you feed your dog has less impact on your relationship with your dog, but major impact on dog health.
So, in order to help you build the BEST relationship with your GSD (our mission), you must start here: with the Feeding Routine. Understood so far?
How do you currently feed your dog? Do you fill a bowl of food and then put it down on the floor, saying something like "Food is ready!" or "Enjoy your meal, my sweetheart"?
Or do you go to the dog bowl, having the tin, bag, or pot in your hand, and then fill the bowl while making your GSD wait until you are ready?
Well, both is wrong, both doesn't achieve what you want from your dog. Both of these routines, and all in between, will result in problems with your dog. We get these reports all the time.
Maybe you can't imagine this, but perceived 'dog problems' like for example:
- Pulling on the leash
- Constantly seeking your attention
- Barking at everything
- Frequent whining
- Jumping up on you or your guests
- Digging in the garden
- Running around panting and restless
- Mouthing, nipping, and biting
...all of these perceived 'dog problems' and many more are nothing but in fact dog owner problems: they all are directly connected to your Feeding Routine.
So, if you are struggling with ANY behavior problem with your dog, consider to apply this Feeding Routine first:
This particular Feeding Routine, including the Gesture-Eating at the beginning and the immediate removal of a not-emptied dog bowl at the end, will teach your dog several things:
- That every family member is the Pack leader, the Alpha, for your dog
- That you determine when, what, and how much your dog gets to eat
- Not to interrupt you while you serve the food
- Not to be interrupted while your dog eats
- To eat what you serve your dog, instead of eating something, from someone, somewhere (scavenging)
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Because FOOD has such a significant meaning to a dog (well, after all to us humans too!), your dog will rapidly realize that (s)he is not (or no longer) the Pack leader, but instead you and every family member is. To a dog, the one who controls the food is the Pack leader, the Alpha in the Pack.
With the above Feeding Routine you and every family member control the food. - Understood so far?
Within just two or three times that you apply this particular Feeding Routine your dog will get the message. (S)he will quietly SIT and wait until you are ready to give the signal to eat.
Whether you have a GSD puppy or an adult GSD, this Feeding Routine is your first and most important step to becoming the accepted Pack leader! This will help you to automagically eliminate most of the common 'dog problems'. For example:
Please note: You must apply this Feeding Routine consistently. Every day. If one family member diverts from this proven Feeding Routine, then it will not have all its benefits and it will result in an imbalance in your family, ie in your dog's Pack. This is the secret reason why in many dog owner households the dog behaves with one family member better or worse than with the others - up to and including biting a family member!
The 'Pack' structure is ingrained in every dog's mind because it is part of the dog's genetical heritage. Likewise, part of the dog's genetical heritage is that every dog notices, understands, and accepts that "The one who controls the food is the Pack leader". This is what makes our particular Feeding Routine so immensely powerful once you apply it consistently.
Without really knowing the mentioned methodical reasons, I did apply most of this Feeding Routine already as a child (children love to 'perform' like in a theater). Thus when (only a couple of years ago) I finally found one professional dog trainer who does apply such Feeding Routine too (it's only one yet), I was delighted and still am. He too solves 'dog problems' with what feels like the adept move of a wand. Of course I am speaking of the one dog trainer I suggested you in the last Periodical to check out if you find you can't learn from my words alone.
Thus, set yourself and your family the goal to try this Feeding Routine, say for a week or two. Before the first week is over, you will have noticed that not just one but the majority of your dog's perceived behavior problems are gone! It may feel like magic. Doggy Dan Abdelnoor shows this in his videos of course, but I don't, and I find it important that you understand all the things I write, ie the underlying concept and reasons why one thing works, and another doesn't.
It's important for you because this allows you to avoid making the same mistake that thousands of dog owners have reported before you: They all paid a local professional dog trainer to train their dog. And after say a year they have already paid a thousand bucks but their dog still gives problems - sometimes new problems, sometimes still the same problem they started out with!
Paying a dog trainer to train your dog is foolish, it cannot work. Your dog knows that you are a different person than the trainer, and so your dog behaves differently with you when the trainer has left. You must be the trainer, and so first you must learn how to change your dog's behavior (and this includes a change of your own behavior).
So, as for the Feeding Routine, perform it consistently, then it works very well.
