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Approved By: Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM
A good diet does so much more for a dog than to just fill them up and make them stop begging you to feed them, and it comes as a surprise to many the number of behavioral issues that can have to do with the food a dog is being fed. The Shih Tzu is no exception. “You are what you eat” is a saying often used to inspire humans to eat healthily, but just in case it has never occurred to you – it also applies to dogs. That a Shih Tzu can suffer negative health effects due to poor nutrition might seem logical, but did you know that a lack of healthy dog food and certain nutrients can lead to Shih Tzu behavioral problems? Let’s have a look at what these problems are, what causes them and what we can do to prevent it from happening.
Recognizing Low-Quality Food
In general, the dog food sold at the pet aisle at your local supermarket isn’t great, and while there may be exceptions, the majority are low-quality food brands where money is the main motivator, rather than the well-being of your Shih Tzu. When choosing dog food for your Shih Tzu, you need to tread carefully and know how to recognize low-quality food so that you can discard it as an option. Bags that feature colorful images of meat, vegetables, and grain tend to be deceitful since it is often a question of good marketing rather than quality content.
Many dog owners are tricked by that juicy steak on the front of the bag – thinking they are doing their Shih Tzu a favor – when really; the actual meat content might be low to non-existing. Just because a food package features a specific food item, it does not mean it is listed among the ingredients, and you need to check the list of ingredients to be sure that meat is found among the first three items.
Another red flag is colorful kibble. Cheap brands often use artificial colors to trick you into thinking that their kibble is something that it is not. They will add bright green pieces to have you think of vegetables and reddish-brown meat-looking pieces to have you believe that their kibble is full of meat, when, in reality, it is just full of artificial coloring. The truth is, real vegetables and real meat – when molded and mixed together – takes on a neutral brown color, which is the reason to why most quality kibble is all brown. It might not look appetizing to the human eye, but dogs – including Shih Tzus – do not care about the color of their food. Stay away from dog food products containing artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, as some could be a health hazard and cause both disease and behavioral issues.
Shih Tzu Behavioral Problems – Food Related?
As far as behavior goes, an unwanted quirk or bad habits can have many reasons; such as unsuccessful training, boredom and lack of exercise, or – believe it or not – the food. Cheap dog food brands often contain a lot of sugar, which has a similar effect on dogs as it does on humans. Picture giving a child a large bag of candy and an unlimited supply of ice-cream; what would happen? They would go absolutely nuts from the sugar high; being all over the place, acting out and being difficult for parents and other adults to control. Dogs are no different, and a similar outcome can be expected if feeding a Shih Tzu dog food that contains too much sugar.
These spikes in energy can also make it seem like your dog is never satisfied, no matter how much you walk and no matter how many laps around the fenced-in dog park they do. You might come home, feed them, and suddenly you have that overenergetic dog again – barking, pulling clothes off the clothing line (the Shih Tzu may be small, but they sure are stubborn), digging holes and/or chewing up the interior of your home. We often hear that destructive behaviors are a result of boredom and too little exercise, but it can also have something to do with a low-quality diet that contains too much sugar.
Poor nutrition can also cause problems with concentration, something that can become an issue when trying to teach your pup desired behaviors and when training (such as house training, not to chew on shoes and furniture etc. etc.). Perhaps you feel like your dog just won’t focus, and while you have tried every training method there is – it just won’t sink in. Your pup is distracted, barks and runs around and refuses to listen, and you end up blaming either yourself or your dog, when the biggest issue may be your Shih Tzu’s diet.
Saying that an incorrect Shih Tzu diet causes behavioral problems and bad behavior might be a stretch, but it is scientifically proven that a lack of nutrition, an excess of certain substances (sugar, for example) and a nutritional imbalance can make your dog more difficult to work with. It can become significantly harder to train your Shih Tzu, to have your Shih Tzu learn and fully understand what is expected of them, and to concentrate during training sessions. Any professional dog trainer will agree that these inconveniences can have your dog come across as misbehaved, impossible to train or like -let’s face it – a bad dog, even though it might not necessarily be his or her fault. It is a Shih Tzu owner’s responsibility to investigate the possibility of an incorrect diet causing behavioral issues, and if so, act immediately.
What a Shih Tzu Should Eat
A Shih Tzu needs high-quality food just like a bigger dog does, and it is crucial to take yourself the time to investigate food options, to see what your Shih Tzu might be the best suited for. Many Shih Tzu owners experience their dogs being picky eaters, and while it isn’t always the case – an unwillingness to eat (or a general disinterest) could be a result of a poor diet. Dogs are highly intelligent animals, and even if us humans think that a food product looks and smells delicious, it is a lot harder to fool a dog. Your Shih Tzu knows when he or she is eating something that tastes of real meat, and when the flavor is artificial, and while they might not be able to tell it to you in words – their enthusiasm at meal time could give you a hint.
You want to make sure that your Shih Tzu’s food has real meat listed high on the ingredients’ list since this is a sign of there being enough healthy protein to sustain your dog. While sugar causes sugar spikes and gives your dog tons of energy that only lasts for a short time – a good meat content will provide your pup with a more even energy supply that will last all day without extreme spikes. Look for named meat sources like chicken, duck or beef, and avoid products that list animal by-products or simply “meat” without specifying where the meat comes from.
Also look for fatty acids like Omega 3 and Omega 6, since these will help your Shih Tzu’s coat look the best it has ever looked. Fish oils are also great for brain function; something that could boost your pup’s ability to concentrate during training and everyday activities. Just because a dog is small, it does not mean that they have less of a need for healthy food, so do your research and pick a food product that cares about the well-being of your dog, rather than a cheap grocery store item that seems to care more about money and good marketing.
Importance of Training, Exercise & a Good Diet
When it comes to bad behavior and behavioral issues, there usually isn’t a simple answer to why your Shih Tzu acts the way that he does, nor is there a simple solution. A poor diet or a lack of nutrients can play a big role in your pup’s ability to learn and to act in accordance with your wishes and standards, but it is probably not the only reason. As a pet parent, you want to find a good balance between a positive reinforcement-based training method (remember, consistency is important), an adequate daily exercise routine and a healthy and nutritious dog diet. If you manage to combine these three, and mix in love and support for your pooch, then you have upped your chances of succeeding with a considerable percentage.
If you are sure that your Shih Tzu is getting the right amount of nutrients and a proper doggy diet, then you might want to start looking at other solutions for your dog’s quirk and/or behavioral problem. Talk to a dog trainer if you are unsure of how to handle a certain behavior, as they can help identify the problem and set up a plan for how to start working with it. Patience is key when having dogs, and love, respect, and understanding will eventually take you to where you hope to get with your pup.