Behaviourist recommended we try Breakthrough dog food

A little background:
We adopted Rex from a local charity shelter in August 2015. We were given a large sack of Pedigree Vital and told that is what he had been fed on. We continued to feed him Pedigree wet and dry foods as he appeared to be fine and settled with it.
As Rex was picked up as a stray we don’t know his full history, but he is an extremely placid and loyal dog whose only problem is his fear of certain noises, predominantly large vehicles.
He has always been wary of road noise, but gradually he has become less keen to walk anywhere that traffic can be heard. He becomes terrified when a lorry is nearby.
He will walk and play happily if we take him to a local country park where road noise is not present.
This is clearly not an ideal situation so we decided that we should speak to the behaviourist at our vets.

We grew up with Pedigree pet foods being strongly advertised and linked to Crufts, so had little reason to doubt the quality of such food. But since the behaviourist suggested we try a new food, to help with Rex’s issue, I have been doing a lot of internet research which led me to this site.
The behaviourist asked for a few days grace, to establish some further details about the new food, which gave me time to do my own looking around.

I now feel ashamed that I have been feeding Pedigree to Rex, at best it gets a score of 2.6 on here but for pennies more I could have been feeding him a food scoring 5.
I realise that every food could have a different impact on any individual dog, so the score alone is not the be all and end all, but either way I feel it is only right to feed Rex the best that I can, especially if it benefits his state of mind as well as general health.

My own research pointed me towards a particular brand of food. I obtained samples and Rex is happy to eat it.
I won’t disclose that food yet, as that’s not the one that the behaviourist suggested. I will be trying my choice if there is no profound change in Rex within 2 months of the suggested food.

So, I’ve ordered a 12kg bag of Breakthrough, the food suggested by the behaviourist.
To be honest, I am not happy at the price of the food, £70 for what doesn’t appear to very good compared to the foods scoring 5 on here. It works out at £2.36 per day for Rex.
This food apparently helps to raise the serotonin levels, kind of like taking an anti depressant, which hopefully will help Rex be at ease with his fears.

This food has not yet been scored on this site, however another member did kindly advise me that it would typically score 2.3.
I am therefore far from keen to keep Rex on this food, only time will tell how it helps, if at all.

I’m expecting delivery within the next week, so I can monitor Rex’s progress and feedback to you all.

Thanks for your time
Lee and Rex

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Thank you for your detailed and interesting post. I have never heard of a food that raises serotonin levels and am curious to know what chemical reaction is taking place to achieve that. I wonder if this goes back to the widespread belief that high protein = hyperactivity. For many years pet owners were told this and David discusses it on the website. I can’t quite remember where it is but the article outlines the fact that a higher levels of protein is now not thought to negatively influence a dog’s behaviour and in fact can improve it, especially when additive free products are given. I will be most interested to read your feedback.

Hi Dottie,

My understanding is that this food focuses on essential amino acids. I did spot that L Tryptophan is one of the ingredients.
I won’t try to baffle anyone with the science as it’s not an area of expertise.

I don’t doubt that it’s probable that somebody else makes a similar product. I need more time to research and compare though.
I felt that need to take action sooner rather than later, then find a cheaper,hopefully better, suitable alternative.

Thanks for your time

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Thank you for drawing my attention to L-tryptophan. I think I have possibly seen it as an ingredient before but not looked into what it is or does. It can be given as a supplement or in food. Pooch and Mutt use it in their grain free Calm and Relaxed product.

There is a fairly lengthy article here on L-tryptophan. The Science Dog describes trials on the ingredient. Apparently it is an amino acid that has to pass the blood/brain barrier to be effective. The problem is that it has to compete with other amino acids. I wonder if this is why the product you have chosen is so low in protein as it might increase availability. Healthy Pets suggest using supplements so rather than look for L-tryptophan in food, it might be worth asking the vet about this. That particular article is interesting so is well worth reading. Mention is made of the fact that serotonin can be raised naturally by giving the dog something to do - exercise, games etc. They do not advise low protein diet.

It is an interesting subject and again, thank you for drawing our attention to it.

I have an ex shelter dog myself who can still be anxious at times so will be interested in reading about L-tryptophan. Some feedback about your experiences with this food will be appreciated.

I did think about feeding a lower protein food at one point as I was advised that it could have a calming effect but I didn’t in the end. I have found as she settled in and as long as we stick to a routine, she is mostly calm. She can get stressed by certain situations and still reacts to those loud motorbikes and noisier vehicles. The fact that she is mostly fine on a day to day basis, suggests to me that it is more about what is happening in her environment than inside her body. I do think that good nutrition is important for physical and emotional health but if Rex is generally calm apart from around traffic, it sounds like he will benefit most from some counter conditioning work.

