Feeding for Smarts

New research shows that increased fish fat in puppy food increases trainability.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Dad always said that fish was brain food. I thought it was just his excuse to go fishing. Mom always made me take my cod liver oil. I thought it was her punishment for whatever misdeeds she figured I'd commit that day. It turns out both of them were on to something. Research from Iams shows that ingesting a component of cold-water fish makes puppies smarter and more trainable-so much so that we should add it to our growing list of ways to build superdogs.

The ingredient, also found in mothers' milk, is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid that makers of baby formula have also become aware of. Researchers at Iams have determined that dogs require about three times the amount of DHA as humans do to enhance neural development, since puppies acquire 70 percent of their brain mass by 6 weeks and 90 percent by 12 weeks.

Supervised by Martin Coffman, DVM, the Iams team evaluated 39 genetically similar eight-week-old beagle pups. Twenty of them were fed a typical DHA diet, while the other 19 received the enhanced DHA formula, now called Iams Smart Pup, as did their mothers during pregnancy and lactation. All of the pups were socialized with the same kinds of human interaction and play. Everything was highly controlled to ensure that there was nothing different about the pups except the amounts of DHA in their diets.

The trial would test memory and trainability through shape recognition and food rewards. All pups underwent identical training for one week prior to the trial. For the trial, the pups entered a maze, where they saw a symbol fastened to the opposite wall. If that symbol was a circle, a food treat would be found by turning to the right. If it was a square, finding the treat required a left turn.

Beginning at nine weeks, the pups were tested multiple times a day for 30 days. Every time, each pup was evaluated by how quickly it could successfully complete its task. Midway, symbol signals were reversed. A circle meant turn left and a square meant turn right. Beagles persist when food is involved, so they all found the treat, but those getting enhanced DHA caught on fastest.

Results were consistent over the numerous daily replications. On final tally, puppies fed enhanced DHA achieved a startling success rate twice that of pups on a typical DHA diet. Think about that-twice the smarts, twice the memory, twice the trainability.

A word of caution: Enhanced DHA cannot turn just any pup into a superdog. A genetically willful, uncooperative pup would simply become twice as wily. But add enhanced DHA to other proven ways of building superdogs and your chances of owning one will multiply greatly.

Fall Feeding Tips
Outside dogs need 30 percent more calories from December through February than from June through August.

Dogs working extremely hard in very cold weather can double or triple their calorie requirements.

Hardworking dogs requiring premium food are those that run 20 miles a week or more.

Gradually switch from maintenance to premium 7 to 10 days before conditioning or hunting begins.

If unable to condition, begin supplementing your dog's diet with vitamin C on the first day of hunting.

Start feeding the amount recommended by the manufacturer, then adjust for your dog's individual metabolism. The final measure of correct feeding is your dog's ribs-they should be visible but not prominent.