It is now when, for us people, the most difficult time starts: When problems are gone, we forget why they are gone. We stop doing what we were doing in order to make the problems go away. That's why past problems so often re-appear. And that's why I stressed above that you must apply this Feeding Routine consistently. Dan says for the entirety of your dog's life. I feel you can decrease the frequency when all is well with your dog, but yes, you must never stop this Feeding Routine entirely if you seek to avoid 'dog problems'!
To stick to something consistently that requires a bit of effort, this is difficult for people when we don't perceive a problem. Much less so for dogs: They instinctively apply the same routine over and over again, even long after the initial benefit has disappeared! This is why your dog will continue to follow your command, long after the last time (s)he got a reward for that.
All of the above was only a quarter yet
Directly related to the Feeding Routine are the Meal Times.
For example, imagine you apply the suggested Feeding Routine the first time, and your German Shepherd won't quietly watch you when you Gesture-Eat and when you fill your dog's bowl - because your GSD is not used to this. So you end up cancelling your dog's meal.
And now say, your GSD is getting only one meal a day. Then you have a problem, because you have a hungry GSD for an entire day!
This is not advisable and not acceptable. Regardless of the Feeding Routine that you apply, I strongly recommend to feed your German Shepherd at least two meals a day. We feed our German Shepherds three meals a day, because we eat three meals a day as well and we value our German Shepherds as being full family members. More so, we even expect them to safeguard the family, so we always strive to treat them the best way we can!
Now here are the more generally accepted reasons why you should consider to feed your GSD at least two meals a day:
- For dogs, as much as for humans, it is much healthier to eat smaller amounts of food at several consistent meal times during the day, rather than one large meal once a day. Dogs in the wild will eat many times during the day, and evolution has made their intestines, metabolism, and psychology of the mind exactly that way. Several smaller meals calm and balance both your dog's body and mind.
- Although you may rightfully argue that the socialisation of dogs over the past 14,000 years and the seemingly huge difference to wolves and wild dogs no longer require your German Shepherd to eat several times per day, note that the genes of every dog are still 99.8% (or was it 99.98%) the same as those of an ancient wolf in the wild! From the tiny Chihuahua to the great German Shepherd. All differences among dogs in looks and size result from less than 0.01% difference in genes.
- If you serve your GSD only one meal a day, then your GSD necessarily gets a large meal, probably heavy on carbohydrates, fats and proteins, in order to keep your dog sufficiently fed, rather than permanently hungry. A large meal that is heavy on carbohydrates, fats and proteins promotes health issues ranging from Bloat or Gastric Torsion, Vomiting, Diarrhea and Obesity, to Gastroenteritis or Pancreatitis, Hypothyroidism, Diabetes, Kidney Failure and Heart Failure!
- The modern German Shepherd, as well as a dog in the wild and the ancient wolf, can easily cope with one meal a day, no question. A dog can survive several days without food (but not even a single day without water!). But this doesn't mean that the dog will live and behave well when (s)he gets only one meal a day. See above: Evolution has prepared the dog's intestines, metabolism, and psychology of the mind to eat several times a day.
This leads over to the next area.
- Because evolution has prepared dogs (and humans alike) to eat several smaller meals a day, your German Shepherd needs several smaller meals a day to exhibit the behavior you desire: Being calm, relaxed, and balanced - until there is real danger looming.
- Under normal circumstances there will be countless situations at day and night where you expect your German Shepherd to remain calm and balanced, or even quiet. Whether your kids or other kids are pestering your GSD, or your dog sees a bird, groundhog or caterpillar, hears an opposite-sex dog barking in the distance that you cannot hear, feels a draft from an open window or heat from a radiator or a skin rash or internal pain, or senses a looming thunderstorm, a returning family member, or an imbalance of yourself or another family member.
- For a dog that is hungry because (s)he got the last meal 8 or even 24 hours ago, all these small things that you won't even notice may constitute a real challenge to remaining calm, balanced, and quiet.
- A hungry dog instinctively will search for food because, unlike us, a domesticated dog doesn't know when (s)he will get food again. The dog cannot relax thinking "I'll get a good meal in two hours anyway", because the dog knows (s)he can't go hunting in case you don't provide food. When the body sends the signal to the brain "Hungry!", the dog's genetics require to search for food immediately - like the dog in the wild would do.
