The Case dogs have an evening dinner ritual. This ritual has not changed much in the last few years and deviates very little in its nightly performance. It begins, like clockwork, at 8:15 pm and is currently directed by Cadie, our senior Golden girl. Mike (my husband) typically feeds the dogs their evening meal, so is her usual target. As the self-appointed “dinner getter” Cadie takes her responsibilities very seriously. She is in charge of checking the time (apparently every 15 seconds after 7:00 p.m.), of carefully tracking potential human movement towards the utility room where the dog food resides, and of counting dogs to determine when everyone is in the house and ready to eat.
CADIE AND HER BOYS
When all key factors are in place, Cadie declares “Game On!” and the ritual begins in earnest. First comes the unrelenting stare; laser-beam eyes capable of burning holes through flesh. Cadie’s style is impressive; she sits rock solid still, barely breathing, eyes fixed on Mike’s face. If the stares do not elicit the desired response (dinner), she gradually inches closer until she is perched on the couch, Snoopy vulture-style, her cute little snout hovers inches above Mike’s face. If there is still no food-related movement, she adds the woofing; persistent little barks timed at two-second intervals for maximum annoyance. The paw on the arm is added last and occasionally Cadie feigns a dramatic hunger-induced swoon. (Okay, I made that last part up, but it really seems like something she would try). Finally, if all else has failed and it looks like dinner may not be forthcoming, Cadie enlists her second-in-command, Vinny the Brittany, to help.
With two dogs hovering with pleading eyes, Mike finally gets to his feet and walks towards the utility room. An explosion of happiness erupts! It is time for a DOG PARTY!!! Four dogs, all running, spinning, barking, more spinning, joyous, joyous Dinner Time, Dinner Time – A time for celebration! As Mike measures food into bowls, he sings the Case Family Dinner Time song (Who wants dinner? Who wants dinner? Everybody does! Everybody does! ). All four dogs crowd around for the measuring into bowls; Cadie keeping a keen eye on portions. Once the food is doled out, sitting is required prior to eating and all of the dogs adhere to the single hard and fast dinner rule – eat only from your own bowl. When everyone has finished their meal, the dogs are then allowed to play musical bowls, each thoroughly inspecting and licking every bowl. Finally, dinner complete, everyone goes outside for a potty break, knowing that tomorrow will be another day, complete with a new joyous opportunity for food and the celebratory dinnertime ritual.
Do you have a dinnertime ritual with your dog? Does your dog have very specific and endearing “dinner-getting” behaviors? Do you have a particular way of responding to these? And, tell the truth now…….do you have a dinnertime song?
Food is love (emotional brain): When we think about our daily lives with our dogs, we consider many shared enjoyments. And with our dogs, just as with our human family and friends, dinner time is not only about nutrition and food – it is just as much about joy and affection, and ritual. Indeed, there is perhaps no other aspect of our lives with dogs in which we show love more consistently than with the decisions that we make about what, how, and when we feed them. And it is exactly these feelings that cause choosing the best possible food or method of feeding for our dogs to weigh so heavily upon our minds.
And, it is science (rational brain): It is a fact that nutrition is a science that is governed by the same scientific principles and methods as all of the hard sciences such as biology, chemistry and physics. However, for most of us, applying the principles of sound nutrition to our dogs’ daily lives does not feel like science. Rather feeding our dogs feels like love, and caretaking, and nurturing. And indeed, providing good nutritional care should feel good. Without question, the deep love and commitment that we have for our dogs is essential for caring for them well.
Using both: Still, we need evidence, scientifically acquired evidence, to make informed decisions about nutritious foods and healthful feeding practices for dogs. Critical thinking skills enable us to sort out reliable evidence from information that is based upon conjecture, anecdote, and belief. The good news is that emotions and rational thought are not mutually exclusive, and in fact can play quite nicely together in your decision-making brain. Loving our dogs and wanting the best for them (our emotional mind) plus a set of well-honed critical thinking skills (our rational mind) can work together quite efficiently to help us to make wise food choices. While emotions are essential for decision-making and can influence us in many positive ways, we must also be aware of (and avoid) the cognitive traps that emotions can lead to and that clever pet food marketing campaigns often rely upon. Once you have these skills in place, the resulting smart food choices (coupled with a really cool dinnertime song) can help you to enjoy your dinnertime rituals with your dogs for many years to come.
This essay is excerpted from Chapter 1 of my new book “Dog Food Logic“. If you enjoyed this piece would like to read more, the book is available from the publisher (Dogwise) and on Amazon: