By John Cavana
Many of us know the basic requirements needed in a dog food to keep them alive. Many of us enjoy bringing on young dogs and training them to take part in our chosen K9 discipline, but how many of you actually look at how diet can affect the brain? Do we need to feed the brain to train?
Many of us know how some of the ingredients can improve things such as coat, growth, energy levels and even fertility but not many of us give that consideration to the brain, the most complex and integral part of our and our dogs anatomy.
When we go training with our dogs many of us don’t realise that we are putting the dog under pressure, mental pressure, yes, we stimulating them at the same time (hopefully) buts its pressure all the same.
When a dog becomes physically tired it’s much easier for us to see the signs, the early signs of a dog becoming mentally tired are not as easily spotted.
Much has been in the media about how children can improve their learning with diet, such as fish oil or how having a breakfast can help maintain concentration in the class room, these simple principles can also be applied to our canine companion.
I am pleased to say that I have seen training using stimulation has become more popular over the years, when I started dog training “fear” was used and sadly still is in some cases, but that’s another subject.
The brain needs to be hydrated and oxygenated to function, this is supplied via the blood cells that are pumped from the heart, the blood is cleansed or filtered by other organs such as the liver and the kidneys, it can all get very complex but I am sure we all understand the basics so I won’t delve to deeply into it but you can see now what I mean to feed the brain.
So why is it so important to look at diet during training? If we can feed the dog so that its organs are doing the job as intended then we then the dog will have a better concentration span so that we can train (and enjoy the training) for longer periods of time and thus we see progress and we are happy, the dog is happy too.
Human nature plays a big part in this, sadly I have often seen a dog become mentally tired and confused as to what the handler is expecting, this turns to frustration and the handlers blames the dog and the training goes downhill, not making progress and making handler and dog unhappy.
This could be the case when dogs are pushed and the pressure of training is increased to fit a timetable, for example the military or police 10 or 12 week training course, dogs expected to be at such and such a level by such and such a week.
So even though a dog’s digestive system has some differences to ours it basic requirements are the same, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals, not forgetting oxygen and water. With the correct source and balance of these your dog’s body and brain will function better leading to a happier, healthier trained dog. (I wish I took as much care in my own diet as I do with my dogs).
Two points I must make that will have a significant impact on your dog’s attention span, one is salt in a diet, this will not only make your dog thirsty it will have an effect on the dog’s kidneys, liver and blood thus having an impact on the supply of oxygen to the brain. The other is the inclusion of taurine as a protein source, all proteins are made of amino acids, taurine is an essential amino acid for a cat, dogs and humans are fine without it, taurine is the stimulant used in many energy drinks, only give it to your dog if you want it to have wings! It has the same effect as give kids coloured sweets.
So, diet can have an impact on the dogs ability to function and can affect the dogs attention span, and thus its trainability. Feed the brain to train.