Any dog deserves the best nutrition his owner can afford, but clicker trainers must be especially mindful of proper nutrition. With the abundance of inexpensive treats on the market, and the need for many small treats for training sessions, it's easy to end up feeding your dog an endless succession of treats that have little nutritional value. In addition, with treats often a larger percentage of the diet than in a non-clicker dog, it is important to ensure that the staples of your clicker trained dog's diet meet his dietary needs and promote excellent health. In my first few entries on this blog, I will discuss how to maintain your dog's weight and health while still ensuring that you have plenty of desirable and affordable treats for clicker training sessions.
Why Feed a Premium Diet?
We've all seen the commercials on television: Shiny, happy dogs enjoying a heaping bowl of grocery brand dog food. Catchy slogans, appetizing chunks of meat falling across the screen, and the owners glowing with pride as their pets enjoy what the companies would like you to believe is the best pet food on the market.
Let's think critically about the best food for your pet. I am not a nutritionist or a vet, but I do sell a lot of pet food in my retail job that supplements my income as a behavioral consultant. I also meet hundreds of dogs in a given day, and know what most of my regulars feed their dogs. I will not mention brand names here, but I will go so far as to say that I can tell the difference between a dog fed grocery store dog food and a dog fed a premium brand with a single two minute inspection of ears, eyes, coat, skin, and teeth. We'll begin with the cost of producing a bag of dog food.
I recently saw dog food being sold at the grocery store, 40 pounds for $7.00.
This comes out to 17 and one half cents per pound. This is full retail price, what you,
the consumer, would pay for this dog food. Not what the grocery store pays- not
including any profit for either the store or the manufacturer. Let's factor in a profit of
fifty cents per bag for the manufacturer and the store, bringing the manufacturing cost
down to $6.00. This is a very low profit, but we'll give the benefit of the doubt and
assume that the food is marked up very little from the actual cost of manufacturing.
Now our dog food costs fifteen cents per pound. But wait- how does the company get
you to buy this dog food? Well, they have to advertise, right? Television commercials
cost thousands of dollars- $60,000 is a base figure that I have heard. So let's say that,
for each 40 pound bag sold, the company has spent 25 cents on advertising.
Now there are 14.3 cents per pound left to manufacture the food. But wait once more!
How did that dog food get to your local grocery store? It was shipped by a trucker, and was boxed and sorted for shipping by paid employees. Of course, they are shipping thousands of pounds at once and get some serious discounts- so let's say that to ship 40 pounds of dog food, the manufacturer pays another 25 cents.
Down to 13.75 cents to manufacture the food. But we're still not shopping for ingredients. Before we can spend our pennies on meat and grain for the food, we have to make sure we have a way to get it to our factory, turn it into hard kibbles and bag it. That means we're paying employees and buying machines. That's probably going to cost 25 cents per 40 pound bag, at the very least- remember, machines need electricity, and trucks to bring ingredients to the factory need gas. We also need to
pay people to drive the trucks, service the machines, and check the finished product to ensure nothing has gone wrong in the process. We won't worry about the salaries of anyone higher up in the company than the machine operators and truckers- their money will come out of that 50 cent profit we took off earlier.
So here we are, with $5.25 to buy ingredients for 40 pounds of dog food- that's 13.1 cents per pound. Well, since corn is subject to government subsidies and very cheap, let's throw a bunch of that in our dog food- it'll boost the crude protein level, measured with a lab instrument rather than checked for digestibility, and it's cheap bulk. Once we have a big vat of ground up corn, we'll need some meat- and we'll
probably use byproducts, since on about ten cents per pound after buying a bunch of corn, we can't afford the choicest cuts. This means we may have chicken beaks, feathers, and feet in our dog food. Of course, liver and other organ meats are also considered byproducts; these are rich in protein and essential nutrients, but also more
expensibe than byproducts that aren't meat at all. We can also toss in some preservatives to keep our kibble shelf-stable, some vitamin supplements, and a bit of sugar to make it more desirable in the dog's eyes (and nose).
When you look at dog food production from a manufacturer's eyes, you see that low quality dog foods are just that: Poor quality ingredients, with lots of preservatives and sugar, which may be harmful to your beloved pet, promoting obesity and other illnesses. It is impossible to make a cheap dog food with quality ingredients. If complete nutrition for anyone were cheap, we'd all eat restaurant quality meals made with organic ingredients every night- unfortunately, supply and demand dictates that quality has a price. So, when choosing a dry or canned dog food brand, consider these points:
1) Every penny that goes into advertising is not going into the product- the more commercials you see, the less the company spends on putting quality ingredients in the food.
2) You get what you pay for- but when you feed a product that is largely digestible, as opposed to mostly low quality grains that pass straight through your dog, you can feed less bulk (spending less in the long run) and spend less of your valuable time on cleanup, because stool volume decreases when dog food is highly digestible. If you consider the cost of your time and the savings of feeding less bulk, you will often save by using premium food.
3) If you splurge on one thing for your dog, make it the dry or canned food that is the
largest portion of his daily diet; you will save on vet bills by promoting good dental health, a healthy weight, and preventing diseases including cataracts and cancer. You can find cheap toys that are safe (or even make your own), you can give certain human foods for treats, but you can't skimp on the staple of your dog's diet and have a healthy dog in the long term.
Next entry, I'll discuss some healthful options for supplemental feeding and treats, as well as what to look for on a dog food label.