Yesterday I went to the premier dog show in the world: the 135th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The World Series of Woof. The second oldest continually-held sporting event in the country. (Know the oldest? Put your best guess in the comments.)
I was a man on a mission. I wanted to talk to dog-owners and breeders who fed their dogs an ancestral diet — more or less what a wolf would eat. What's great is that you actually get to go "backstage" and meet the dogs. Many owners let you pet their dogs, and most are happy to talk (the owners, not the dogs). So I went around interviewing owners and breeders. And — miracle of miracles — many dog owners and breeders are already on to this paleo concept. But they don't need to call it paleo. (That's a term that us highly intelligent humans need to help figure out what to eat.) They just call it raw, whole prey raw, or BARF. A species-specific diet.
It's astonishing how many health problems go away when you stop feeding grain-based kibble to dogs. This list of health benefits is assembled form interviews with multiple owners / breeders:
- *Much* better teeth
- Bad breath goes away
- Healthier and shinier coat
- The dog stops smelling so "dog-like"
- Less moody
- Lost weight (if overweight)
Sound familiar? I wonder why it works. I asked them what motivated them to feed their dogs this way, and I heard: "Well, it just makes sense."
Not everybody was a fan of raw. Here were some difficulties and criticisms:
- Concern about getting a balanced set of nutrients, particularly as puppies
- The time required to source and prepare quality food
- Difficulty when traveling
- Concern about bacterial contamination of animal products
Some of it may vary by breed too — there are breeds that are closer to wolves, like a husky, malamute, or spitz. (You can spot these breeds because they still have the pointy ears, curly tail, and double coat of a wolf.) One spritz owner just quarters up a cow and tosses it into a pen of puppies. They happily devour it. More domesticated breeds may have a higher tolerance for plant foods — even the raw dogs would seek out some fruit in the orchard, and enjoyed carrots and beets. With so many breeds, I'd be surprised if there weren't some variability in diet.
At the show, there are well over 100 breeds represented. Each breed belongs to one of seven groups, more or less based on the function they were bred for:
- Sporting (retrievers, setters, spaniels)
- Hound (beagles, dachshunds, greyhound)
- Working (malamute, great dane, husky, rottweiler)
- Terrier (scottish terrier, bull terrier)
- Toy (toy poodle, shih tzu, chihuahua)
- Non-Sporting (bulldog, poodle, chow chow)
- Herding (collies, german shepherd)
What's a little ironic is that despite being grouped by function, they aren't assessed by function. Why not have a competition, and assess the dogs on how well they retrieve, herd, flush out prey, learn commands, and run? Functional fitness anyone? And yes, we can also assess them by how well they cuddle and elicit coos from grown men.
One other thing I noticed. Dog handlers give treats to their dog in the ring. And they seemed to briefly put the treat in their own mouth, and then give it to the dog. What was actually happening, I learned, is that the handlers were storing the treats in their mouths. Apparently, because it's easier to access. And ya know what the treats are? Liver. Cooked liver. These professional dog handlers are keeping a bunch of cooked liver in their mouths. Needless to say, dogs really love liver. Wonder why. Maybe more nutritious or something.
Anyhow, it was a cool event and if you're ever in NYC when it's going on, I recommend you go. And no matter where you are, you must now watch clips from one of the funniest movies of all time, Best in Show. Or better yet, go watch the whole thing.
Disclaimer: I do not recommend that you eat whole prey raw. Unless you're a dog.