After learning that I work for a palatant company, pet owners often tell me that they notice their dogs have unique feeding styles. I hear stories like, “My dog Dolly really picks through her food and it takes her forever to eat,” or, “My dog Bruce always gobbles up his food super-fast!” But these reports seem to go beyond an assessment of the way dogs eat: They also seem to influence what pet parents think about their dogs’ satisfaction with their food. With this in mind, we wanted to see what scientific merit there is to these anecdotal accounts of correlated feeding behaviors in the home and then explore what possible implications that can have for our customers. In order to conduct the appropriate research, we partnered with Dr. Bronwyn H. Bleakley of Stonehill College, a respected social behavior geneticist.
We worked closely with Dr. Bleakley’s team to develop a questionnaire for global distribution — which netted a total of more than 2,400 respondents from all 50 U.S. states and 30 additional countries.
“To formulate the survey questions, we went to the primary literature that already exists around dog behavior and pulled out any relevant measures that had already been used by researchers. We then held focus groups to formulate questions that were broadly relatable to dog owners. Finally, we modified the list of questions to be specific and hit as many axes of the dog’s behavior as we could.” – Dr. Bleakley
The survey included questions about food preferences, behavior while eating and the sex of the dog — as well as information about dogs’ family histories. We collected owner observations of feeding behavior for 1,138 purebred dogs and 1,272 mixed breed dogs, representing 140 breeds and all AKC-recognized breed groups.
“In looking to make strong inferences from behavioral data and, particularly, data that is ultimately being reported by a wide audience, we needed to have a big sample size. And because there are so many breeds of dog, we also wanted to have many observations for different breed groups.” – Dr. Bleakley
After receiving the data, we used a standard principal component analysis to look for patterns and uncover patterns of similar responses among questions. The results suggest that there is an influence of genetic heritage on feeding personalities in dogs. We found that breed groups differed in their food personalities and food selectivity. (Read the full research summary.)
Toy and terrier breeds were observed to be more finicky eaters, indicating that palatants might play a more significant role, whereas working breeds tended to rapidly consume their meals. Rapid meal consumption is not always a positive since it can cause numerous digestive issues, suggesting that moderate flavoring levels are required to get the desired behavioral response.
We are currently exploring how feeding personalities influence pets’ consumption of their food and pet parents’ perceptions of their experience. We hypothesize that, with this research, we can formulate diets with flavor profiles that deliver the feeding experience the pet parent wants. These capabilities could be particularly useful for product launches, as our clients could be better assured when they hold focus groups or launch products that they will get the desired reaction to green-light the next stage of development or encourage repeat business.
To learn more about our behavioral assessment and feeding personality research, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.