Let me include a disclaimer here - I am a dog trainer, not a canine nutritionist. But let me tell you a secret; neither is your vet.
The below is information that I have gathered through research, trial and error throughout the years with my own dogs, and experience with the countless other dogs I have interacted with during my career. I would encourage every dog owner to do their own research and become informed on the issue of appropriate nutrition, knowing that (and this of course does not apply to all vets) veterinarians are typically ill-informed on the matter and are taught to believe that the food that they are contracted to sell in their offices is the best choice for your pets.
In this post I'll cover four different means of feeding - standard kibble diet, wet food, home-cooked diet, and raw food diet. Again, the purpose of this article is merely to inform owners on different choices and provide my own personal experiences with each one.
The vast majority of dogs in America eat their meals in the form of little, baked nuggets that we call kibble. Kibbles range widely from our standard grocery store variety, to bags that cost upward of $100 each. I won't get too far into the downfalls of kibble, but I would encourage owners who do feed their dogs a kibble diet to evaluate the quality of the kibble they are feeding. Marketing for these foods would lead owners to believe that each of these foods are primarily made up of meat, but often they are mostly just fillers and ingredients that we don't even recognize. The simplest way I've found to choose a high-quality kibble is to use dogfoodadvisor.com as a resource. They rate each food with a possible 5-star rating and then break down why they gave that grade in terms that are easy to understand. As far as I can tell, they are unbiased (unlike your vet) and not associated with any brand of dog food. I would not recommend feeding anything less than a 4-star rating.
Another way to boost your dog's quality of nutrition is to add a supplement that provides various nutrients and vitamins that dogs will miss out on with a kibble diet. In this scenario I would recommend Endurance which can be found at volharddognutrition.com. Using this supplement you'll quickly see a change in your dog's coat, shedding, brightness, and longevity. The best possible way to feed a kibble diet, in my opinion, would be to feed a 5-star dog food with the addition of Endurance.
Wet food is similar to kibble in that it ranges widely from absolute junk to a high quality food that will cost you an arm and a leg. One advantage to wet food is that it provides the moisture that dry food lacks. Again, if you choose to feed this way, consult dogfoodadvisor.com to check the quality of the food. There are a decent amount of high quality dry foods out there, but high quality wet foods are harder to come by.
The greatest advantage here is that you know exactly what is going into your dog's body. The difficulty comes in when we think about the required needs for a well-nourished canine. How do we feed in such a way that we know our dog is receiving all the necessary vitamins and nutrients? Usually this requires a lot of research and supplementation. Home-cooked diets are a massive time commitment. I personally have never had the time or energy to devote to such manner of feeding and seeing as our dogs never harvested and cooked food for themselves in the wild, I think this manner of feeding is a bit unnecessary.
Raw Food Diet
This one is daunting, I know. I will go into further detail in a separate post, but I believe that raw feeding is the best way to provide proper nutrition to your dog. If fed a proper raw diet, you avoid all the common fillers that are so heavily used in commercial kibble and wet foods, you know exactly what is going into your dog and are able to be completely in control of quality of ingredients, and before domestication, this is what canine digestive systems were designed to process. For many years I fed a high quality kibble. When I made the switch to raw, these are short-term changes I saw with my own dogs.
Healthier skin and fur -- my pit bull mix at the time had serious skin issues that would come and go and were undiagnosed by my vet. I had to keep him on a grain-free kibble and even still he would go through completely random flare-ups that seemed to have no rhyme or reason. After switching to raw, I noticed that these greatly diminished. He would still get an occasional rash, but this was far more manageable than the hives and other issues that we had been dealing with previously. I also noticed that each of my dog's coats were shinier and softer to the touch.
Easy weight management -- It is far easier to keep a dog a healthy, lean weight when they are on a raw diet. With no extra grain or fillers, they quickly lose any unnecessary fat.
Dental health -- this was one of the most notable changes. regularly eating bones, each of my dog's teeth were regularly cleaned and they lost most of the plaque and tartar that had built up over time. My vet always remarks on how each of my dog's look great for their age and compliments their weight and teeth.
There's so much I could say in this topic, and will eventually go into more depth. The major hindrances to feeding raw are that it does require a lot of research to be sure you are feeding the correct ratios and that your dog is getting the nutrients they need, it is a large time commitment to shop for and prepare their food this way, and depending on region and availability can be a larger financial commitment as well. If you are considering going raw, here is a great resource to get you started - rfas.uk
If you have any questions on any of the above, don't hesitate to contact me. I would be happy to share more of my experiences or advice no matter which means you choose to feed your dog!