Dog Behaviour

Sue Gilmore MA FCFBA

Our dogs are, by scientific standards and evolutionary history, domesticated descendants of the wolf. Their DNA is still 99 per cent wolf, despite the different breeding trends that man has imposed over recent centuries. In the scheme of evolution, dogs are a relatively new sub-species given that wolves have been around for 30,000 years or so. This suggests that, given their carnivorous anatomy, the food that they eat needs to be appropriate to their digestive system.

Dog’s internal physiology is the same as wolves, so it would follow that their physiological and nutritional needs would be similar if not the same. Wild animals generally require different levels of nutritional intake, i.e. more food, in comparison to domestic dogs, given that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, hence they gorge on their prey, nor do they know when they will have food to eat. The energy they expend whilst hunting is relevant to the difficulty of the hunt as well as what they are hunting. For example, if a pack of wolves is hunting down a large deer it is likely to be more of a challenge than, say, a rabbit or other small creature. Smaller prey would, of course, not feed a pack of hungry wolves so they would need to hunt again sooner than if they felled a deer or larger mammal.

Contrast this with our domestic pet dogs. They know that they will get two or three meals a day when living in a home where they are cared for and loved. The food they are given will be the best quality their owners can provide – or is it?

Domesticated dogs are quite capable of eating the same diet as wolves, their predator cousins, which consists of fats and proteins almost exclusively. When did you last see a pack of wolves grazing in a wheat or rice field?

Despite the changes in their physical appearance – there are now hundreds of breeds – the changes in the physiology of domestic dogs are relatively insignificant. The size of a chihuahua’s stomach is about the size of a walnut, significantly smaller than that of a mastiff or great Dane. One significant factor that differentiates domestic dogs from wolves is the need to hunt, but pet dogs still have the genes of a predator, whether they are expressed or not depends on their latent prey drive. Some dogs enjoy chasing a ball, rabbit or anything else that moves; some dogs can’t be bothered; some dogs know that they are too slow or weak to be successful so show no interest in using energy to hunt. 

Whatever the characteristics or breed of our pet dogs, they deserve to be fed a diet that suits their physiology and their energy requirements to maintain optimum health. 

Next blog: dietary requirements