Make training your dog easier with these nutritional brain-boosters

How well your dog can be trained depends not only on the methods and cues you use, but also on how easily he can learn and pick things up. These “brain foods” and supplements support his cognition to help make training more successful.

Successfully training your dog means using reward-based methods and clear, consistent cues. Nutrition also plays a role in supporting your dog’s cognition, memory, and mood to help him learn more easily. Let’s talk about some “brain foods” and supplements that boost your dog’s mental power and enhance the training process.

Foods and supplements that support your dog’s brain

Quality proteins

Feed him high quality proteins from meat, fish and eggs. Proteins provide amino acids, several of which produce important neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. The body uses the amino acid tyrptophan to make serotonin, which is a mood-stabilizing hormone important for supporting feelings of well-being and controlling anxiety.

Did you know? Serotonin is also important for cognition and memory, as it enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other.

Bone broth

This powerhouse food contains nutrients that support the health and function of your dog’s gut, joints, skin — and brain. The collagen and connective tissues found in bone broth also provide the amino acid glycine, a neurotransmitter known to calm the nervous system, promote better sleep, and process motor and sensory information in the brain. Studies have found that people taking glycine have better verbal memory and improved attention spans.

Healthy fats and Omega-3s

Healthy fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids and MCT (medium chain triglycerides, found in coconut oil) help the brain function more efficiently. High-fat, low-carbohydrate diets help improve brain function and memory in humans, and are being used to address cognitive problems as well as Alzheimer’s.

  • DHA and EPA are long chain Omega-3 fatty acids known for their many health properties, including brain support. DHA in particular is a critical fatty acid for brain health, especially in young puppies. DHA and EPA are found in oily fish such as sardines, salmon, anchovies and mackerel. DHA is also found in cod liver oil. Be sure to choose wild-caught fish and only high quality Omega-3 oil supplements. Algae-based options are another alternative.
  • Ghee (clarified butter) has long been used in Ayruvedic medicine for its numerous health benefits. Its nutrients and saturated fats help improve memory, and strengthen the brain and nervous system. If your dog tolerates fats well, I suggest approximately 1 tsp per 20lbs of body weight per day. (You can also use coconut oil in place of ghee, at the same dose.)
  • Eggs are an excellent source of healthy fats, Omega-3 fatty acids, and good cholesterol. Some types of cholesterol are important for both brain and heart health. Choose only free-range eggs (from pasture-raised chickens) for better nutrient content.

Did you know? The brain holds about 25% of the body’s cholesterol, which is required to help neurons form connections with each other.

Fermented foods and probiotics

A balanced microbiome is not only important for proper gut and immune function, but is also critical for brain health. The term “gut-brain axis” describes the bi-directional interdependence of these two systems.

Gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological as well as mental processes, such as learning, memory and mood. We discussed serotonin above, and its important effects on calming and cognition. Gut bacteria manufacture about 90% of the body’s serotonin! This explains why a higher percentage of people with IBS develop depression and anxiety as compared to people with no GI disease. Similarly, we now recognize a connection between a dog’s behavior and his respective “gut bug” status.  Additionally, we now know that certain gut bacterial populations that become abundant in dogs with IBD are also higher in dogs with aggression issues.

Fermented foods provide a wide array of healthy bacteria and will support your dog to have a more diverse microbiome and improved digestion. Probiotics can be helpful too, but many products contain only a limited number of bacterial species; often, they do not represent the typical species that should be present in a healthy canine gut.

Fermented foods that are good for most dogs include kefir, fermented goat milk, and saurkraut.

Did you know? Most dogs will accept fermented veggies mixed into their food – try 1 tsp per 20lbs of body weight daily.

Vitamins and antioxidants

An antioxidant-rich diet improves and maintains cognition. Antioxidants are well represented in colorful fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, carrots, etc.

Vitamin B12 is involved in the function and development of the brain, nerve cells, the myelin sheaths that protect nerves, and blood cells. People take vitamin B12 to treat memory loss, poor concentration, and Alzheimer’s disease, and to boost mood or energy levels.

Did you know? B12 is thought to play a role in preventing brain atrophy, the loss of neurons in the brain associated with memory loss or dementia.

Vitamin B12 supplements are very helpful for aging dogs or those with chronic GI issues (IBD, etc.) since gut inflammation prevents proper B12 absorption and these dogs tend to be deficient.

Ginkgo biloba

This herb improves blood flow to the brain and acts as an antioxidant. Some studies have found ginkgo may help boost memory and cognitive speed.

By incorporating some of these foods and supplements into your dog’s diet, you’re not only improving his overall health – you’re also supporting his brain health and helping him excel at training and learning!