Dogs' breakfasts boost search performance, says study

Dingo eating a rabbit How important is breakfast for a wild dog?

Related Stories

Eating a morning meal increases search accuracy in dogs, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky tested the search performance of trained dogs after either consuming breakfast or fasting.

The study found the canines searched more accurately 30 minutes after a meal than those that searched when hungry.

Findings from the research by Dr Holly Miller and colleague Charlotte Bender were recently published in the journal Behavioural Processes.

Studies demonstrating that children do better in cognitive exercises when they have eaten breakfast led Dr Miller to "wonder if a breakfast would also improve performance by dogs".

Wild dog wonders

Dingo pack at sunset

So Dr Miller and Ms Bender tested trained domestic dogs' (Canis familiaris) accuracy when finding hidden food, after either eating a morning meal or completing the task without eating.

To ensure that all dogs had depleted energy levels before the search test began, the dogs were required to exhibit self-control for 10 minutes in a 'sit and stay' exercise.

A previous study by Dr Miller demonstrated that the exertion of self-control depletes dogs' energy levels as well as their ability to perform certain tasks.

The dogs were shown a treat that was subsequently hidden in one of six containers. Dogs that had eaten breakfast 30 minutes beforehand navigated to the treat more accurately than those that hadn't eaten for 12 hours.

"The key finding here is rather simple: breakfast can aid performance by dogs," Dr Miller told BBC Nature.

But is the same true for their wild relatives - the closely related wolves, coyotes and jackals?

"Here is where it gets a bit complicated," she said.

A well-balanced diet

When "dogs eat a diet that is rich with carbohydrates [such as commercial dog food], their brains are more dependent on glucose and more affected by fluctuations in glucose levels," explained Dr Miller.

But with a diet of hunted meat, where the carbohydrate level is low but fat content is high, the brain switches to its secondary fuel source of ketone bodies instead of the preferential glucose.

"If these animals are consuming a natural diet, that is not scavenged from the dump, they are probably in a state of ketosis where energy for neural processes does not fluctuate much," Dr Miller explained.

This means that a single small meal may not have a big effect on problem-solving and may make "wolves and coyotes less impulsive and more cautious".

But Dr Miller continued, "When hungry they become less able to control their behaviour and this might be why, when hungry, they are so much more dangerous and unpredictable."

Join BBC Nature on Facebook and Twitter @BBCNature.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More from nature

  • Cardinal fish and ostracodFish filmed spitting 'fireworks'

    Film crew captures ostracods' spectacular defensive lightshow that makes predatory fish spit them out.

  • Arapaima'Locally extinct'

    A giant fish which used to dominate the Amazon river is now absent in many areas


  • DragonflyRapid reactions

    Dragonfly's super quick reactions recorded in slow motion by BBC film-makers


  • Wingless adult male of the midge Belgica antarcticaExtreme survivor

    Antarctic midge's small genome may be an adaptation to its extreme environment


  • Myotis midastactus specimen (previously identified as Myotis simus)Golden discovery

    A bat from Bolivia is described as a new species by scientists


  • Dinosaurs 'shrank' to become birds

    Huge meat-eating, land-living dinosaurs evolved into birds by constantly shrinking for over 50 million years, new research shows.

  • Would we starve without bees?

    Honey bees are under threat, and as pollination significantly contributes to the food we eat, what would we do without them?

  • Eggshells may act like 'sunblock'

    Birds' eggs show adaptations in pigment concentration and thickness to allow the right amount of sun for embryos, scientists say.

  • Female shrimps are more aggressive

    Female snapping shrimps are more aggressive than males when defending their territories despite their smaller claw size, a study shows.

BBC iWonder

  • Honey bee close-upInsect intelligence

    Are honey bees as smart as your sat nav?

  • Tyrannosaurus rex skull (c) Mark Williamson / Science Photo LibraryDinosaur dynasty

    One group of dinosaurs survived and their descendants can be seen all around us today


  • Brown rat cluse upRise of the rodent

    Reports of giant, 'super rats' are filling the headlines. But why are we being overrun by rats?


  • Cuckoo portraitHoliday hotspot

    What makes the UK such an attractive destination for visiting wildlife?


Awesome! And there's nothing common about such beauty.

Elaine Bernon on Facebook comments on the trio of common blue butterflies in our Photo of the Day.

Things To Do

RUN BY THE BBC AND PARTNERS

More Nature Activities >

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.