Beinn is a pedigree working cocker spaniel, and as I write this is 25 weeks old. As a classic spaniel, he is of course always a bundle of energy, loves a cuddle and is always keen for a walk or run. He’ll happily spend all day chewing a stick in the garden, and would rather be rewarded with a toy than a treat.
I first started considering mindfulness with regards to Beinn a while ago, as when walking the dog I noticed I was leaving my phone at home more and more often. I would turn off my computer at 5 o’clock on the dot so that we could get a good walk in before dinner, and it’s him that I look at first thing in the morning, not my social media, and so I was confident that being present with him was undoubtedly doing positive things for my mental health.
For the last two years our household has been largely vegan - we believe strongly that our bodies function best on a non-processed plant based diet and are very mindful about where we source our food. We try not to purchase plastic wrapping, and go to our local markets when possible. But what about Beinn’s dinner? We were feeding him kibble and biscuits that were recommended by his breeder, and I was concerned that his eating habits were not that good. He wasn’t excited by food, and did not eat his meals in one go - instead picking at it and carrying it around for a few hours.
From DNA studies, we know dogs evolved directly from the timber wolf somewhere around 15,000 years ago. And, of course, it should come as no surprise, that wolves are clearly mainly carnivorous. So, by their very genetic pedigree, dogs also demonstrate similar and noticeable carnivorous traits. Their teeth, their digestive systems and their behavior clearly confirm this fact. However, thousands of generations and selective breeding that made domestic dogs more adaptable to life with humans is responsible for the evolution that today differentiates dogs from their ancient ancestor. Among the most prevalent resulting differences between dogs and wolves is gastrointestinal physiology and how it impacts overall gastrointestinal and other organ health. In the process of canine domestication, humans essentially fed early more wolf-like canine companions what they ate, and over successive generations, the species adapted to a more omnivorous diet.
In that sense, the modern pet pooch could be considered largely omnivorous, and will indeed generally ‘wolf down’ any food in the vicinity… good for him or not! What I feel is my role as a dog owner, however, is to pay attention to the quality of this diet and note how my dog responds to food, just like I do to my own. So after a bit of deliberation I decided to apply the same premise to Beinn! Don’t panic, I didn’t make my dog a vegan, and didn’t go down the slightly controversial ‘raw food’ (BARF) diet either. We simply decided to make his food just as we make our own: varied, wholefood and high in nutrients!
We are lucky to have a local dog food butcher near us who provides us with advice and a vast variety of game and meat for a really good price, and so frequently stock our freezer up with minced duck, beef, lamb, chicken, tripe… the list could be endless if my freezer wasn’t so small! He provides meat that I know is often human grade, but would be heading to the bin due to our consumerist supply chain of food production here in the UK. And other times, its offcuts and offal that the supermarkets and commercial butcher’s here don’t have a market for. As a vegan, I believe that if an animal has to be slaughtered for the food chain, we should do our utmost to make sure there is as little waste as possible, and so I think pet butchers can have a valuable role here.
Once or twice a week, I take a good amount of brown rice, and cook it up with our vegetable stalks, leaves and leftovers that would have again otherwise hit the compost heap and make an unseasoned mixed vegetable and rice medley. This is paired with some version of the meat mentioned above, and generally this means a new recipe hits Beinn’s bowl every other day.
We’ve been feeding this way for about 6 weeks now, and have noticed the following in Beinn’s behaviour and general wellbeing:
- No bad breath
- Less frequent (and easier to scoop) poops!
- Less ‘manic’ behavior after every meal
- Interest in food, he now carries his food bowl to me!
- Variation in diet, interesting for me too
- Super shiny coat
- Cheaper & I know what is in it
Of course, there are a couple downsides…
- I need a bigger freezer
Do you know what is in your dog’s bowl? Are you mindful when it comes to your pets or do you autopilot? I honestly believe that by paying attention to just Beinn on our walks, I have noticed more of the Peak District on my doorstep in the last 3 months than I have in the 9 years I have lived here. I now know every path in my local woods, and yesterday even spotted wild orchids growing alongside the path!
And when it comes to meals, I am thrilled that I am not only feeding him a dinner with whole foods and vegetables, I am also reducing waste from our local abattoir and my compost bin, AND I am spending money with my local butcher as opposed to the large chain pet store.
How can you the extend mindfulness and mindful consumerism you practice for yourself and to your pets and those around you?