Guest Contributor—Maureen Keenan, JD, MAT Owner, Lead Behaviorist Downward Dog Canine Transformation. Maureen provides rehabilitation services and obedience training for dog owners and rescue groups throughout Eastern Carolina. As a non-profit executive for many years, Maureen left her position in order to rehabilitate and train dogs full time. She trained under Cesar Millan (“The Dog Whisperer”) and expanded her education under the guidance of several trainers across the country, including Lucas Agnew, Inc. and others.
My wife, Deb, and I subscribe to a popular healthy dog type magazine that recently published an article related to the benefits and alleged risks of probiotics in dogs. The article is dense and sounds very scientific, and it includes a broad and sweeping statement that troubles me deeply and casts doubt, for me, about the author’s interpretation of the information and her motivation for publishing the article. As a dog behaviorist and the co-founder of a dog rescue that rehabilitated and re-homed hundreds of dogs who came from shelters with all manner of anxiety, aggression, insecurity, and trauma, I am compelled to address the passing reference that attempts to connect aggression in dogs with a bacteria found in fermented foods, specifically in raw dairy products such as the fermented raw goat milk that I feed all of my dogs and recommend to clients and dog rescues frequently.
The article contains a section that outlines the three types of probiotics wherein she explains that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are bacteria that exists in raw dairy products. The author goes on to explain an assortment of physiological components of the gut as they relate to Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Fine. But then she states simply, “A 2019 study found that dogs with aggression had larger numbers of Lactobacillus.” https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/6-best-probiotics-for-dogs/#4. A link to the 2019 study is provided without further comment, explanation or analysis. Anyone who clicks on the link will be flooded with highly technical and medical terminology that most laypersons will find difficult or at least too tedious. So, the most available takeaway, as summarized by this author in a single sentence, is that this bacteria in your dog’s raw goat milk or other raw dairy products may cause or exacerbate aggressive behavior. Such a statement is irresponsible and harmful.
Looking at the referenced 2019 study, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6330041/ let me reiterate that I am not a scientist of any sort and I have no medical or veterinary background. To fully understand much of the technical information in the 2019 study and others, I require a medical dictionary and other resources, but where behavior testing of dogs is concerned, I have years of experience evaluating and working with dogs who were removed from all manner of traumatic situations, including but not limited to, dogfighting operations. In addition, I have spent countless hours in shelter environments evaluating and working with dogs. As any experienced shelter staff, dog rescue volunteers, or training/behavior professionals will tell you, a shelter environment is absolutely the worst environment to test a dog. The inherent stress and anxiety baked into the shelter environment makes it nearly impossible to gauge a dog’s true disposition. Moreover, conducting a behavior assessment during shelter intake right after dogs have been removed from a fighting operation and the unimaginable trauma of that environment produces, at best, a psychologically and behaviorally contaminated test group. For me, much more research is required to test the conclusions of that study with a more meaningful test group.
While it seems that the passing reference to the 2019 study and the suggestion that fermented food could be linked to aggression in dogs may benefit the author and her product sales, it is irresponsible in my opinion. The anecdotal data that I have is based on years of experience with personal dogs, client dogs and hundreds of rescue dogs. I do not design studies or examine levels of bacteria or any other physiological and biological materials. My job is to problem solve and to find strategies that will help dogs achieve psychological and physical health so that they are in the best position to then address behavior concerns of all types, including anxiety and aggression. I have seen countless dogs who suffer from skin conditions, gut-related conditions, malnourishment, orthopedic discomfort, and more who have turned around after the addition of fermented raw cow milk kefir, fermented raw goat milk, and various components of a balanced fermented raw diet. When those dogs recovered and regained their physical health, it became much easier to then build mental health and develop behavior rehabilitation plans.
We should demand more from our “experts” where our beloved pets are concerned. Issues related to dog behavior, especially the range of potential aggression in dogs, are complex and layered with medical and environmental considerations. Of the hundreds of rescue dogs that I’ve nourished with fermented raw dairy and fermented raw products, not one became more aggressive. We must do a deep dive on all studies and represent results in a balanced manner, not in passing as a marketing tool.
About the author: Maureen Keenan, JD, MAT, Owner, Lead Behaviorist Downward Dog Canine Transformation. Maureen owns Downward Dog Canine Transformation in Emerald Isle, NC where she provides rehabilitation services and obedience training for dog owners and rescue groups throughout Eastern Carolina. Before moving to North Carolina, Maureen founded Saving Sunny, Inc., a rescue that prioritizes Pitbull-type dogs, as well as services to underserved and low-income communities in Louisville, KY. For nearly 10 years she volunteered for Saving Sunny as a Board Member and as the leader of their behavior program, which rehabilitated shelter dogs to improve their adoptability. Maureen also provided free behavior services on behalf of Saving Sunny to low income families to help prevent the need to surrender dogs to shelters for behavioral issues. During her tenure with Saving Sunny, Maureen decided to leave her career as a non-profit executive in order to rehabilitate and train dogs full time. She trained under Cesar Millan (“The Dog Whisperer”) and expanded her education under the guidance of several trainers across the country, including Lucas Agnew, Inc. and others, before starting Downward Dog Canine Transformation. Maureen is a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP).