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The Gut-Brain-Fitness Link: Nourishing Calmness in Canines

In the realm of dogs, as in the land of humans, the link between nutrition, physical fitness and mental fitness and developing skills with training, has a great impact on how we feel.

It's the old adage "you are what you eat" takes on a nuanced meaning that transcends the mere physicality of diet.

As a certified canine behavior specialist, and a history in person training, where dumbbells and protein shakes were my tools of trade, as well as a nutritional advisor through Precision Nutrition, I’ve come to appreciate the profound link between a dog's gut health, fitness, and their behavior. It's a fascinating tail—pardon the pun—wagging a story of interconnectedness that science is only just beginning to scratch behind the ears.

Gut Health: The Belly of the Beast

Before we get into this, let's get the disclaimer out of the way, although I have done courses on both human and canine nutrition, I am not an animal nutritionist. For catered advice for your dog, you want to look for a qualified animal nutritionist. However, working closely with Dr Francis Cabana who is a PhD in this exact subject, we do have the contacts to get you the help you may need.

Let’s delve into the belly of the beast – quite literally. In canines, as in humans, a healthy gut microbiome is essential for optimal brain function and behavior.

A balanced gut microbiome, comprising diverse and beneficial bacteria, contributes to the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which play pivotal roles in regulating mood, anxiety, and behavior. An imbalance in gut bacteria, on the other hand, can lead to a disruption in neurotransmitter production, potentially resulting in behavioural issues such as anxiety, aggression, and compulsive disorders.

In other words, a well-nourished gut supports a well-balanced brain chemistry, leading to a calmer and more content dog.

Dr Francis previously had me on his YouTube show, in which we dive into this topic deeper. Have a watch of both part one and part two if you would like to find out more about the connection between nutrition and behaviour.

Part One

Part Two

Fitness: The Tail That Wags the Dog

Now, let’s jog over to fitness. Ever noticed how a good run can make you feel euphoric?

Dogs aren't immune to this "runner's high" either, thanks to the release of endorphins. Regular physical activity keeps both ours and our dogs body healthy and his mind serene. An exercised dog is like a well-oiled machine, with all the cogs turning in harmonious efficiency.

This physical harmony translates to mental well-being, the saying, a tired dog is a well behaved dog, is a little over simplified, but as a tired dog is often a peaceful one – the canine equivalent of post-yoga zen.

It important that we don't just think of fitness as physical. Mental fitness is every bit as important. Keeping your dogs mind working and winning releases the same endorphins which we have been aiming for with physical fitness, by using enrichment puzzles toys, interactive games and training, we not only improves their ability to learn more and become better problem solvers, but also improves their ability to train more effectively, which leads us nicely onto the the next section of training.

Training: The Art of Canine Communication

The cornerstone of any human-canine relationship. Training is more than a series of commands and responses; it is a deep-seated conversation between species, a ballet of behavior and understanding. It's about crafting a bond, an unspoken pact of trust and mutual respect, that’s as enduring as the most tenacious pup’s grip on their favourite toy.

When we engage in training, we're not just teaching our dogs how to live within the parameters of human society; we're opening a two-way street of communication. Through the repetition of cues and the consistency of routines, we're whispering to our canine companions, "I am listening, I am here with you, and together, we'll navigate this human-centric world."

This process of learning and mutual understanding forms an incredible bond. Each successful command learned, each moment of synchronised action, reinforces the trust between human and dog. Trust is the foundation upon which all else is built. A dog who trusts their human feels secure, is less anxious, and is more willing to engage in the learning process. This trust, once established, is the linchpin that allows a dog to be more comfortable in the human world—a world that is often confusing and filled with all sorts of strange sights, sounds, and smells.

The dog learns to look to their human for cues on how to behave, whether it’s safe to approach a new situation, or whether they should retreat. As this trust grows, so does the dog’s comfort in navigating our human chaos.

But what’s going on behind those bright, attentive eyes? Inside the canine brain, when a dog is learning, there's a veritable fireworks display of neural activity. As your dog learns, their brain is forging new neural pathways, strengthening connections with every repetition of a command.

Dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, plays a significant role in this learning process. When a dog is rewarded for a behavior, dopamine floods their brain, creating a sense of joy and fulfilment. This isn't just a fleeting happiness; it's an enduring satisfaction that comes from working in harmony with their human partner.

The act of learning itself can also be inherently rewarding. The mental stimulation that comes from training challenges the dog’s brain, preventing boredom and the behavioural issues that can stem from it. A mentally stimulated dog is a content dog. Training provides an outlet for intellectual energy, translating into a calmer demeanour when off-duty.

In essence, training is the golden thread that weaves the fabric of companionship between us and our dogs. It goes beyond the mere mechanics of "sit" and "stay" to touch the soulful realms of canine companionship. Each session is a stepping stone towards a more profound kinship, each command a word in the language of understanding that we share with our dogs.

The Symbiotic Symphony

When we blend nutrition, fitness, and training, we create a symphony of wellbeing for our canine companions. This triad of health is like the three legs of a stool – remove one, and the whole thing wobbles. For the optimum balance, let's break down how each component contributes to creating a happier, calmer dog.

Nutrition: The Foundation

Nutrition lays the groundwork. It’s the fuel for the inner workings of your dog's body and mind. A diet rich in essential nutrients, probiotics, and appropriate fibre supports a flourishing gut microbiome, which in turn fosters a stable mood and a dog that's more Lassie, less Cujo. (If you get that reference)

Fitness: The Structure

Fitness builds on this foundation, adding structure and resilience. Regular exercise ensures that your dog’s body and mind are in peak condition. Like a well-tuned engine, a fit dog will have a smoother ride through life’s ups and downs, ensuring their energy levels don’t spike and crash like a toddler after a birthday party.

Training: The Insulation

Training wraps around this like insulation, buffering against the behavioural drafts that can seep into even the best-laid plans. It helps your dog understand their world, reducing anxiety and uncertainty, which in turn minimises stress-induced shenanigans.

The Takeaway

So, you want a calm, composed canine? Start by looking at their bowl – it’s more than just a dinner plate; it’s the first step to a serene state of mind. Lace up those walking shoes and hit the pavement or the park – because a sprint can be as good as a sedative for a hyper hound. Engage your dog with enrichment with games and mental challenges - the devil makes work for idle hands, this works for bored dogs too. And don’t skimp on the training treats – because every "sit", "stay", and "heel" is a deposit in the bank of behavioural bliss and a brilliant bond.

In conclusion, think of yourself as a chef, a personal trainer, and a linguist, all for the benefit of your four-legged friend. Mix the right ingredients, add a dash of activity, and communicate clearly, and you'll have a recipe for a well-adjusted, tail-wagging companion. Because at the end of the day, a healthy dog is a happy dog – and isn’t that what we all want?

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