I hope you can find a solution as I can imagine it being a real issue if you don’t live near some open areas. Luckily we are only a short walk away from fields and woods. The short walk along the road to get there has helped us with training as she braves it as long as she knows we are going to the woods. :slight_smile:

Thank you for your replies.

Rex does enjoy playing games such as tug or hide and seek in the house and garden without any issue, unless a large engine vehicle is close by which will grab his attention. We live in an area of town that is generally very quiet, so it’s rare that he is fazed. The bin lorry does worry him when the windows are open and I’ve tried to get him to look out of the window to see if it will ease him, but he isn’t keen and I don’t wish to push him into a position where he is terrified.

We have various park and woodland walks very close by. Rex use to walk through the woods, albeit a little wary, but a new housing development has brought heavy machinery close to one woodland walk and another woodland walk runs close to industrial units where 2 days in a row our walk was shortened by the sound of a lorry passing by.
A large play area is only 3 minutes walk from home. We are able to get Rex to walk there so long as there are none of his feared vehicles around. He loves to go to this play area with his much loved frisbee. He will gladly play fetch even though there is a very busy A road very close by. So the distraction of the Frisbee game clearly helps here.
However, just this morning, as we headed back home a skip lorry was close by so Rex wasn’t going to go home via the usual route. We set off on an alternative and found that we were walking along a path with a lorries approaching from front and rear. Our poor lad was so terrified he tried to pull back so hard that he nearly slipped out of his harness. I had to dive to the floor to prevent his escape as I dread to think what could have been.

Clearly this is not going to be a simple fix, but he is certainly worth the effort as he is otherwise perfect.

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Poor little Rex - it sounds as if he has not been socialised properly when he was a tiny puppy. I once had a dog that was nervous around traffic. She was three years old when she came to live with us and had lived all her life in a beautiful, very quiet village so she was not used to busy roads such as we have. She did get a bit better as time went on but I have to confess that I mostly avoided these areas and opted to walk her in the woods, fields etc. Luckily we have a nice big playing field behind our home and some decent walks within a ten minute drive of home. Even now I tend to avoid busy roads with my three.

Have you tried Bach Rescue Remedy? My oldie hates gun shot or similar noises. That’s bad luck because we live adjacent to a farm and the farmer likes to shoot! I regularly use Bach RR and it does seem to help. Dorwest Herbs sell Skullcap and Valerian for this type of problem. There are other remedies including the Adaptil spray and collar. Once when my old one was having a bad run (think it was the summer and the farmer was doing a lot of shooting), I took her to the vet and he gave her a small dose of Phenoleptil which is usually used for epilepsy in dogs. I found that it worked well. She only needed it for a few weeks. It did not sedate her but she was a lot calmer.

Good luck with your Rex and I do hope he can overcome his fears. Please let us know how you get on with him - I am interested in following his progress.

Edit - there is an article in the American Animal Wellness magazine about ‘stress busting’ foods for dogs which might be useful. However, no references to any research to back this up.

We currently use Pet Remedy spray and we have a Thunder Shirt for Rex. Unfortunately neither appear to have any effect
I’m confident we’ll find a solution, in the meantime it’s just as well he is keen to jump into the car and go for a ride to places where he is at ease.

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We took delivery of the food yesterday.
It turns out that this food is made by the people behind Oscar dog foods. I don’t have any experience of their products, but there does appear to be a fair hike in price for this Breakthrough, compared to the Oscar range.

It’s a dry food, with kibble the size of a 5p, but triangular in shape.
There was no issue with Rex eating it, as he will eat anything, so I’ve started the process of diet change. So long as he shows no issues with this food he’ll be fully onto it next Monday.

The instructions for this food do state that no additional food should be fed. So poor Rex won’t be getting any of his beloved treats for the duration of this exercise.
This will enable us to identify if the food alone lives up to its claims. Additional food could upset the balance of the ingredients apparently.
So I’m going to hold back 24g of kibble each day to use as treats for behaviour and training.

Thanks for your time and interest.

It is good that he isn’t fussy and will eat it. That is half the battle. I look forward to hearing how you get on with it.

I am looking forward to hearing how he does on this product. I hope that it suits him. Please keep us informed of progress.

Rex has now been on this new diet for one week. Today is the first day that he is wholly on Breakthrough.
The only noticeable change, so far, has been the change in his stools. I expected this as he was on a mixed wet and dry diet. It has created no issues toilet wise, simply a smaller/firmer package.

At this point there is nothing to report regards his behaviour. I don’t expect anything so soon, however the testimonials on the company website suggest that improvements might be possible in the the next week or so.
Time will tell.

