So much of what we hear about our dogs relates back to them being 'domestic wolves'. We hear about an 'ancestral' diet being good for them, and that we need to be 'the leader of the pack', or an 'alpha'. But, how much truth is there to this?
A lot of research has gone into the history of dogs, and how they became the family members we know and love today. There is little doubt that they were actually the first animals to become domesticated, with evidence of dogs accompanying humans even before agriculture was a thing - back when we would roam the lands as hunter-gatherers.
But this is where the details get a little fuzzy. We're not actually sure exactly when we started domesticating wolves and creating dogs. Current estimates sit at about 15,000 to 30,000 years ago, but there's potential for the process to have started as far back as 100,000 years ago. The difficulty comes as the early domestic dogs were very similar to wolves, with little evidence to distinguish between the two.
But, as time went on, and dogs started to cement themselves as man's best friend, the differences between them and wolves became more obvious. Dogs started to develop physical and behavioural traits that helped them to live alongside people. We know of some of these appearing 15,000 years ago, but the biggest differences started appearing as recently as the 1800s. This is when different breeds really started taking off, and we started to look for our dogs to have certain attributes. For example, we created the greyhound for hunting deer, and we created the border collie for shepherding sheep. Meanwhile, we developed the poodle for retrieving shot ducks, and the husky for pulling our sleds. We now have over 400 distinguished breeds, each with their own special traits.
When we look at the dogs we have today, they are evidently NOT the same as modern-day grey wolves. In fact, even saying they evolved from grey wolves is misleading. This is because, whilst our dogs and modern-day wolves DO share the same ancestor, that ancient wolf is now extinct. So, dogs and modern-day wolves have evolved separately (albeit with them liking to intermingle and hybridise along the way!), and so have a good few differences that set them apart.
A better model for what our dogs would likely do 'in the wild' can be found in what's known as village dogs. These dogs are slightly different depending on where you find them, but most have a short coat, long tail, and upright ears. They are usually free-ranging and, whilst they usually are sociable with people, they keep themselves to themselves and do whatever they fancy. They are what our own dogs would be if not purposefully bred, and if left to their own devices.
The 'Wild' Diet Isn't What You May Think
You may have heard the term BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) before, or maybe you've been told that you should be feeding an 'ancestral' diet. Whilst the ideas around these diets can differ slightly depending on who you ask, the general gist of them is that we should be feeding our dogs what they would have eaten 'in the wild'. These are all too often related to what grey wolves eat, but we should instead be looking to village dogs for inspiration on this.
This is because village dogs share much more of the same genes as our domestic dogs, including their ability to digest starch. Wolves are renowned for struggling to digest starch-heavy foods, and naturally select low-carb diets when given the chance. However, our domestic dogs and village dogs have a genetic adaptation which allows them to digest starch readily.
The thinking is that this adaptation may have happened whilst the ancient wolfy ancestors were looking for food, and found it in the scraps of human settlements. As we discovered agriculture, we naturally ate more starch - and so the canines around our settlements had to follow suit in order to survive. We can see evidence of this when looking at the dietary choices of grey wolves and village dogs - wolves select very low-carb diets, whereas village dogs (and domestic dogs) choose foods higher in starch.
This means that there is no problem at all with feeding our dogs carbohydrates and, in fact, it can even be beneficial for them. This is because it acts as an energy source, allowing the proteins and fats of the diet to be used more appropriately, for tasks such as growth and maintenance of their bodies.
So, what carbs can we feed our dogs?
Like we've mentioned before, carbohydrates come in plenty of different forms, and some are better than others. Refined carbs tend to be used up really quickly, and can cause moments of hyperactivity after a meal, followed by a sugar crash and a grumpy doggo. They've also been linked to certain health conditions, such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and are more likely to leave your dog still feeling hungry after a meal. For this reason, it's better to avoid them where possible. If the label mentions vague terms, such as rice, it's likely a refined grain that's been used.
Whole grains, however, can be a great option - so long as your dog doesn't suffer from intolerances to them. Brown rice, for example, can provide a good amount of B vitamins and fibre, which support overall health, and take longer to digest - leaving your dog feeling fuller for longer, and less likely to become a puppy tornado straight after eating.
Grain-free foods have seen a huge surge in popularity, but the substitute used for the grains is important to take note of. For example, white potato has a high glycemic index, so can have the same effect on your dog's blood sugar as refined grains. Peas and other legumes are also commonly used, but there is still research ongoing as to whether these contribute to a heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy. For this reason, if you opt for grain free foods, it's better to err towards sweet potato, as it has a lower glycemic index, is not currently linked to any potential health concerns, and provides plenty of extra vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre.
If you want to read more about this, take a look at our blog, 'Are Grain-Free Dog Foods Better?'
What about raw meat?
Ancestral and BARF diets also tend to recommend raw meats, as they are rumoured to have great health benefits. However, a relatively recent study actually showed that dogs can digest gently steamed meats better than raw meats, and so would likely thrive even more on a diet including these over raw foods. By contrast, meats cooked at high pressures and temperatures were less digestible, so it's important to look at this information as well as a food's ingredient list to determine how effectively your dog is likely to be able to digest it. Eden, for example, cook all of their kibbles at around 80*C, which is ideal.
It is also important to consider the microbiological risks of raw foods, as these have regularly and repeatedly been observed in the scientific literature. Dogs that eat raw meats often shed harmful bacteria - most notably E. coli - in their excrement and saliva, and will often transfer it onto their coat when cleaning themselves - so impeccable hygiene is essential if you decide to go with a raw-based diet.
Should I feed my dog like a wolf?
Hopefully, after reading this article, it will be clear that there is no reason you should be aiming to feed your dog like a wolf.
It is instead better to look for a food with a small to moderate amount of carbohydrates involved (around 30-40% on a dry matter basis), and a food where the meat source has been gently steamed.
Not sure what foods offer this? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll be happy to help find a food that works for both you and your dog.