- Even if you think "My GSD is fine without food for another day", if you only watch your dog consciously and prolonged you will recognise the restless behavior as being the search for food. If in such a moment say, a child is pestering the dog (from the dog's point of view) then the dog faces an internal battle between its instincts and its trained behavior and socialisation. A battle of the dog's psychology (also see Core Areas of German Shepherd Psychology).
- Of course the dog won't 'eat the child' now, but the crucial point is that its internal battle may exhibit the kind of behavior that you really don't want to experience!
Even most experienced dog trainers cannot see or 'read' a dog's search for food, the dog's food-drive. They argue "this behavior has to do with bad training or lack of training". Or, if they are better educated dog trainers, they argue "this behavior has to do with you not being the Alpha in their Pack". - But it's none of these.
Because a domesticated dog that is held in the house or a garden/yard kennel cannot wander off into the wild and search for food, upon the first body signals of hunger the dog faces an internal battle between its instincts and its trained behavior and socialisation. In that moment, the more the dog feels pestered, and the stronger the feeling of hunger becomes, the more of a challenge even for the best-trained and socialised dog!
So, again, if you value your GSD's well-being (and your own and that of your family!), at least consider to feed your GSD two or three meals a day. Even if all members of your family have to leave the house for the entire day (work, school, whatever), you certainly have the chance to feed your German Shepherd two meals a day: One morning meal before you leave the house, and one evening meal after you come home.
However, in this case please note:
- There are some common-sense rules to observe regarding when to serve your GSD a meal (see below).
- Also, you must plan for enough time for the entire Feeding Routine before you leave for work and after you come home, ie including the Gesture-Eating and removing the food bowl if your dog has left any food in it. And if you need to defer the meal for 15 minutes (see above), you must have the time for this as well.
- If you leave your GSD alone for most of the day, you must ensure that your dog gets enough exercise and socialisation during the day nonetheless. Autonomous exercise your dog can get with the Varsity Ball (either in the garden/yard or in an empty room inside your house), but sufficient socialization you must provide - through arrangements with neighbors etc, and when you come home.
- Also, you must ensure that your GSD can relieve whenever needed. An indoor dog potty is not enough in this case. If you leave your GSD alone for most of the day, I strongly suggest that you provide your dog with a chance to freely move in and out of the house, to relieve in a specified area of the garden/yard.
Depending on the weather conditions in your region, you may be able to leave your GSD outside all day while you are away. However, in this case your dog should have the chance to freely move around outside the house, ie NOT be chained! In future editions of the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL we will discuss why a locked outside kennel is UNsuitable to keep your German Shepherd, and what you can do instead if you think this is necessary.
The frequency of dog meals aside, another aspect of Meal Times is when to feed your dog.
When to feed your dog
The rest of course depends on how often you feed your dog:
If you feed your German Shepherd three meals a day, it makes sense to serve your GSD a morning meal (breakfast), a midday meal (lunch), and an evening meal (supper or dinner). If you stick to the recommendations above, this will be very beneficial to your GSD both health-wise and behavior-wise.
If you feed your German Shepherd two meals a day, it makes sense to serve your GSD a morning meal and a late afternoon/early evening meal, particularly if you take your dog for exercise sessions during the day (but please never in midday heat). If you stick to the recommendations above, this will still be beneficial to your GSD both health-wise and behavior-wise.
If you feed your German Shepherd only one meal a day, you should switch immediately to two meals a day (see above why). Other than that, you may want to try if it's best to serve the meal in the late morning/around midday. However, you might find out that in this case your GSD behaves better if you serve the meal in the morning as a large breakfast (too large for sure).
The way to try out different meal times: Say, your fed-only-once GSD currently is on midday meals. To try out if instead a morning meal would be beneficial, you serve the meal one hour earlier every day until you reached the desired time (eg before you have to leave for work).
But in this case please note:
- Never make abrupt changes (in this case say from midday meal yesterday to morning meal today), instead give your GSD time to adapt.
- Stick with the new Meal Time for at least two weeks before you determine whether the change is beneficial.
- Remember not to serve the morning meal before your dog had the chance for its first urination, ie after many hours of holding on to the urine during sleep!
The final consideration is what you feed your dog. While Dog Food Recipes for our German Shepherds will be the topic of future editions of the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL, here it's about the general aspects of DOG MEALS for your dog.
Like people too, dogs are different in both what they like and what they digest well. And in terms of German Shepherds, food allergies are very common indeed. The GSD is the dog breed with one of the most sensitive GI tracts (gastrointestinal tract).