Thanks for your time and interest.
Lee and Rex


I find that it can take several weeks to evaluate a different food. I hope that it does help but these sort of problems usually take time and management to solve. Training can help too of course. Will be interested to read how you get on.

So Rex has been exclusively on Breakthrough for 11 days now and I am pleased to report that we have seen a small improvement.

4 different visitors to our home have commented that Rex doesn’t appear to be as ‘in your face’, he is usually very keen to be the centre of attention at home.
Rex doesn’t care to lie around on the floor, he loves the comfort of couch, cushions and laps, but in the last few days he has laid down to sleep on the floor at our feet occasionally.
The biggest change though is the walking progress. Rex has been for daily walks to the local playing field and ventured around some of the local area.
Naturally he is still very worried by certain noises, sometimes he will stall and continue with a little vocal coaxing or gentle tug of the lead, other times he is adamant on going no further and we have to change direction. Fortunately for us the weather is improving and it’s somewhat more comfortable to hang around on the streets when it’s not so cold and wet.

These are all very minor things to report and I am not going to state that this is purely down to the food, but they are certainly progress nonetheless.

We’ll carry on as we are for now and see how the next few days go.

Thanks for your time and interest.

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However small the progress, it is very welcome and I am pleased that you are seeing a perceptible difference. As you say, it is hard to know whether it is the food because it could be that he is beginning to settle down and feel comfortable with you and with his new home. Keep up the good work and I hope that things carry on as they are doing right now.

I am glad you are seeing signs that he is calmer. It isn’t nice to see them so stressed. It is still early days and it can take a long time for them to really settle into a new home. It sounds like he is getting there.

I have read about the L-Tryptophan (spelling?) and have several people say it works. It’s quite popular in Germany it seems.

If you do not like the food, I have heard that feeding protein, which naturally has Tryptophan in it, and then 1-2 hours delayed carbs, speeds up and helps with the uptake of the Tryptophan and in turn helps with serotonin and calms the dog.

I need to start a trial of that myself, but it is a bit more difficult with timing.

Otherwise I do recommend trying Bach essences too.

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We’re now just under 7 weeks into the new diet and progress is still very slow.

Rex loves to play fetch with his hoop on the large green to front of our house. If the road is quiet, he will happily play and not want to go back home. If there are diesel engines to be heard, he is still very uneasy and will stop playing and return to the front gate.

There is still no real progress on the general walking side of things. He is still very wary of noise, sometimes he will go round a corner, other times he won’t, all depending on what is going on around us at the time.

At the moment I’m not convinced that the Breakthrough food is to be credited with the minor progress that we have seen.

We have approx 3 weeks supply left and I’m considering changing to an alternative food.

I realise that there is no single food that can really be deemed as perfect, so trial and error is probably key to success here.

If I don’t see a notable difference in the next 2 weeks, I don’t think I’ll be ordering a 3rd bag of Breakthrough.

My original research into foods on here led me to want to try a 5 out of 5 food, as I’d read that poorer quality food could lead to an unsettled stomach, which in turn could enhance any anxiety.

I’m currently a little torn as to wether to continue this trial or move to Pooch And Mutt Calm and Relaxed, as it’s very similar to Breakthrough but with increased protein by comparison, or even change to a 5/5 food such as Eden.
Both of these options would be an improvement, based on score alone, over Breakthrough.

The next fortnight will decide for us.
Maybe, just maybe, something will spark in our little lad and prove this food to be worthy, but I’ll not hold my breath.

Thanks for your time and interest.
Lee & Rex

Thank you very much for keeping us updated. This is an interesting experiment but from what you say, it would appear that the food has not had the hoped for effect. If you are minded to change over to a higher scoring food, start at least one week before the Breakthrough runs out because your dog may need that length of time for the transition, particularly as it is a big change to go from low protein to a high one such as the 5/5 that you suggested.

Current thinking on high protein food is that it does not cause hyperactivity. However, there is anecdotal evidence from people who believe that it does affect their particular dog. Other people say that their dogs have been calmer on high protein food. The key things are digestibility, natural formulas i.e. no red ingredients/additives. All dogs are different so you would just have to try it and see. Best to purchase a small bag in case it doesn’t suit.

Hi Dottie,

We have sampled Eden before, Rex ate it without issue as he is not a fussy eater. Obviously a sample is different to a change of diet, but we’ll see how it goes if we go down that route.

Pooch and Mutt is possibly the best option at the moment, as it is similar to Breakthrough in its aim of settling the mind.
I’ll have to decide either way very soon.
I’ll keep you informed.

Thanks for your time.
Lee & Rex