Also note that there is so much nonsense to be found about dog food (well, any topic really!), including from presumably well-informed sources (eg that double-doctor-title dog site we won't even mention, because they are happy to recommend anything if only it earns them money), that you need to apply some developed common sense yourself.
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We will always encourage you to do exactly this (to apply developed common sense), as you may already have noticed in the MYGERMANSHEPHERD Health Manual and on MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG. Developed common sense here is:
A great example is the popular Peanut Butter. Like people too, some dogs will be in agony if they eat anything with peanuts, to the extent that they can die! Just because they EAT it, or even LOVE it, doesn't mean that they digest it well. The problem with dogs then is that they may not always avoid the 'No'-Food the next time. They eat it again and get sick all over again!
Another great example, of the opposite type, is tomatoes and garlic. All those cheap 'copy-and-paste' dog sites advise against tomatoes and garlic for your dog, just because their authors have simply copied what they found on existing dog sites and pasted it onto their own site. A terrible practice, including from veterinarian websites!
Developed common sense here is:
Now briefly back to tomatoes and garlic: While the leaves, stem, and unripe green tomatoes are toxic to dogs (just like to people too), the ripe tomato fruit is not. Many dogs eat both tomatoes and garlic (and so does our dog), and they thrive on it! Think: How can tomatoes and garlic be "toxic to dogs" when the largest commercial pet food brands even add them concentrated? For example Taste of the Wild has tomato pomace and say Purina Pro Plan has garlic oil!
The crucial point, as always, is the amount you give to your dog. One tomato and one garlic clove (not bulb) mixed into the meal generally are excellent components of a balanced diet for many reasons. Just do introduce everything new carefully as described above.
A nutrition-rich and balanced diet will keep both the GSD puppy and the adult German Shepherd healthy, and also promote the BEST relationship with your GSD.
What does nutrition-rich and balanced diet mean?
If the label of a dog food tin or bag describes the food as nutrition-rich and balanced, is it really?
- Fact is, in our hectic modern times many dog owners simply overturn a tin of industrial dog food into the dog bowl, with the typical 'plop' sound that this makes.
- Even more dog owners simply tip dry industrial dog food (kibble) right out of the bag into the dog bowl until it's full (no 'plop' but a 'cling' sound).
- Hopefully both of these groups of dog owners also fill a large clean drinking bowl with fresh water!
These overall statistics are the same for GSD owners. Why? Because it is convenient, it is quick. And in modern times everything has to be quick, right?
No, not everything. If you set yourself the goal which of your daily activities have to be quick and which you want to savor, then you'll find both of them much easier to accomplish. And much more enjoyable too.
Personally, I for example explicitely want to savor time with our dogs, and I want to learn ever more about building and retaining the BEST relationship with our GSDs. So I spend time on both, and rather save time on other things. It really is your choice, even in hectic modern times.
With what the majority of dog owners do (see above), no wonder that they have problems with their dogs! If we don't even take the time to learn about the first and most important step to becoming the accepted Pack leader in our dog's 'Pack', and hence we don't know how to perform the right Feeding Routine as set out above, then we must not be surprised (or upset) by the fact that we face numerous "dog problems", right?
When I see dog owners on the street, in dog classes, on TV or in Youtube videos, I am regularly thinking: "Don't they know any better?" - If they don't know because they don't care, then I'd argue they don't deserve to have a precious dog like a German Shepherd. Or in fact, any dog.
It seems you are different, you do care: You subscribed to the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL because you seek to build the BEST relationship with your GSD, right? That's a pleasure. Thank you!
Components of a nutrition-rich and balanced diet
Did you notice? Carbohydrates and Fibers aren't listed anymore. Because modern Nutrition Science has discovered many flaws in the nutrition advice that has dominated the mainstream for the last 60+ years. Carbohydrates and Fibers neither are nutrients nor needed for a balanced diet. Old school thinking taught us "To have lots of energy, eat lots of carbohydrates and avoid fat", while in fact the right fats are very healthy but even the right carbohydrates are not. And fibers aren't needed at all if the diet is right, in particular avoiding sugars!
Fats. Not any fats, but good fats: Polyunsaturated Omega-3 fatty acids (NOT Omega-6). Did you know that fat provides more than twice the amount of energy per pound than what carbohydrates provide?
Back to dogs: Forget plain school summaries like "dogs are carnivores". If you see the amount of plants (twigs, grass, flowers, berries and other fruits, etc) dogs eat in the wild, you'll realize that this popular wisdom is nonsense. In fact, dogs are omnivores, not carnivores! Exactly like people are. No surprise really, once you think about it: Our domesticated dogs only exist because dogs emerged as scavengers of human food leftovers. And precious meat rarely was a leftover.
What means dogs are omnivores?
It means that dogs in general eat all types of food: Meat, Veg, Fruit, Fish, Dairies, and Plants. By their organism, dogs are no more carnivores than people are. Like there are people who happily and healthily live 'vegetarian', some dogs do too - if the dog owner gives the dog a choice!
By the way, currently almost all 'vegetarian German Shepherds' are owned by our subscribers from India, who know very well what kind of food is tasty and healthy. Certainly MUCH healthier than feeding your dog antibiotics and steroids laden industrial meat products - or worse: rendering plant waste products marketed as kibble and tin food! Over time you will learn here MUCH more about the right dog food.
Only if we consider the proportion of meat compared to other foods that wild dogs eat, then we may say "dogs are carnivores":
Why I highlighted wild dogs? Because reportedly 90% of domesticated dogs these days live on kibble and tin food, and most of that is an artificial concoction of rendering plant waste products void of real meat! Don't argue with what package labels say - they say anything to deceive you into buying it. Real meat is stripped off the bones to be used for human consumption. Only the waste that is not fit for human consumption (eg tumor tissues) enters the rendering plant, and what comes out is pet food.
Important to note is that if your GSD is accustomed to a different diet, an abrupt switch to the wild-dog diet would nonetheless almost certainly lead to digestive disorders. Either way, there is nothing better than homemade dog food.
If you stick to the recommendations above, particularly gradual introduction of new foods (ideally homemade) and mixed ingredients in every meal then it's health-wise and behavior-wise sensible to move towards a diet that combines a good mix of a few of the following ingredients:
Ideally, feed your dog only healthy homemade food, no commercial pet food, as commercial pet food regularly is chock-full of harmful substances!
- You can always add a spoonful of Omega-3 rich oil to the meal (has many benefits)
- There is nothing that speaks against a reasonable amount of dog treats like crackers, peanut butter sandwich, ice cubes, popcorn, etc: domesticated dogs are domesticated dogs because they evolved as scavengers!
- But note that what most people eat today - and thus what dogs would scavenge in the household - is highly processed, harmful junk (crisps, sweets, etc). This your dog should not be able to scavenge!
- Many dogs' favourites are ice cubes thrown into their bowl with water - then you can easily add nutrients by trying if your GSD likes ice cubes from your left-over frozen tuna water, unsweetened(!) pumpkin juice, steamed-meat water, or whatever
- You need to try out what your German Shepherd likes and digests well, the above can only be general suggestions
- You may need to give your dog eg skinless apples - and never the seeds!
- You may need to cook many of the above foods (best, steamed ) - and then of course cooled down to room temperature
- Particularly vegetables are easier to digest if they have been cooked
- Every meal must always be accompanied by a bowl of fresh water - and if you insist on feeding dry food(?) the bowl must be brimful as dry food deprives your dog of essential fluids!
In addition, GSDs need the supply of a full bowl of fresh water throughout the day. The risk of the medical condition of Dehydration is enormous for a dog breed with the metabolism of a German Shepherd.
In fact, try out our unique German Shepherd Health Profile Assessment (which is accessable on all 'German Shepherd Health' pages), not least to see how much water and food your individual GSD requires per day under optimal conditions (60F / 15C - if it's warmer, (s)he will need more water).
Water intake should also increase when ill and, obviously, when your GSD exercises, and in warm weather. Exercise level as well is factored in when you enter your dog's amount of exercise in our GSD Health Profile tool.
Always apply common sense:
- Eg don't feed your dog rhubarb, because your dog could choke on the stringy texture (unless you cut the rhubarb in really small pieces, or puree it).
- Don't give commercial food that has been 'enriched' with preservatives, sugar etc.
- Fish and poultry can contain hidden bones!
- Even beef ribs and other bones can splinter when chewed heavily!
- Safest is to introduce a new food item in cooked form (steamed ), and only once your dog digests this well, consider whether the raw form might be good too (or better).
- Steamed food is the best (because it is safe and nutritious).
Next edition: Dogs' Native Language